Top Republicans are coming out against GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy's suggestion that the special committee investigating the Benghazi attacks was a success because it damaged Hillary Rodham Clinton's reputation.
Retiring House Speaker John A. Boehner did a bit of damage control on Thursday over the comments from McCarthy, of Bakersfield, who's expected to replace Boehner as the most powerful lawmaker in Congress.
The investigation "has never been about former Secretary of State Clinton and never will be," Boehner said in a statement. "The American people deserve the truth about what happened in Benghazi. That's always been our focus, and that's going to remain our focus."
McCarthy's comments this week risk weakening the committee's standing as well as undercutting one of the Republican Party's chief arguments against Clinton -- that her leadership during the attacks, at best, fell short and, at worst, endangered Americans.
She is due to testify this month before the panel, an encounter already being viewed politically: as a test of her presidential candidacy in how well she avails herself and as a chance to shake off the cloud over her campaign from the ongoing investigation into her email use while secretary of State.
McCarthy, the no. 2 Republican in the House and the favorite to become the top leader in Congress this month, was hit with a wave of criticism after an interview with Fox News on Tuesday in which he seemed to concede a key Democratic talking point: that the GOP investigation into the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya is all about politics.
"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" said McCarthy, of Bakersfield. "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 that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen."
Republicans have long argued that the committee was established to try to get the truth behind the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, not to muddy up Clinton, the secretary of State at the time.
The statements by Boehner and others were a bid to keep the focus on the committee's investigative work.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, called on McCarthy to apologize.
"To suggest that there was any sort of political motivation is absolutely -- it's not fair," he said on MSNBC. "It's not fair to those four families who lost those loved ones. That's not why we're doing this."
McCarthy should withdraw his comment and "express how wrong it was," he said.
"It was never the intention, it's not what we're doing and I think the statement is totally wrong," Chaffetz said.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who's seeking the GOP nomination for president, echoed fellow Republicans' claims, insisting the committee exists "because there should be an analysis of what actually happened." He didn't "quite understand" why McCarthy made that statement, he told MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski.
"This isn't to try to damage Hillary Clinton," he said.