Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, raised the specter of the 2016 presidential race at the start of Thursday’s hearing on the 2012 terrorist attack featuring Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE, a topic the Democratic front-runner avoided in her opening statement.

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Cummings highlighted quotes about the former secretary of State from Republican presidential candidates during his opening statements in an effort to prove that the committee's work is political. He cited comments from Carly Fiorina, Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.).

"What I want to know is this — why tell Republicans to shut up when they are telling the truth, but not when they are attacking Secretary Clinton with reckless accusations that are demonstrably false?" he asked.

"Carly Fiorina has said that Secretary Clinton has 'blood on her hands.’ " Cummings said. “Mike Huckabee accused her of 'ignoring the warning calls from dying Americans in Benghazi.’ Senator Rand Paul said Benghazi was a ‘3:00 a.m. phone call that she never picked up’ and Senator Lindsay Graham tweeted, ‘Where the hell were you on the night of the Benghazi attack.’ "

"Everyone on this panel knows these accusations are baseless — from our own investigation and all those before it," Cummings said.

Charges of partisanship have divided the panel, with its chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), defending its work in recent days.

"I get that there's a presidential campaign going on, but I have told my own Republican colleagues and friends 'Shut up talking about things you don't know anything about,' " Gowdy said Sunday on CBS’s "Face The Nation" in response to question about comments from Republicans linking the investigation to Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.