What to Watch for When Hillary Clinton Meets the Benghazi Committee

The Democratic frontrunner’s testimony will be a key test, both for her and her GOP questioners.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham reads over her notes as she testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. 
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Oct. 21, 2015, 7:20 p.m.

Thursday will be among the biggest mo­ments of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, and it won’t be oc­cur­ring in Iowa, New Hamp­shire or an­oth­er early-vot­ing state. In­stead she’ll be in a crowded House hear­ing room all day field­ing ques­tions from the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi.

The run-up has already been in­tense. Clin­ton’s al­lies, in­clud­ing the su­per PACs Cor­rect The Re­cord and Pri­or­it­ies USA, are wa­ging a war to at­tack the GOP-led com­mit­tee’s cred­ib­il­ity. Re­pub­lic­ans have been counter-punch­ing with their own TV ap­pear­ances and PR, and this week brought on a new press aide, Matt Wolk­ing, from Speak­er John Boehner’s of­fice to bol­ster their ranks.

Here are four key things to watch Thursday.

A Star­ring Role for Clin­ton’s Email Serv­er? Or Just a Cameo?

Re­pub­lic­ans have been in­tensely in­ter­ested in Clin­ton’s un­usu­al private email set-up, and that in­cludes the Se­lect Com­mit­tee, which un­covered the ar­range­ment. The tran­script of the pan­el’s Sept. 3 in­ter­view with Cheryl Mills, Clin­ton’s State De­part­ment chief of staff, that Demo­crats re­leased Wed­nes­day shows lengthy ques­tions about the gen­es­is and op­er­a­tion of the sys­tem.

But since Rep. Kev­in Mc­Carthy’s in­fam­ous com­ments three weeks ago that cred­ited the pan­el with harm­ing Clin­ton’s cam­paign, Re­pub­lic­ans have been on the de­fens­ive over charges, which they hotly dis­pute, that the probe is a polit­ic­al weapon. That could dampen their will­ing­ness to make the serv­er a ma­jor fo­cus.

“I care about her e-mails only to the ex­tent that they re­late to Libya and Benghazi,” said Trey Gowdy, the pan­el’s GOP chair­man, in a CBS in­ter­view Sunday.

Are New Rev­el­a­tions About Benghazi in the Off­ing?

It’s un­clear how much the hear­ing will provide fresh in­sight or facts about the Sept. 11, 2012 at­tacks on a dip­lo­mat­ic com­pound and CIA fa­cil­ity that killed four Amer­ic­ans, in­clud­ing Am­bas­sad­or Chris­toph­er Stevens.

This month the State De­part­ment has provided roughly 8,000 pages of Stevens’ emails to the pan­el, and ac­cord­ing to Re­pub­lic­ans the vast ma­jor­ity have nev­er been provided to Con­gress be­fore. Al­most 900 pages ar­rived on Tues­day alone, Re­pub­lic­ans said.

Gowdy said the pro­duc­tion to the com­mit­tee is im­port­ant and breaks ground that oth­er com­mit­tees that ex­plored the Benghazi at­tack didn’t. “If you want a win­dow in­to Libya and what was hap­pen­ing in the weeks and months be­fore these four were killed, why would you not look at the am­bas­sad­or’s e-mails?,” he said Sunday.

But how much new in­sight in­to the se­cur­ity situ­ation in Benghazi, the Sept. 11, 2012 at­tacks them­selves and State’s re­sponse that the mes­sages—and the hear­ing over­all—will provide is un­cer­tain.

Alec Ger­lach, a State De­part­ment spokes­man, told Gov­ern­ment Ex­ec­ut­ive that the Stevens’ emails “do not change our un­der­stand­ing of what happened be­fore, dur­ing or after the at­tacks.” Stay tuned.

Last Hur­rah for Demo­crats?

Look for Demo­crats to high­light com­ments by Mc­Carthy and GOP Rep. Richard Hanna that fueled Demo­crats’ claims of par­tis­an motives, and try and en­sure that Clin­ton isn’t tar­geted in ways they call un­fair.

“We’ll en­deavor to make it fair. To make sure the sec­ret­ary has a chance to an­swer the ques­tions, that doc­u­ments aren’t used in a mis­lead­ing way, that wit­ness in­ter­views aren’t mis­char­ac­ter­ized,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, a Demo­crat­ic mem­ber of the pan­el.

But what about af­ter­ward? Demo­crats say they might walk away from the com­mit­tee that they call a par­tis­an weapon against Clin­ton. Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, the com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat, says they will make a de­cision at some point after Thursday.

“We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” he told re­port­ers in the Cap­it­ol on Wed­nes­day. “We need to see what comes out of this hear­ing.” But Cum­mings said Demo­crats face a tough de­cision.

“Some­body has to de­fend the truth,” he said. “If you are not in the room, you can’t do any­thing. So that would be a real prob­lem. So that is the di­lemma we find ourselves in.”

Will Either Side Provide a Vir­al Mo­ment?

The former sec­ret­ary of State is com­ing off a widely praised per­form­ance in last week’s de­bate, but the grilling be­fore the Benghazi pan­el will be a far longer af­fair.

So one thing to watch head­ing in­to the hear­ing is wheth­er Clin­ton will be prod­ded in­to any state­ments or mo­ments that be­come You­tube sen­sa­tions, and grist for GOP at­tack ads and cri­ti­cism from Re­pub­lic­an White House con­tenders.

But Re­pub­lic­ans are on a tightrope too and will be seek­ing to avoid fuel­ing new al­leg­a­tions that the event is aimed at dam­aging Clin­ton, rather than the neut­ral, fact-based probe they say they’re con­duct­ing.

Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­ans have hit a rough patch due to com­ments from GOP law­makers out­side the pan­el, and more re­cent con­tro­ver­sies, such as the CIA dis­put­ing Gowdy’s claim that Clin­ton’s email con­tained highly clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion about an in­tel­li­gence source.

Alex Brown contributed to this article.
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