Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign is trying to capitalize on a high-profile press report to discredit the House Benghazi Committee just 10 days before Clinton herself is schedule to appear there as a witness.
The campaign sent Clinton "friends and allies" talking points Monday arguing that a front-page New York Times article on the House panel demonstrates that the inquiry has "devolved into a fully partisan effort to hurt Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign."
The talking points, obtained by POLITICO, largely track with comments Clinton made last week about the Benghazi probe, but also show a clear desire to use the Times report to build political momentum.
"It turns out the partisan plot to turn the taxpayer-funded Benghazi Committee into a front for attacking Hillary Clinton went all the way up to the Speaker of the House himself," the Clinton campaign statement says. "It is disturbing that Speaker Boehner and House Republicans would politicize the deaths of four brave Americans at Benghazi for the sole purpose of trying to damage Hillary Clinton. This is just the latest acknowledgment by Republicans that their 17-month investigation, which has cost taxpayers $4.5 million so far, has nothing to do with Benghazi."
Asked about the Clinton campaign’s new public line, Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith defended the Benghazi panel’s investigation, argued that Clinton’s emails are key to a thorough inquiry, and blamed Clinton and her former agency for the delays the probe has encountered.
“Hillary Clinton’s emails regarding Benghazi, which she and her staff tried to hide from investigators and the public for years, are relevant to the committee’s investigation and our efforts to get the truth for the four families who lost their loved ones in this terrorist attack,” Smith said Monday night. “The sooner Hillary Clinton and the State Department comply with all relevant document requests, the sooner the committee’s investigation will be over.”
Smith also called the premise of the Clinton talking points “nonsense.”
The Clinton campaign's attempt to make use of the Times story appears to reflect a newfound respect for the newspaper's reporting.
After the Times reported in July that Clinton was the focus of a criminal investigation into her use of a private email account as secretary of state, Clinton aides responded with a furious barrage of criticism of the paper. In the ensuing days, the Times issued two corrections and an editor's note addressing inaccuracies in the story. Times reporters said a senior Justice Department official initially confirmed that the agency had received a criminal referral, but later changed course and said it was a "security referral" reporting a possible breach of classified information.
The new Clinton campaign talking points also describe as "an explosive development" the emergence over the weekend of a former House Benghazi panel staffer who claims he was fired in part for resisting efforts to focus the investigation squarely on Clinton and the State Department. Major Bradley Podliska claims to be a conservative Republican, but said in interviews with CNN and the Times that he was forced out of the panel after objecting to partisanship in the inquiry.
House Benghazi Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) responded that Podliska was the one obsessed with Clinton and that he indicated his grievance has to do with military service leave, not the thrust of the investigation. "Until his Friday conversations with media, this staffer has never mentioned Secretary Clinton as a cause of his termination, and he did not cite Clinton’s name in a legally mandated mediation,” Gowdy told the Washington Post. “The record makes it clear he himself was focused on Clinton improperly and was instructed to stop, and that issues with his conduct were noted on the record as far back as April.”
The Clinton campaign briefing for surrogates says Clinton still plans to appear before the Benghazi panel Oct. 22, but chiefly to respect the memories of the four Americans killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi.
"But make no mistake: this Committee stopped being about Benghazi a long time ago," the talking points continue. "And now we know that the Speaker himself was directly involved in diverting the committee away from its true purpose in order to focus on attacking Hillary Clinton."