By Amie Parnes - 10/01/15 04:18 PM EDT
Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonMichelle Obama featured in new Clinton ad Arizona newspaper endorses Dem for president for first time Republican John Warner to endorse Clinton MORE’s campaign team is seizing on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's comments that the House Select Committee on Benghazi has contributed to the Democratic front-runner’s dropping poll numbers.
The campaign believes California Republican McCarthy made a serious blunder, and that his comments will shadow Clinton’s testimony to Benghazi committee, scheduled in just three weeks.
“Either [Chairman] Trey Gowdy [R-S.C.] finally changes the way the panel approaches its work, or else it will only continue to feed into the partisan narrative that Kevin McCarthy's moment of extreme candor has framed so jaw-droppingly,” the senior Clinton aide said.
Clinton’s Oct. 22 appearance before the panel led by Rep. Gowdy will be a crucial moment for her presidential hopes, which have been damaged by the controversy surrounding her use of a private email server while secretary of State.
Republicans have long cast the panel’s work as an investigative effort meant to shed light on the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Its goals also include looking into the U.S. response and investigating executive branch communications about the attacks, with the latter helping to lead to the news that Clinton had a private email server while serving as secretary of State.
Democrats believe the panel has always been more about hurting Clinton than finding any truths, and they say McCarthy’s comments gave them new evidence.
In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, McCarthy discussed the panel as an example of a House GOP accomplishment.
“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,” McCarthy said on Fox News. “Why? Because she's untrustable.”
Democrats pounced on the remarks, while Republicans moaned over a self-inflicted wound for their party.
Clinton herself addressed McCarthy's comments in an interview with Rev. Al Sharpton, which is expected to air this weekend.
“When I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise, I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost, but of everybody who has served our country,” she told Sharpton, according to excerpts of the interview.
Four Americans were killed in the attack, including Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
“I knew the ambassador that we lost in Benghazi,” Clinton told Sharpton. “Along with him, we lost three other brave Americans who were representing us in a very dangerous part of the world.”
Clinton’s campaign sees the comments as a huge gift, but will be cautious in how it uses them, aides said.
They say Clinton and her campaign will continue to cooperate with the committee and answer every question asked by Republicans.
While the campaign wants to make sure voters hear about McCarthy’s comments, it will mostly leave the arguments to Congressional Democrats and other surrogates.
The campaign also wants to frame what they see as another obstacle Clinton is fighting to overcome in the politicization of the Benghazi attack. The senior aide said this would reinforce the narrative that she's a fighter, and someone who had to endure the nastiness of her husband’s tenure and beyond.
While Clinton isn't expected to highlight McCarthy's comments specifically while on the campaign trail in the weeks ahead, she will likely incorporate it in discussions on the GOP's views on Planned Parenthood and its dealings on the budget proposal.
Aides say this will reinforce the sour brand of the Republican Party and will ultimately reflect poorly for the GOP presidential nominee.
A senior GOP campaign aide said the House Benghazi panel’s goal has always been about “finding the truth.”
“The American people don't feel like they're getting all of the answers and each time withheld documents are found or another talking point about her emails is debunked, they are proven right,” the aide said. “On both issues, Hillary Clinton has tried to thwart good faith efforts to learn the truth and its why she has such a staggering trust deficit with voters.
“These are entirely self-inflicted wounds,” the aide added. “She has no one but herself to blame.”