A former investigator with the House Benghazi Committee, Bradley Podliska, made waves this weekend by accusing the committee of improperly targeting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Podliska, an Air Force reserve officer and self-identified Republican, not only took his claims public in a CNN interview – he is moving ahead with a federal lawsuit against the committee.
The suit presents a new front in the continuing hearings and litigation on the Benghazi attacks, and suggests the possibility that House investigators may find their own work under investigation.
According to a draft of the complaint obtained by MSNBC, Podliska asserts he was improperly terminated because of his military service and political independence.
For about three weeks in May, Podliska left the committee for Air Force duties in Germany. The suit alleges his bosses retaliated against him for that time away, and invokes a 1994 law protecting service members from discrimination based on their service.
Joe Napiltonia, Podliska’s lead counsel, says the suit will show the Benghazi Committee committed an “egregious violation of our federal law that protects those who are called to military duty.”
Committee chair Trey Gowdy has categorically denied the allegations.
He released a detailed statement rebutting Podliska’s charges, noting he was fired for cause, and alleging Podliska’s story changed after his case faltered in mediation.
In an interview with NBC’s Kristen Welker on Sunday evening, Gowdy elaborated that Podliska was “losing in mediation on his reservist claim,” and only then did he “pivot” to broader arguments impugning the committee’s independence.
Podliska’s draft complaint, the first detailed written narrative of his allegations, paints a picture of a committee staff fixated on Hillary Clinton and impatient with any dissenting analysis. That put Podliska on a collision course with leadership, the complaint argues, because he was initially tasked with investigating the response of federal agencies beyond the State Department.
“The Committee’s investigation had changed to focus on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the State Department,” the complaint states, “and deemphasize the other agencies that were involved in the Benghazi attacks,” which was Podliska’s initial assignment. He found staff leadership viewed him as “naïve” for taking an “objective, professional” approach to the investigation, the complaint states, when the predetermined goal was actually to “target” Sec. Clinton. Podliska argues that agenda contributed to his firing.
In a similar vein, the complaint alleges that the Committee staff director, Phil Keko, explicitly chided Podliska for spending time on a wider review of the post-attack response of other agencies besides State.
The complaint alleges Keko said, “I know you have your post-attack piece. But only right wing nut jobs [like Rep. Jordan] care about that. You have no idea what we’re doing here. You have no clue what’s going on.” The complaint suggests the alleged comment was said orally to Podliska, making it hard to verify and easy to dispute.
The Benghazi Committee has outlined its own reasons for Podliska’s termination for cause, including his allegedly mishandling of classified information and, turning the tables, his alleged fixation with politically damaging Clinton.
Podliska’s draft complaint addresses some of those arguments, proposing a timeline where staff leadership turned on Podliska and then began singling him out, either fabricating offenses or exaggerating minor issues.
On the classification breach, the complaint says the charge was “completely false.” For examples of more minor skirmishes, the complaint says Podliska was reprimanded for giving “unauthorized” assignments to committee interns, and for emailing colleagues about a pork reception on Capitol Hill. While Podliska was reprimanded for inviting other staffers to a sponsored “Rack of Pork” reception, the complaint alleges, other staff “routinely” sent out similar emails without punishment.
Podliska is expected to file the complaint in federal court next month, seeking reinstatement of his committee job and damages relating to benefits and pay.
Podliska’s draft complaint appears to have been in the works long before Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s controversial statement about the Benghazi Committee hurting Clinton’s standing, but the timing of his public announcement looks like a direct response to that event. And while some may be skeptical of allegations by a former staffer in an employment dispute, the case could provide a prominent vehicle to scrutinize the independence and practices of the Benghazi Committee for months to come.