The “get Hillary” committee did not get Hillary.
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The House Benghazi committee -- dubbed a “get Hillary” effort by Democrats who opposed its creation -- brought out precious little new information and no major political missteps by the former secretary of state, who happens to be running for president.
Under sharp and lengthy cross-examination for perhaps the biggest foreign-policy debacle of her time in office, Hillary Clinton was somber and substantive. During the political fireworks, Clinton was watching the show, with loyal Democrats matching their Republican colleagues’ volume, and Clinton staying out.
The highly anticipated all-day-cable affair was the culmination of 17 months of committee work, plus decades worth of GOP-led investigations into all things Clinton. Confronted with this unprecedented spectacle, candidate Clinton chose almost entirely not to engage.
“I imagine I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put together,” Clinton told committee members. “I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put together.”
Clinton can sleep easier as she rides a campaign hot streak. A heralded debate performance brought movement in the polls. Then came Wednesday’s announcement -- timed to come before the Benghazi testimony -- by Vice President Joe Biden, opting out of a 2016 run.
The comparative anticlimax of Clinton’s performance on Capitol Hill could assuage nervous Democrats about her strength as a candidate. She remains the overwhelming frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, particularly after Biden’s decision.
The biggest takeaway for many voters is likely to be apathy. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found a clear majority of voters disapproving of Clinton’s handling of Benghazi, but also believing Republicans are mainly out to harm her politically.
None of this suggests that Clinton can move beyond Benghazi fallout -- far from it. Heaping stacks of her printed emails included none from the worried ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stephens, who was among four Americans to lose their lives in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.
New details about Clinton’s communications with longtime adviser Sidney Blumenthal will revive GOP-led intrigue. So will an email to her daughter that suggested Clinton knew early on that militants were behind the attack, notwithstanding the official early narrative of spontaneous protests leading to violence. Notably, Clinton did not commit to allowing a third party to review any emails that might be recovered from her server by the FBI.
Committee members for the most part were professional and detail-oriented, reflecting Chairman Trey Gowdy’s prosecutor’s mentality. And the work didn’t end on Thursday: As late questioning made clear, it’s this committee that first revealed the existence of Clinton’s private email server, triggering a Department of Justice inquiry as well as monthly email document dumps from the State Department.
On a substantive level, Clinton’s critics sought to portray her as the architect of a failed policy in Libya and beyond. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Illinois, had prepared a definition of the “Clinton Doctrine” that seemed to veer from the committee’s stated apolitical reasons for existence.
“I think it's where an opportunity is seized to turn progress in Libya into a political win for Hillary Rodham Clinton,” Roskam said, not really looking for a response.
“I don’t understand why that has anything to do with what we are talking about today,” Clinton countered.
It wasn’t where Clinton wanted to be, but she didn’t waste the chance to deliver a sliver of a stump speech on foreign policy.
“We need leadership at home to match our leadership abroad -- leadership that puts national security ahead of politics and ideology,” Clinton said in her opening statement. “We should resist denigrating the patriotism or loyalty [of those] with whom we disagree. So I am here.”