Clinton confidante Huma Abedin testified on Capitol Hill Friday before the congressional Benghazi committee, just days before the former secretary of state faces off with the panel she has called a political attack arm.
The closed-door meeting came as committee Chairman Trey Gowdy combats accusations from both sides of the aisle that the panel is political in nature and bent on targeting Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. To that end, the committee took the rare step this week of announcing Abedin’s testimony Friday morning, stressing that she would only be questioned on issues relating to the committee’s core mission:
“The events leading up to, during and after the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012 and executive branch activities and efforts to comply with congressional inquiries into them.”
The committee said this would not include questioning her on other matters, including a controversy over her special employment status that allowed her to work for the Clinton Foundation and a consulting firm while at the State Department.
At the conclusion of her testimony late Friday afternoon, Abedin told reporters, "I answered all their questions to the best of my ability and with that, I'll be making no further comments."
Gowdy later issued a statement saying Abedin had answered all the questions posed to her and "the information she provided will assist the committee in writing its final report."
The decision by the GOP-led panel to question Abedin angered the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who argued that her knowledge of details at the time of the attacks is minimal.
"She had no policy responsibilities, no operational responsibilities and was not with Secretary Clinton on the night of this phenomenal tragedy," Cummings told reporters.
Abedin is vice chairwoman of Clinton's campaign and was a top State Department aide when Clinton served as secretary of state.Gowdy, R-S.C., did not attend the session in which committee staff and attorneys questioned Abedin. Republican Reps. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., and Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., did attend the meeting as did Cummings.
Sources told Fox News that Abedin was not evasive in her answers but has not been able to fill in information regarding all of the key timing and events related to Benghazi. Fox News is told that the Democratic side of the aisle tried to downplay Abedin's role, noting she was not in the loop on creating the mission in Benghazi or involved in the security planning of U.S. resources there. But sources say her close relationship with Clinton and prominent role at the department matters.
The committee previously questioned Clinton advisers Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan and Sidney Blumenthal at length.
These meetings serve as a prelude to Clinton’s highly anticipated testimony Oct. 22. In advance of that hearing, the Clinton campaign and fellow Democrats have gone on the offensive, charging that the committee has a political agenda. The accusations were fueled after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed to link Clinton’s slipping poll numbers to the committee’s work, and again after Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., said it was “designed to go after people” including Clinton.
At Tuesday’s debate, Clinton called the committee “basically an arm of the Republican National Committee.”
Campaign spokesman Nick Merrill on Friday said the committee's focus on Abedin is "additional evidence that the actual attack in Benghazi, and its lessons about how we might better protect diplomats serving in dangerous places, are the last things on the committee's mind." He also criticized the decision to "leak details about her appearance."
Cummings said, “it is finally time for the Republican Party to stop denying the undeniable, stop defending the indefensible, and stop using millions of taxpayer dollars for the illegitimate purpose of trying to damage Hillary Clinton’s bid for president.”
But Gowdy, R-S.C., has fired back at the accusations, and insisted the committee is only interested in getting at the truth in the Benghazi attacks.
He put out a strong statement decrying Hanna’s comments, saying he “has never asked for a briefing by the committee staff.”
“Running investigations in a private, fact-centric way is unquestionably the right way to conduct a serious investigation. The pitfall, of course, is that commentators, and sometimes even Members of your own Conference, offer thoughts on matters on which they are not familiar,” he said.
“My team of investigators, drawn from the military, federal agencies and the congressional oversight and ethics committees, has worked hard, and in an above-board manner. It is unfortunate when claims are made by those who do not know what the committee has done, why it has done it, or the results of its work. We made a promise to the families about the integrity of this investigation, and no one on the majority side has forgotten it.”
Fox News' Chad Pergram and Ed Henry and The Associated Press contributed to this report.