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Benghazi coming back with a vengeance in September

After months of silence, Benghazi is about to be in the headlines once again.
Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC.

After several mercifully Benghazi-free months, the 2012 attack on the diplomatic compound in Libya is about to be thrust back into the spotlight around its September 11 anniversary.

The special House committee investigating Benghazi is finally expected to begin its work, in earnest, with its first hearing the week Congress returns from August recess. Meanwhile, two books promising explosive new allegations about the terror attack will hit shelves in September, and Fox News plans to air a new, one-hour documentary on the attack this week, featuring exclusive interviews with Americans who fought in the onslaught. 

Add that to the usual fare that accompanies the anniversary of any major news event and you get a headache for the teams surrounding Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. For both, it’s a stubborn political problem that will likely never go away, no matter how many investigations clear the senior players of the worst allegations of wrongdoing. And it’s little doubt why: Polls suggest that Clinton is vulnerable on Benghazi ahead of a potential 2016 presidential run, with members of both parties listing it as her biggest weakness.

Partisans on both sides are gearing up for the return of Benghazi. Tim MIller, for example, who is the executive director of the GOP super PAC America Rising, told msnbc his team is prepared to jump on “anything that comes up in these books/hearings that call into question Sec. Clinton's claims.” And Clinton defenders at Democratic groups like Correct the Record and American Bridge say they will be ready to respond to any incoming fire, and are already passing along research to undermine the books.

On Sept. 9, conservative talk radio host Aaron Klein’s “The Real Benghazi Story” will hit bookstores. Published by an imprint of World Net Daily (the website that promotes the notion that Obama was not born in the U.S.), the book promises “to blow the lid off” “shocking,” “devastating,” and “mind-blowing” new details of the terror attack. It’s the story “the White House and Hillary don’t want you to know,” the book’s subtitle claims.

Klein’s audience is undoubtedly the already-converted, but three of his previous books have made it to The New York Times bestseller list, and his latest is easy fodder for the conservative echo chamber. Klein has plans to promote the book in New York and Washington, and already “has interview commitments with top-tier cable, radio and print outlets,” according to his publicist.

At the same time comes “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi.” The book  is likely to gain more traction in the mainstream press, considering its author, Boston University journalism professor Mitchell Zuckoff, and publisher, Hachette, a well respected house.

Zuckoff got unprecedented access to the six Americans who defended the CIA annex in Benghazi and tells their story from the ground. Paramount reportedly bought the film rights months ago and has a screenwriter and producers attached to the project.

His book promises to “set the record straight” on what happened on the ground, but will not dwell much on the politics or bureaucratic wrangling in Washington. Still, even if Clinton barely makes a cameo, anytime people are talking about Benghazi its bad for Clinton. The book may also provide embarrassing new details from people closest to the attack.

Zuckoff’s work also spawned an hour-long Fox News special, set to air Friday, in which host Bret Baier interviews the security operators. The documentary is being promoted by Fox and will likely further stir the pot on the right. 

The House Select Committee on Benghazi -- the seventh congressional committee that has looked into the attacks -- has been quiet since its inception this spring, will hold its first hearing the second week of September. Led by South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, Republicans last week hired the Army’s former top lawyer to be their general counsel. They’re finishing staffing up, but are revealing little about future plans beyond the first hearing. The Democratic side, led by Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, say they are mostly staffed up.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who sits on the select committee, said that while Gowdy has been inclusive of Democrats and responsible thus far, he’ll have to deal with high expectations from the conservative base. “I’m not sure where we’re headed. I’m not sure the House leadership knows where we’re headed. But I do think there’s going to be a lot pressure on the chairman to produce something,” he told msnbc.

Gowdy told The New York Times Friday that it will likely take until at least the end of 2015 for the committee to complete its work, but that it could go into 2016 if agencies are slow to turn over requested documents.

Some Democrats and Clinton allies, who have long dismissed the slew of Benghazi investigations as being politically motivated, say they expect the committee will be used to attack Obama in anticipation of the midterm elections, before turning attention to Clinton afterwards. But Schiff said the committee is unlikely to produce anything in time for 2014 elections. He did, however, say there will be tremendous pressure on Gowdy to bring Clinton as a witness.

Other Democrats are treating a Clinton testimony request as a certainty.

“I don’t think there are many new facts to be found there,” Schiff added.  

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the release date for Zuckoff's book. It hits shelves on Sept. 9, not Sept. 30.