Clinton, Gowdy prep Benghazi game plans

 Clinton, Gowdy prep Benghazi game plans

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton trolls Trump with mock letter from JFK to Khrushchev Trump-Graham relationship tested by week of public sparring Sunday shows — Mulvaney seeks to tamp down firestorm over quid pro quo comments, Doral decision MORE and Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGowdy remembers political opponent, good friend Elijah Cummings Hill editor-in-chief: 'Hard to imagine' House leadership without Cummings Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 MORE (R-S.C.) are readying their game plans for what may prove to be the congressional showdown of the year.

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for the White House, will testify on Thursday to Gowdy’s panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

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The former secretary of State enters the hearing from a position of relative strength.

A successful debate performance last week reestablished the sense that the Democratic race is hers to lose.

And after struggling to handle the controversy surrounding her use of a private email server, Clinton won a political gift after two Republican lawmakers and a GOP aide suggested the Select Committee on Benghazi, which Gowdy chairs, is politically motivated.

With a cable television audience watching on Thursday, Clinton’s goal will be to remind viewers of the damaging comments made by Republicans, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

She also wants to carry the message that she’s already said everything she knows about the deadly Benghazi attack after testifying before House and Senate panels in January 2013.

“The facts haven’t changed,” said one Clinton ally. “The only thing that has changed is their admissions that this process has been politicized. And they’ve done enormous damage to themselves.

“It’s turned into kangaroo court,” the ally continued. “They’ve lost the moral argument.”

To break that narrative, Gowdy is stuck on a tightrope.

He needs to unearth some news about Clinton’s emails and put her on defense — something he appears primed to do — without seeming like too much of an attack dog.

The committee has obtained 1,500 pages of emails concerning the broader situation in Libya during Clinton’s time as secretary of State and appears ready to release information in the days — if not hours — before Clinton’s testimony.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), a member of the panel, said Gowdy’s committee has new information from the emails.

“None of the documents that were in her possession were available to any of those committees at the time those committees had the opportunity to ask questions,” he told reporters last week as the panel grilled Huma Abedin, the longtime senior Clinton aide, behind closed doors for eight hours.

“So yes, I think we have the opportunity to flesh out many of the details,” he added.

McCarthy’s remarks linking the committee’s work to Clinton’s falling poll numbers have increased the degree of difficulty for Gowdy and his fellow panel members.

So did similar comments by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and a former Republican committee staffer, who both said the committee is tied to Clinton’s political aspirations.

Gowdy told Politico that the last few weeks have been among the worst of his life.

Yet Pompeo brushed off suggestions it has made the committee’s work tougher.

“No harder, no easier,” he said. “We have a simple mission — a complex task but a simple mission.”

Clinton has her own mission, allies say: To parry the expected new information and questions and to avoid appearing overly demonstrative and hotheaded. During her Senate hearing in 2013, an irritated Clinton, then secretary of State, lost her patience after Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonAmbassador Gordon Sondland arrives on Capitol Hill for testimony in impeachment inquiry GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Sondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy MORE (R-Wis.) pushed her on whether she could have found out what was happening at the consulate in Benghazi.

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” Clinton said in her testimony, growing increasingly angry with each word. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” 

The comments provided an easy sound bite for Republicans and something that will be featured prominently in ads during the 2016 cycle.

Even staunch Clinton supporters concede that she will need to avoid such situations. “When she gets mad, she has this look on her face that gets plastered in newspapers and TV ads,” the supporter said. “I think she needs to avoid those moments as much as possible.”

And while the first Clinton ally expects the presidential hopeful to be composed, the ally cautioned that “it depends how confrontational” the lawmakers on the panel are.

Clinton aides say the Democratic front-runner is doing everything to participate with the committee, including agreeing to testify in a public hearing. Still, she and her top aides have been telegraphing the political nature of the committee.

“I think it’s pretty clear that whatever they might’ve thought they were doing, they ended up becoming a partisan arm of the Republican National Committee with an overwhelming focus on trying to — as they admitted — drive down my poll numbers,” Clinton told CNN’s Jake Tapper last week. “I’ve already testified about Benghazi. I testified to the best of my ability before the Senate and the House. I don’t know that I have very much to add.”

Priorities USA Action, the super-PAC backing Clinton, will also take to the airwaves ahead of the panel for the first time this week, according to The New York Times. The ad — which is set to air in the early caucus and primary states — aims to highlight her appearance before the Benghazi panel.

Clinton aides would not say how the presidential candidate is preparing for her testimony, and allies in her orbit would only say that she’s well-prepared to answer specifics.

“All of these issues have been debated and examined,” one confidante said. “She knows this stuff. And if it’s about her emails, she’ll once again acknowledge that it was a mistake and it wasn’t illegal.

“But if the panel is simply asking about the events in Benghazi, we’ve been through this a number of times,” the confidante added.

The Clinton campaign on Monday directed reporters to a “Getting the Facts on Benghazi” conference call put on by the National Security Network. On the call, two former Obama administration officials were asked if they know of anything new on the attack that could be uncovered by Republicans over the next few days.

“It’s hard to think of anything new in terms of the actual facts,” said Matthew Olsen, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center and one of the two officials on the call.

“I just want to second that,” added the second official, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet. “I don’t know what more could be asked.”