Clinton enters Benghazi showdown on offense

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE is sailing into the Benghazi hot seat with the momentum in her favor.

The Democratic presidential front-runner’s polling has rebounded over the last month, ever since House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tied the Select Committee on Benghazi to Clinton’s “dropping” standing among voters.

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Bashing the Republican-led investigation has proven to be good for Clinton’s campaign prospects, given the highly partisan perceptions of the panel ostensibly created to scrutinize the 2012 attack that killed four Americans at a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

She has sought to capitalize on the momentum ahead of her Thursday testimony during what is expected to be a combative, marathon session on Capitol Hill, where the former secretary of State will seek to draw her Republican questioners out to make them look like attack dogs.

During the first Democratic debate, held last week, Clinton called the Benghazi panel “basically an arm of the Republican National Committee.”

On Wednesday, her campaign released a new video calling the panel “a political charade” that comes “at your expense.”

Pro-Clinton super-PAC Priorities USA also announced its first television ad, accusing Republicans of “playing politics over Benghazi,” and Clinton-aligned rapid-response group Correct the Record released a scathing 142-page “Complete Guide to the Benghazi Select Committee,” calling it “an utterly shameless partisan exercise.”

Republicans had long expected that Thursday’s headline hearing would turn into a day of reckoning for Clinton.

Instead, a string of friendly-fire attacks have put them on the defense, under pressure not to look like they’re out for blood.

Democrats feel like they have the upper hand.

“On the one hand [Republicans] want to be able to deliver some kind of a high-profile attack on the secretary,” Democratic committee member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mueller has subpoenaed Bannon in Russia probe: report MORE (Calif.) said on Wednesday. “On the other hand, to the degree they try to do that, they merely confirm what their Republican colleagues have already said about the committee.”

Republicans insist that they wouldn’t need to drag Clinton in front of the stage lights if it weren’t for the Obama administration’s repeated “stonewalling.”

Late Wednesday afternoon, the committee received 900 new pages of emails from Ambassador Christopher Stevens — one of the four killed in the Benghazi attack. GOP lawmakers have claimed delays in the release of long-sought information are proof of the administration’s unwillingness to comply with the probe.  

“They’ve been stonewalling us now for three years on giving us the documents that we need in order to get the truth out there,” Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio) said on Fox News Tuesday evening.

Information from those documents will come up on Thursday, though it remains to be seen how damaging they will be.

“I believe that you will see that there are documents that we will be able to ask her questions about for the first time,” Rep. Martha RobyMartha Dubina RobyFormer Moore campaign manager to challenge GOP rep in Alabama Brooks’s prior attacks on Trump could hurt in Alabama Senate race How the GOP came to dominate, and be dominated by, rural voters MORE (R-Ala.), a member of the Benghazi panel, said on CNN Wednesday morning. “And that’s very important to be able to fill in the gaps about the information that we currently do not have.”

Thursday’s questioning is sure to touch on Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email address based on a private server while she was in office. However, Republicans insist that the email controversy will only be discussed to the extent that it relates to Benghazi.

Clinton previously squared off with congressional Republicans in January of 2013, when she sat before separate House and Senate committee hearings over the Benghazi attack.

The most memorable episode was a sparring match in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when Clinton got punchy with Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators eager for Romney to join them The House needs to help patients from being victimized by antiquated technology Comey’s original Clinton memo released, cites possible violations MORE (R-Wis.) over the motivations behind the Benghazi attack.

“We have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people, but what was going on and why they were doing what they were doing is still unknown,” she told Johnson.

“Was it because of a protest? Or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they would go kill some Americans?

“What difference at this point does it make?” Clinton asked, pounding the table for emphasis. “It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.”

Judging by the lines of questioning she received at the time — as well as the transcript of a closed-door testimony with a former top aide released by Democrats on Wednesday — Clinton will likely be pressed on systemic security vulnerabilities at State Department facilities, as well as her personal involvement to respond to the violence. 

The former secretary has previously said that she did not see requests for new security at the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, but that she was “aware of” concerns about “the increasing threat environment in eastern Libya.”

Thursday’s hearing starts at 10 a.m. and could easily last until the evening, congressional aides predicted.

If Clinton seems like she is putting up too much of a fight, Republicans appear primed to paint her with the same “stonewalling” brush they’ve used on the Obama administration.

“I am very hopeful that this will be a professional, fact-centric day,” committee member Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) told The Hill.

“But if we ask a yes or no question, for goodness sake — if we ask if this is green, tell us this is green. Don’t tell us, ‘Gosh, this is really complicated, it depends on the angle,’” he said.

“It’s green.”