USA TODAY US Edition

BENGHAZI MAY BE GOWDY’S BURDEN

Committee leader faces scrutiny about motivation

- Heidi M Przybyla

Trey Gowdy was once described as the “most valuable Republican of the 2016 election cycle so far.’’

That was according to a tweet in August by conservati­ve columnist Bill Kristol, who made the assessment about the leader of a special Benghazi committee that appeared poised to discredit Hillary Clinton’s record as secretary of State and, by extension, her 2016 presidenti­al bid.

Two months later, Gowdy is the one under siege.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s comments linking the committee to Clinton’s declining poll numbers ignited a firestorm over whether the committee was, from its inception, intended to damage Clinton’s 2016 presidenti­al aspiration­s.

Democrats hope to galvanize support from Clinton’s nationally televised appearance Thursday before the committee through a variety of methods, including a rapid-response operation, broadcast and online ads and a strategy by committee Democrats to use the event to highlight erroneous informatio­n about Clinton’s role in Benghazi, Libya.

During the hearing, Democrats plan to go on the offense to debunk misinforma­tion around the terror attacks in 2012 on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya, including accounts that Clinton personally approved or reduced

security or ordered a stand-down.

“It’s an opportunit­y to puncture these myths and the biggest myth of all: that this select committee is trying to do anything but damage Secretary Clinton,’’ said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, a panel Democrat.

Gowdy said he’s focused on the four Americans killed in Benghazi and on providing a definitive account of the attacks. Though there have been seven previous congressio­nal probes, the South Carolina congressma­n said he has interviewe­d 41 witnesses that no other committee interviewe­d, including seven eyewitness­es.

Republican­s will be aggressive in questionin­g Clinton, which carries risks for the Democratic front-runner. They’ll try to show that their focus is on Benghazi and not the private email server she used at the State Department, said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the

non-partisan Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.

“Before the McCarthy comment, Republican­s knew that the committee was always going to be covered ( by the media) in the context of another problem for Hillary Clinton,’’ Rothenberg said. “Now the context will be about Republican­s trying to score political points.”

McCarthy’s comments reversed the politics of Benghazi. The Clinton campaign’s first ad to air on national cable highlighte­d his remarks. Media Matters, an outside group supporting her, is launching paid online ads and releasing a book called The Ben

ghazi Hoax. A super PAC supporting her will broadcast ads for two days beginning Wednesday in four early voting states.

Last week, the Clinton-aligned group Correct the Record blasted out a cost analysis of the committee’s 17-month investigat­ion titled “Harassing Hillary Clinton: Your tax dollars at work.”

The deluge, including a letter to Gowdy from the top Democrat on the committee threatenin­g to release transcript­s of witnesses who testified in private, prompted Gowdy to issue a 13-page rebuttal Oct. 8.

A few months ago, Republican­s were using Benghazi as a political cudgel in Web videos, tweets and fundraisin­g pitches.

In March, Gowdy sent a formal request for Clinton to testify, citing questions about her server, including why she deleted some emails and had a private account.

Now, Gowdy and other committee Republican­s say Clinton is only one witness, their investigat­ion will go on many more months and they are solely focused on Benghazi. “She’s an important witness, but she is one witness,’’ Gowdy said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation.

“I care about her emails only to the extent that they relate to Libya and Benghazi,’’ Gowdy said. “The rest of it — classifica­tion, Clinton Foundation, you name it — I have zero interest in.’’

“I care about her emails only to the extent that they relate to Libya and Benghazi.’’

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R- S.C.

 ?? ANDREW HARRER, BLOOMBERG ?? Trey Gowdy has been accused of slow-walking the probe.
ANDREW HARRER, BLOOMBERG Trey Gowdy has been accused of slow-walking the probe.

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