Republican candor about the partisan nature of the House Benghazi Committee is the gift that keeps on giving for Hillary Clinton. And it's getting worse for the GOP.
Last month, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy linked the panel's inquiry to Clinton's diminished poll numbers during an interview on Fox. That moment of inadvertent clarity bolstered arguments by Clinton and her allies that the committee is a political weapon, rather than a serious investigative body. It was so damaging to Republicans that it hurt McCarthy's bid to become speaker of the House, a race he withdrew from last week.
Now, in explaining what happened with McCarthy, a second House Republican has made a more provocative concession that plays into Clinton's hands just a week before she is due to testify before the Benghazi committee. Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), echoing some Democratic talking points, told radio host Bill Keeler on Wednesday that the probe has been aimed at Clinton all along.
"Kevin McCarthy basically blew himself up with that comment over the Benghazi committee, which, sometimes the biggest sin you can commit in DC is to tell the truth," Hanna said. "This may not be politically correct, but I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people, an individual, Hillary Clinton. And I think there's also a lot of it that’s important that we needed to get to the bottom of this. But this has been the longest investigation, longer than Watergate."
Hanna comes from a potentially competitive district in upstate New York. If his commentary was intentional, it could indicate that Republicans think the Benghazi committee is becoming a political liability. And while Hanna's comments may not be as deleterious to the GOP's anti-Clinton effort as McCarthy's because Hanna has no national profile, they are more damning. McCarthy didn't go anywhere near as far as Hanna's conclusion that the probe was "designed to go after people, an individual, Hillary Clinton."
Hanna, whose comments can be heard here starting at the 9:35 mark, added, "You’d like to expect more from a committee that’s spent millions of dollars and tons of time."
It didn't take long for the Clinton campaign to seize on his remarks and castigate the Benghazi committee's chair, Trey Gowdy.
"House Republicans aren't even shy anymore about admitting that the Benghazi committee is a partisan farce," Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon said in a statement pointing reporters to Hanna's remarks. "Hillary Clinton will still attend next week's hearing, but at this point, Trey Gowdy's inquiry has zero credibility left."
The Benghazi committee was always designed to go after Clinton, but Republicans only started owning up to it recently
Back in June, when the Benghazi committee deposed Clinton confidant and correspondent Sid Blumenthal, I wrote that the panel finally had stripped away any pretense that it was actually interested in investigating the terrorist attacks and preventing future assaults on American diplomatic facilities. Blumenthal, who sent Clinton emails about the situation in Libya, had never even been to the country.
It was a particularly telling moment, but the truth is that the committee, which has focused a lot of its time on obtaining documents and testimony that later appear in print, was always a way for House Republicans to show their constituents that they were going to try to turn the tragedy into political gain at Clinton's expense.
The committee was officially commissioned by the House in May 2014, after several House and Senate committees already had investigated the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Clinton memorably testified before the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committees in 2013. None of the committees found any wrongdoing by Clinton or other government officials — or blamed them for the acts of terrorists.
But House Republicans were intent on going after Clinton, and, with the bonus votes of a handful of Democrats facing tough reelection bids, they set up the committee with a mandate to investigate the US security posture in Libya before the attacks, the government's immediate response to them, and the administration's efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. The committee has little to show for its work, other than helping fuel the Clinton email scandal by pushing the administration to produce Clinton's messages, which it turned out were on a private server at her home in Chappaqua, New York.
When Clinton testifies on October 22, the panel will have deposed or interviewed eight current or former Clinton campaign aides, according to committee Democrats, and spent much of its time in hearings asking about topics such as the Clinton Foundation and the political operations of Clinton's allies.
Why Hanna's remarks are actually a damning turn for Republicans
When McCarthy made his blunder, he was boasting to Fox about how tough the House Republican leadership had been in partisan fights. He was in the midst of trying to convince his colleagues, and their constituents, that he was both conservative and muscular enough to lead them as speaker. Still, he stopped short of saying that the committee was created to hurt Clinton.
Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? 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 that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.
It was close enough to an admission of intent for Democrats to criticize Republicans for using the committee as a political bludgeon. But it didn't go nearly as far in that direction as Hanna did Wednesday.
The Republican from New York, the same state Clinton represented in the Senate, sounded almost frustrated at what he described in pretty clean terms as a hit job on Clinton. This could be an indication that Republicans in tough districts are starting to wonder whether the partisanship of the Benghazi committee could come back to haunt not just the party but themselves.