© Greg Nash
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyCheney reveals GOP's Banks claimed he was Jan. 6 panel's ranking member House votes to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress GOP memo urges lawmakers to blame White House 'grinches' for Christmas delays MORE (R-Calif.) on Thursday tried to clarify his thoughts on the House panel investigating the Benghazi terrorist attacks, insisting the probe is meant “to find the truth.”
McCarthy faced a hailstorm of criticism this week after linking the investigation to dropping poll numbers for Democrat Hillary Clinton's White House bid.
"This committee was set up for one sole purpose, to find the truth on behalf of the families of four dead Americans," McCarthy said during an interview with Bret Baier on Fox News.
"I did not intend to imply in any way that that work is political. Of course it is not," he added. "This committee's sole purpose is to find the truth, why four Americans were killed that night, and that's the work they have done, that's the hearings they've done.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill have seized his comments Tuesday as confirmation that the House Select Committee on Benghazi is simply a partisan panel focused on Clinton and should be disbanded.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday threatened to end Democratic participation in the panel, citing McCarthy's original statements.
McCarthy, who is the favorite to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as the top Republican in the House, has also faced heat from Republicans for his remark.
“I’m very supportive of Kevin McCarthy, but those statements are just absolutely inappropriate. They should be withdrawn. Mr. McCarthy should apologize. I think it was absolutely wrong,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on Thursday.
McCarthy said Thursday evening on Fox that he spoke with the Benghazi Committee's chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), and expressed regret for his initial comments.
"I talked to Trey and I told him I regret that this has ever taken place, it is never my intention — and Trey goes, 'I know it was not your intention, because you know it's not political,' " he said.
"Think for one moment. Look at the work they have done. Look at the work that Trey has done. No one questions Trey's integrity or this committee. It was never my intention to ever imply that this committee was political, because we all know that it is not," McCarthy told Baier.
The presidential campaign of Clinton, who the secretary of State at the time of the Benghazi attacks, has seized on McCarthy's initial remark this week, calling it a "watershed moment" for the committee that has been operating for 16 months.
"This is not what you're going to see from the Speaker of the House," McCarthy said.
"We're going to be able to win this race," McCarthy said, adding that he is "really close" to having the necessary votes to become Speaker.
Asked whether his initial comments were a setback, McCarthy said, "It's been a setback, yes ... because I do not want to make that harm the Benghazi Committee in any way, because it's not political."