WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton cleared another major hurdle in a week full of them Thursday when she avoided giving Republicans any ammunition to use against her during a grueling 11 hours of testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
The hearing, which began at 10:00 a.m. ET, stretched deep into the evening as Republicans grilled Clinton on everything on what have now become well-known conservative hobby horses in the larger Benghazi controversy.
All Republicans needed was one stray moment – like the one from Clinton’s 2013 hearing on Benghazi when she declared “what difference does it make” and created fodder for GOP attack ads – but instead she maintained her composure during a full day in the hot seat.
Little new was revealed about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on U.S. government facilities in the Libyan cities, and even committee chairman, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, struggled to say what new he had learned from the hearing when asked by reporters afterwards.
Democrats were outright hostile. “What we’ve learned here is, well, nothing, frankly,” Democratic Rep. Adam Smith fumed during the proceedings.Some Democrats had expected the committee’s Republicans to focus on less controversial issues, in light of major questions about the committee’s credibility raised by Republican members of Congress. But the GOP majority asked the kind of questions one might expect them to ask if they were seeking to damage Clinton.
Gowdy seemed intent on defending the committee’s existence after seven other congressional committees investigated the matter previously.
Republicans’ most pointed questions came on the subject of Sidney Blumenthal, the former Clinton White House adviser who forwarded Clinton emails about Libya. “I just don’t understand the preoccupation with Blumenthal. You would think he was in Benghazi, manning the barricades,” quipped Rep. Adam Schiff as the committee’s hearing entered its eighth hour.
Clinton was all smiles as she left and reentered the room during breaks, and spoke in measured calm tones throughout. Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon marveled that Republicans were focusing on what he dubbed “conspiracy theories,” which only resonate among conservatives.
As the hearing dragged into its ninth hour, there were brief glimpses of frustration visible under Clinton’s otherwise sober and dry delivery. “It’s the same answer I’ve been giving all day,” she said flatly in response to one question.
The only real fireworks came between members of Congress, as the top Republican and Democrat on the committee sparred over whether to release the transcript of Blumenthal’s private testimony before the committee.The hearing comes as Clinton’s once faltering presidential bid has hit a run of good fortune.
The day before she testified, Vice President Joe Biden, who would have been her biggest threat in a Democratic primary, bowed out of a presidential run, removing a key obstacle to her path to the nomination. A week earlier, Clinton turned in a strong performance in the first Democratic presidential debate that solidified her spot at the top of the presidential primary field and calmed jittery progressive voters.
There will be no rest for Clinton, however, as she’s set to address a Democratic National Committee and a rally with Rep. Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia suburbs outside Washington. Then she’s off to Iowa for the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, a key Democratic event featuring all four declared presidential candidates. She typically performs well in these events, and will enter the Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines riding a wave of momentum.
And if Clinton aides really feel like celebrating, former President Bill Clinton will be rallying supporters with pop star Katy Perry before the event.