Benghazi committee’s Trey Gowdy and Elijah Cummings argue.

The Benghazi Committee Can’t Stop Bickering. Here’s What They Are Fighting About Now.

The Benghazi Committee Can’t Stop Bickering. Here’s What They Are Fighting About Now.

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Oct. 19 2015 12:40 PM

Here’s What the Benghazi Committee Is Fighting About Now

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House Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy speaks to reporters at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton is set to appear before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday for what will be the highest profile moment to date in the GOP-led panel’s 17-month-and-counting investigation into the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya. The Republican leading the panel and his Democratic counterpart, though, aren’t holding their fire until then.

Chairman Trey Gowdy and Rep. Elijah Cummings spent the weekend trading their latest allegations of partisanship, each accusing the other of twisting the facts to serve their own political purposes when it comes to Clinton. The latest issue in the ongoing fight was Gowdy’s claim earlier this month that Hillary risked “not only national security but human lives” by sending and receiving the since-redacted name of a CIA source over her private email account—information the Republican claims was “some of the most protected information in our intelligence community.” (The emails in question were sent in March 2011—more than a year before the Benghazi attacks—though they were focused on the situation on the ground in Libya at that time.)

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According to Cummings, though, the CIA recently told the panel that it doesn’t even consider the source’s identity to be classified information—something that would appear to make Gowdy’s “most protected” claim difficult to believe. “The problem with your accusation—as with so many others during this investigation—is that you failed to check your facts before you made it, and the CIA has now informed the Select Committee that you were wrong,” the Democrat wrote to Gowdy in a letter made public over the weekend. “I believe your accusations were irresponsible, and I believe you owe the Secretary an immediate apology.”

Several hours later, Gowdy made it clear that Hillary shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for him to say he’s sorry. In a letter of his own, the Republican said that the CIA never told the panel that he was “wrong” as Cummings claims, and that it was someone within the Obama administration—and not the CIA—who redacted the source’s name prior to clearing the email for public release. Such a redaction, according to Gowdy, is still enough to prove the information shouldn’t have been sent or received via Clinton’s private server: “the fact that the CIA says it didn’t do it does not mean the material was not sensitive or classified.”

Exactly what is and isn’t classified—and when it is deemed as such—has been a running question throughout Hillary’s recent email controversy. As I’ve noted before, Clinton’s team argues that since the process by which the government classifies information is a complicated and subjective one—and that different agencies can and do disagree on whether particular information is sensitive—it is impossible for someone to know today what will be classified tomorrow, and even whether it should be classified at all. Her critics, though, maintain that as the nation’s top diplomat, she should still have been well aware that some of the material she was hosting on her server was sensitive and would potentially end up classified even before it was officially ruled as such.

That debate is unlikely to be settled when Clinton testifies before the panel on Thursday. It’s a safe bet, though, that both sides will be more than happy to use their own chosen definitions.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.