Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Sunday that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s chapter on Benghazi in her new book is simply an attempt to defuse the issue politically.
“Hillary has been playing politics with this since the beginning, and she is launching an organized political defense,” Mr. Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Their people are trying to pre-empt or stop any more criticism that she’s been receiving on Benghazi.”
Critics say Mrs. Clinton has yet to answer questions on key details of the September 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the terrorist attack.
In the excerpt from “Hard Choices,” first published by Politico, Mrs. Clinton writes that she “will not be part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans.”
“Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me,” she writes.
The Republican Party chairman, though, said there are still unanswered questions about the attack.
“Hillary Clinton is politics 24/7, and this is no different,” he said.
He questioned why it was National Security Adviser Susan Rice and not Mrs. Clinton who appeared on the Sunday news shows in the wake of the attack, saying either Mrs. Clinton had a grueling week and was tired, as Mrs. Rice has said, or Mrs. Rice was lying.
“The fact is, Hillary Clinton has to answer these questions, number one,” he said. “And number two, if she’s even thinking about running for president, I think that she has been disqualified because of her actions here.”
Democrats had toyed with the idea of boycotting a recently appointed House select committee tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the attack.
But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, recently appointed her full allotment of five Democrats to the committee. There are seven Republicans on the panel, which is chaired by GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.
Mrs. Pelosi said she wasn’t concerned about the prospect of people like Mrs. Clinton or Mrs. Rice facing questions from an all-GOP panel. But Mrs. Clinton’s role in the run-up and aftermath of the attack will undoubtedly be front and center if she chooses to run for president in 2016.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is already backing a possible Clinton presidential run, said later on the program that Benghazi is a tragedy that Mrs. Clinton feels acutely. But she also said congressional Republicans were engaging in overkill in trying to investigate the incident.
“She knows it was on her watch, there were lost Americans,” Mrs. McCaskill said. “But the point is … there has been dozens of hearings. There has been thousands of pages of testimony. Hillary Clinton has appeared in front of House committees and Senate committees answering any question that any Republican wanted to put to her.”
Underscoring the political sensitivity surrounding the issue, the Democratic National Committee responded quickly to Mr. Priebus’s comments, with spokesman Michael Czin saying that the RNC chairman “sounded more like a conspiracy theorist than a leader of the Republican Party.”
“The Obama administration and Democrats are focused on making sure a tragedy like what happened in Benghazi never happens again,” Mr. Czin said. “Republicans are obsessed with playing politics with that tragedy just to rally their far-right base.”
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