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Does the ongoing Benghazi investigation still matter?

The House Select Committee on Benghazi is still investigating the attacks.

House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) (2nd L).
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

To Republicans in Congress — definitely. The House Select Committee on Benghazi is still investigating the attacks; Hillary Clinton appeared before the committee on October 22. Their investigation played a critical role in the Clinton private email scandal revealed in March 2015, but whether or not it produces anything new on the attack on Benghazi specifically remains to be seen.

The Select Committee, announced on May 2nd, 2014 and chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), nominally has one job: get to the bottom of of what happened during and after the attack.

So far, its most notable accomplishment is somewhat accidentally tipping off State Department lawyers to the use of private emails for work purposes by State Department officials during Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. This evolved into a significant scandal for Clinton’s campaign: private emails aren’t covered by the same transparency laws as public ones, which means the private emails might well have been a way of hiding correspondence that the Clinton-era State Department never wanted released.

Since the email scandal came to light, Gowdy’s committee has been relentlessly pushing for Clinton to release more emails for their review and to testify in front of the committee. “The Committee needs these emails to have some sense of the completeness of Secretary Clinton’s self-selected public record and to formulate substantive questions for her on Benghazi,” Gowdy said.

For Republicans, this represents a major break in the Benghazi case — an opportunity both to see if any new facts come to light and uncover more dirt on the Democrats’ likeliest 2016 presidential candidate.

Democrats see this as naked partisanship. They think Republicans are using the Benghazi investigation as an pretext for a fishing expedition into Clinton’s past. “I hope the Benghazi Select Committee will return to its purpose of investigating the attacks in Benghazi instead of attempting to impact the 2016 presidential election,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said after the State Department agreed to release Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails.

Statements from some Republicans have helped prove Cummings’ point. In a September 29 appearance on Fox News, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy seemed to admit that the real purpose of the Benghazi committee is to hurt Clinton’s presidential campaign:

Everybody thought 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.

This allowed Clinton to dismiss the email scandal, and the Benghazi issue in general, as a trumped-up partisan sideshow. It’s still too early to tell if that will put the email issue to rest.

With respect to the attack itself, the committee would have to uncover something really new, either in the emails or its more routine investigations, to end up having an impact. As it stands, report after report has come to similar conclusions on Benghazi, and so there’s not a lot of interest in the issue outside of conservative circles. Whether or not his committee can, in fact, learn something new is as-yet unclear — but the email scandal shows that it certainly has the ability to affect the political landscape.