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Ex-Benghazi Panel Staffer Files New Claim Against Gowdy

FILE - House Benghazi Committee Chairman Representative Trey Gowdy is seen prior to the start of the committee's hearing on Benghazi, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 22, 2015.

A former Republican staffer fired from the House Benghazi committee filed a new lawsuit against the panel's GOP chairman Monday in an escalating dispute over the investigation of the 2012 deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Air Force Reserve Maj. Bradley Podliska said in a complaint filed in federal court that Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina made false statements about him after Podliska sued the committee last month.

Gowdy said then that Podliska was fired for mishandling classified information. Podliska denies that, and his new suit claims Gowdy defamed him and harmed his career prospects.

Podliska says Gowdy's committee was engaged in a partisan investigation of Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Gowdy has disputed that, saying Podliska was overly focused on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was secretary of state at the time of the attacks.

A Gowdy spokesman declined immediate comment.

Podliska's lawsuit says Gowdy knew his statements about Podliska were false or was "reckless in disregard'' to whether the statements were true or false.

Podliska's initial suit emerged days before Clinton's high-profile testimony to the Benghazi panel on Oct. 22 and amid fierce partisan fighting about the true nature of the GOP-led investigation. Clinton and other Democrats call it a partisan political exercise designed to ``exploit'' the deaths of four Americans and hurt her bid for the White House.

Gowdy and other Republicans say the committee has been and remains focused on those killed in Benghazi and on providing a definitive account of the attacks. There have been at least seven previous investigations.

Gowdy has disputed recent comments by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans that the Benghazi panel can take credit for driving down Clinton's poll numbers. McCarthy has since retracted the comment.

Podliska says he was unlawfully fired in part because he sought to conduct a comprehensive probe into the 2012 attacks instead of focusing on Clinton and the State Department. He said the committee turned all of its attention to Clinton and the State Department after it was revealed in March that she used a private email account and server as secretary of state. The move de-emphasized other agencies involved with the attacks and their aftermath, Podliska said.

Podliska also complained about the slow progress made by the GOP-led committee and said staff members have engaged in social activities such as an informal wine club nicknamed "Wine Wednesdays.''