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GOP leader backtracks on Benghazi 'strategy' comments

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Andrew Harnik/AP/File

(Read caption) House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif. walks on Capitol Hill in Washington. McCarthy says he regrets comments suggesting the House special committee on Benghazi has political goals. McCarthy says he never intended to make that suggestion. He says the purpose of the committee is to find out the truth and it has nothing to do with politics.

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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy scrambled to do damage control on Thursday after his remarks implying that the congressional investigation of the 2012 attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya could be politically motivated set both parties on fire.

In what The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. called a “truthful gaffe,” Rep. McCarthy (R) of California suggested in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Tuesday that the GOP-funded committee was set up primarily to discredit former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

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McCarthy, who is expected to succeed John Boehner as House Speaker this fall, was explaining what he would do differently in the role.

Here are his comments from Tuesday:

What you’re gonna see is a conservative Speaker that takes a conservative Congress that puts a strategy to fight and win.

Let me you give one example. 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. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.

Speaking to Fox News’ Bret Baier on Thursday, Mr. McCarthy said, “This committee was set up for one sole purpose, to find the truth on behalf of families for four dead Americans.”

“I did not intend to imply in any way that that work is political,” he added. “Of course it is not. Look at the way they have carried themselves out.”

In a separate statement, Mr. Boehner chimed in, “This investigation has never been about former Secretary of State Clinton and never will be.”

But critics aren't buying it.

“This stunning concession from Rep. McCarthy reveals the truth that Republicans never dared admit in public: The core Republican goal in establishing the Benghazi Committee was always to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and never to conduct an even-handed search for the facts,” Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, told MSNBC on Wednesday.

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Mrs. Clinton herself has called the comments “deeply distressing.”

Republicans across the country sharply objected to McCarthy’s original comments, saying they were unrepresentative of the committee’s intentions, reports CNN. “Privately, Republicans were outraged.”

What McCarthy needs to do now is “reassure his colleagues that he can handle the post without making the kind of mistakes that hand political ammunition to Democrats,” writes MSNBC’s Zachary Roth. “His remarks on Fox, which seemed intended as an effort to impress conservatives, did exactly that.”