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Benghazi Committee Democrats criticize Clinton email subpoena

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hilllary Clinton speaks at EMILY's List 30th Anniversary Gala at Washington Hilton on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Kris Connor

Last Updated Mar 6, 2015 4:58 PM EST

Democrats are calling on the House Select Committee on Benghazi to withdraw a comprehensive subpoena issued Wednesday for Hillary Clinton's emails, blasting the committee's move as "increasingly partisan."

"We are writing to object to the very partisan and political turn the Select Committee has taken this week," ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, along with other democrats, said in a letter to chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina.

Democratic members of the committee, including Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, and Iraq war veteran Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, further pushed for a retraction of the subpoena, calling the move "completely unnecessary and unfounded."

"We urge you to withdraw the ill-considered subpoena--whose issuance to a cooperating witness serves only to highlight the increasingly partisan nature of the Committee's focus--and to immediately publish the Secretary's emails in their entirety, as she requested," the letter stated. "Allowing those emails to be made public will help clear up any misperceptions and will also help return the Committee to its original purpose, investigating the tragic events in Benghazi, rather than allowing it to become a surrogate for the Republican National Committee."

They further asked for Gowdy to hold a hearing with the former state secretary within the next thirty days to give her an opportunity to explain her actions under oath.

They also accused the South Carolina legislator of going behind the backs of other committee members, complaining that the Democrats on the committee had no knowledge of his subpoena prior to the Washington Post's report.

"You rushed to issue a unilateral subpoena to Secretary Clinton with no debate, no vote, and no deliberation whatsoever by Committee members," the letter read.

Democrats also excused the conduct of the State Secretary, calling her a "cooperative witness" for providing 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department, which later turned them over to the House committee.

Despite the public defense mounted on behalf of the former secretary, Clinton herself remained largely silent on the matter until late Wednesday, when the likely presidential candidate took to Twitter.

"I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them," the former First Lady said in a tweet. "They said they will review them for release as soon as possible."

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that their office would review the emails provided by Clinton for public release.

"We don't know what's in the emails yet," Harf said in a Friday press briefing, adding that the department's examination could take months.

The angry letter to Gowdy is only the latest salvo in a debate between the parties over the emails. Some of the Republicans who could face Clinton in the 2016 presidential election have also weighed in.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush decried Clinton's "lack of transparency" in a tweet soon after the Times published its report.

"Transparency matters," Bush Tweeted. "Unclassified @HillaryClinton emails should be released. You can see mine, here." Bush also included a link to his own archive of emails from his time as Florida governor.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul added his two cents to the Clinton controversy, telling a Buzzfeed reporter that lessons can be learned from former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus. The retired general reached a plea deal with the Justice Department early this week after admitting to disclosing classified information to his mistress while he was in charge of the intelligence agency.

"There is the question of whether or not if she has those emails on a personal email and they're talking about secure subjects, whether that's actually compromised. And that's what he pled guilty to, what Petraeus pled guilty to, having secure information unsecured," Paul said. "So I think somebody ought to ask the question, whether or not she has anything on the email that should have been on a secure server."

And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose profile has been rising among Republicans lately, recently chimed in to the debate as well.

"Hillary Clinton's potential evasion of laws is something she should answer questions about," the union-busting governor said in an email to the New York Times via his spokeswoman, Kirsten Kukowski.

"Wisconsin has a strong open records law with a broad presumption of access to records," Kukowski added, "and the governor has very specific policies in place in his office to assure that the laws are complied with fully."

An internal State Department cable warned of private email use when conducting business that was "sensitive but unclassified" in nature, a fact revealed early Friday in a FOX news report.

Harf, the department's press representative, clarified in Thursday's briefing that the warnings weren't Clinton's personal guidance, but rather a reminder about State Department recommendations.