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Bill Clinton spoils Hillary’s moment of liberation from Benghazi

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(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Just as a House select committee’s final report on Benghazi hit the headlines with an underwhelming splat, Bill Clinton had to go and ruin the moment for his wife.

The Republican fishing expedition trolled the waters of the Benghazi tragedy for two years and spent $7 million in public funds. The intrepid congressmen chased after a string of tall tales about Hillary Clinton’s role in the deaths of four Americans — including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens — and what the report by the committee’s Republican members concluded was that then-Secretary of State Clinton, at worst, was not paying attention to the growing dangers imperiling the diplomats working for her. No scandal, no culpability, just a bureaucratic snafu.

The report says the State Department, the CIA and the Defense Department screwed up in assessing and responding to the situation in Benghazi and alleges that a Clinton aide had undue influence on the department’s own assessment of the incident, but there is nothing in the report that comes remotely close to what an attorney for Donald Trump tweeted a couple of days ago — that Hillary Clinton had “murdered an ambassador.”

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Clinton was a key player on an administration team that made mistakes, but that is about it. Just as her 11-hour testimony before the Benghazi committee last fall made her look good and the Republicans look like amateurs and buffoons, the report does no damage and dispenses, at last, a nagging annoyance that had dogged her campaign for president.

Yes, Hillary was having a good week — until Bill gave the 24/7 cable news pundits and talk radio screamers something new to chatter about.

On Monday night, Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch was in her government airplane parked on the tarmac at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport when, unannounced, Bill Clinton dropped by for a chat. Lynch was in Phoenix for a community policing gathering. Clinton just happened to be at the airport and, when he heard Lynch was nearby, decided to say hello.

The problem here, of course, is that Lynch’s Justice Department is engaged in an ongoing investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of State. It does not look good for the attorney general to be talking privately with the spouse of a person under investigation.

Lynch insisted that her brief conversation with the former president was “primarily social” and, given her reputation for integrity, most people believe her. That does not mean Republicans are not using the incident as a fortuitous opportunity to slam the Obama administration, attack the Clintons and demand that a special prosecutor take over the investigation. And, unsurprisingly, Trump seized the moment to characterize the Lynch/Clinton encounter as “horrible” and “really a sneak.”

In his prime, Bill Clinton was one of the most masterful campaigners American politics has ever produced, and he left after two terms in the White House as the most popular Democrat in the country. But, to understate the case, he has weak antennae when it comes to recognizing ethically compromising situations. He is smart enough to know he cannot successfully meddle in a Justice Department investigation that is so closely scrutinized. Apparently, though, he was not smart enough to understand his social call would put Lynch in a bad position or that his impulsive sociability would do damage to his wife’s campaign.

There are still plenty of tired jokes about Bill Clinton’s unchecked libido and the scandalous behavior with Monica Lewinski that led to his impeachment. These days, though, he looks like a man whose days of randiness are far behind him. If he ends up in the White House again as the nation’s first first gentleman, it seems highly unlikely that he would provoke any new “bimbo eruptions.” That does not mean he wouldn’t find other ways to embarrass Hillary. This week, he proved how easily he can do it.

David.Horsey@latimes.com

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

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