Last March, when Hillary Clinton made her first public comments on the secret email system she maintained while secretary of state, she took care to say she had turned over everything to the State Department. "I ... provided all my emails that could possibly be work-related," Clinton told reporters. "I believe I have met all of my responsibilities and ... the State Department will be able, over time, to release all of the records that were provided."
The message was clear. Clinton had turned over everything, and the State Department would make it all public.
Then State sent Clinton's emails that concerned Libya to the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Chairman Trey Gowdy immediately expressed skepticism about the claim that everything had been turned over. "There are gaps of months and months and months," Gowdy said.
Gowdy's suspicions appear to have been confirmed. As part of the committee's questioning of Clinton friend and defender Sidney Blumenthal, who exchanged many emails with Clinton on the subject of Libya, Blumenthal turned over a bunch of emails with Clinton that the committee had never seen before. The State Department had not given them to the committee when State originally turned over what were purported to be all of Clinton's Libya-related emails.
Which led investigators to ask: Did the State Department fail to turn over all the Clinton emails it had pertaining to Libya? Or did Clinton not give all her Libya-related emails to the State Department, which in turn could not pass them on to the committee?
Shorter version: Did the State Department withhold information from the committee, or did Clinton?
The first possibility is entirely consistent with State Department foot-dragging on Benghazi that has been going on from the beginning. Just last month, Gowdy told Secretary of State John Kerry that "the pace of State Department document production has become an impediment to the progress of the committee."
The second possibility -- that Clinton did not turn over all of her work emails as claimed -- would call into question everything she has said publicly about the secret email system. That could, in turn, reignite the Benghazi issue in the presidential campaign.
Clinton, of course, has said nothing about the Blumenthal emails. As far as the State Department is concerned -- well, try to make sense of this recent exchange between reporters and spokesman John Kirby:
QUESTION: You said that the emails that were provided by Mr. Blumenthal to the committee ... were not shared with the Department. Does that mean that the committee didn't share them, or you did not have them to give to the committee?
KIRBY: No, no. I meant that the documents that Mr. Blumenthal turned over to the -- we -- they were not shared with us either by him or by the committee.
QUESTION: Well, did you have them?
KIRBY: I can't speak to their contents.
What does that mean? Certainly the Benghazi investigators don't know. When the State Department originally turned over the Clinton emails earlier this year, Gowdy asked State to certify that it was turning over all of Clinton's communications related to Libya. State officials would not do that, arguing they only had what Clinton gave them, although they accepted Clinton's word that they had everything.
Also baffling to investigators is what is going on with Blumenthal. The materials he turned over could undermine Clinton's claim of having given all of her work-related emails to the State Department. Yet Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton acolyte who owes his livelihood to the Clintons -- during the time in question, he received $10,000 a month from the Clinton Foundation and another $10,000 from a Clinton-related media watchdog group -- seems the last person in the world who would give Republicans anything they could use against Clinton. So that is another mystery.
This latest tangle illustrates the difficulty Gowdy and his fellow lawmakers face in trying to figure out the Benghazi story. Yes, they have made progress -- remember, the world would not even know about Clinton's secret email system had it not been for Gowdy's committee. But they face a daunting challenge in getting information not only from Clinton but from her inner circle and the State Department. It's taken a long time to get this far, and there is still quite a way to go.