The House Select Committee on Benghazi has "bungled" its investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the deaths of four Americans in 2012, said Tom Fitton, the head of conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.
"They have this almost petty approach to transparency that is at odds with the public interest," Fitton told the Washington Post in an interview published Thursday. "It's not supposed to be a grand-jury style investigation that the public can't be privy to. There's got to be at least some public forum for gathering testimony and evidence and that hasn't happened here to any significant degree."
"It's been a secretive, bungled investigation," Fitton added. "The obstruction of the administration has to be taken into account, but it hasn't been handled as it should have been."
Conservative critics of the panel have long groused about the possibility that it is a Potemkin probe intended more to rile voters than to ensure substantive punitive action is taken against Clinton or her cohorts at State. Though Fitton's comments add fuel to that criticism, a spokesman for committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., hit back at Judicial Watch for trying to force facts "to fit their preferred narrative."
"Armchair quarterbacks and partisan Democrats seeking to undermine Chairman Gowdy's thorough, fact-centered investigation are nothing new," Gowdy's spokesman said. "From the beginning, many on the right criticized the committee for not forcing the facts to fit their preferred narrative, and Democrats did everything they could to protect their preferred candidate for president.
"This investigation is about a terrorist attack and the four Americans we lost, and getting their families and all Americans the truth," the spokesman added. "When it's complete, everyone will be able to read the report for themselves, plus the transcripts of more than 80 witness interviews. The committee won't apologize for being unhelpful to any outside organization's fundraising efforts in the meantime."
Some Democrats have similarly complained that the panel has not been transparent enough. Democrats in October leaked a transcript of testimony given by Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills, complaining that unnamed Republicans had been leaking portions out of context.
"Democrats released the full transcript to correct the record from Republicans' inaccurate descriptions about what the witness had said," said a spokesman for Democrats on the committee. "The release of the full transcript did what we intended it to do — correct the record. It's as simple as that."
After the leak, Fitton's group cited the transcript in one of its lawsuits seeking Clinton's records from the State Department. That the suit "draws heavily from an interview transcript selectively leaked by committee Democrats," Gowdy's spokesman said, is "certainly ironic."
Judicial Watch is seeking more information from the department about Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state. A court is now reviewing the group's proposed discovery plan, which would include testimony from Mills and other Clinton aides.
If the group succeeds, the case could lead to the sort of open investigation conservatives have waited years to see, and could quickly steal the spotlight from congressional leaders who have failed to impress them.
"Many folks who have been watching it are just aghast at the approach the committee has taken toward educating the public about what it is doing," Fitton said.