House Benghazi panel to interview top Clinton, Obama aides

Washington (CNN)Rep. Trey Gowdy announced Friday that his House panel investigating the Benghazi terrorist attacks plans to interview a number of top aides to President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

According to a letter Gowdy sent to Rep. Elijah Cummings, the committee's Ranking Democratic member, the Republican committee staff plan to interview former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and current Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
The panel will also hone in on staff close to Clinton when they interview Jake Sullivan, one of her top policy advisers, and Cheryl Mills, Clinton's chief of staff at state. Both Sullivan and Mills are expected to play senior roles in Clinton's all-but-certain presidential campaign.
The list also includes William Burns, former deputy secretary of state; Tom Donilon, former National Security adviser; Dennis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff; Michael Morell, acting director of the CIA; Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; David Petraeus, former director of the CIA; Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, and Susan Rice, United States National Security Adviser.
    These interviews with top administration staff will start in April, but the committee will begin questioning the Americans who were on the ground in Libya and those who survived the Benghazi attack starting next week.
    Gowdy also reiterated in the letter that he intends to speak with Clinton, too.
    "Lastly, both the majority and minority would like to schedule the appearance of Secretary Clinton as soon as possible," Gowdy wrote, noting that the committee will conduct the interview once the State Department provides documents that are "needed to constructively ask questions of Secretary Clinton and serve as a references for the Secretary before and during the hearing."
    In response to the letter, Cummings told CNN that "the Committee has not adopted an investigative plan, rules, or a budget, and it remains unclear what additional questions it seeks to answer."
    "In this case, a majority of these witnesses have already provided information to Congress through prior interviews and testimony -- in some cases multiple times -- during seven previous congressional investigations," he added.
    A Democratic staffer also told CNN that the list of officials was "released to the press before the Committee actually invited a single one of these individuals to come in for an interview, raising further questions about the purpose of these interviews."
    Late last month, Cummings told CNN and other reporters that Clinton had already agreed to testify before the panel.
    "The chairman asked me back in September to inquire as to whether Secretary Clinton would testify," Cummings said. "She immediately said she would and that she wanted to come in December, but if December did not work, she would come in January. She said I'll do it, period. The fact is she was very clear. She did not hesitate for one second."
    The U.S. consulate in Libya was attacked on Sept. 11, 2012. Four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were killed. Initially, the attack was thought to be perpetrated by an angry mob responding to a video made in the U.S. which mocked Islam and the Prophet Mohammed, but was later determined to be a terrorist attack.
    The attack has remained a political issue for Clinton since 2012. As the former first lady eyes a potential presidential bid, a number of Republicans have signaled that Benghazi will be a main line of attack against Clinton and Democrats worry that the panel will be used to dredge up the attack in order to politically hurt Clinton.