Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to face an hours-long grilling Thursday before the House Select Committee investigating the 2012 terror attacks on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.
Clinton’s testimony, which is ongoing, has been highly anticipated for months, and it adds layers of intrigue to the presidential primary process.
Thursday will feature Clinton’s third round of testimony on the issue. Previously, as secretary of state, she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Now, she is the Democratic presidential front-runner, and she’s looking to put years of what she calls “conspiracy theories” behind her.
The Benghazi committee was established by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in May 2014, after the release of new emails showing White House officials coordinating with former UN Ambassador Susan Rice about “talking points” after the attack. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) was appointed as its chair.
It has subsequently placed a healthy chunk of its focus on Clinton. In March, the committee helped discover the private email account that led to months of questions, explanations, and apologies from Clinton and her team.
But lately, it has come under intense heat from Clinton’s presidential campaign team and her allies lately, after an unforced error from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), who suggested the committee had helped drag down Clinton’s poll numbers.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy told Fox News host Sean Hannity last month.
“But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.”
In a fiery opening statement, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), the top Democrat on the Benghazi committee, accused Republicans of playing politics.
“They set up this select committee with no rules, no deadline, and an unlimited budget. And they set them loose, Madam Secretary, because you’re running for president,” he said.
The Clinton counterpunch
Clinton and her allies have seized on those comments – as well as another from a Republican member of Congress not on the committee – to argue the committee was created with the sole purpose of damaging Clinton’s political standing.
“Their aim is clear: hurt Hillary’s chances of winning the presidential election. And for those of you who are curious, no, the committee has not been able to produce any new facts about the attack,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta wrote in a preview of the testimony, which included a video of McCarthy’s remarks.
In the past few weeks, meanwhile, the committee itself has erupted into partisan warfare. On Monday, the Democrats on the committee released a 124-page report arguing the Republican-led committee is a large, politically motivated hit on Clinton.
Clinton herself has alleged as much. During a “Today” show interview earlier in the month, she became visibly angry when asked about the Republican-led effort.
“Look at the situation they chose to exploit, to go after me for political reasons: the death of four Americans in Benghazi,” Clinton said. “I knew the ambassador. I identified him. I asked him to go there. I asked the president to nominate him.”
- REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
Gowdy, Boehner, and other Republicans have aggressively dismissed the Democratic accusations against the committee.
“Madame Secretary, I understand some people – frankly in both parties – have suggested this investigation is about you,” Gowdy said during his opening statement on Thursday. “Let me assure you it is not. And let me assure you why it is not. This work is about something much more important than any single person. It is about four U.S. government workers, including our Ambassador, murdered by terrorists on foreign soil.”
Boehner argued that the Benghazi committee actually has a unique role to play in the investigation of Benghazi because many documents had yet to be examined by previous congressional oversight efforts. In addition to Clinton’s own previously uncovered emails, Boehner cited those from Ambassador Christopher Stevens, who died in the attack.
“Today, the State Department turned over 1,300 pages of printed documents from Ambassador Stevens’ emails. Today,” Boehner said during a Fox News interview Tuesday, according to a transcript from his office.
The Republicans on the committee – almost all of whom are trained lawyers – are likely to go out of their way to make their grilling of Clinton appear as professional as possible in order to block, as much as possible, Clinton’s claim that their investigation is a partisan sham.
“I think America is ready to hear from her relative to all of the issues that haven’t been covered before,” Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) said during a talk-radio interview last week. “I think the American people will be treated to a professional and important day on Thursday.”
This post is being updated with the latest information.