Why The Stakes Are So High For Hillary Clinton — And The Benghazi Committee : It's All Politics The Democratic presidential candidate testifies Thursday in what could be one of the most closely watched congressional hearings ever. It's a pivotal moment in the 2016 campaign — and for the GOP.

Why The Stakes Are So High For Hillary Clinton — And The Benghazi Committee

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On a debate stage the other night, five Democrats took more than two hours of questions. Well, this morning as we speak, lawmakers are gathering in a hearing room here in Washington, D.C., ready to spend hours questioning one of those candidates, Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state is facing questions about the attack that left four Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.


Questions for Hillary Clinton about that incident may range from security at diplomatic outposts to her infamous email server. And the presidential campaign will never be far out of sight. NPR's Tamara Keith is following the Clinton campaign. She's on the line. Hi, Tamara.


INSKEEP: So how does this work?

KEITH: First, this will be in public, which is a change. Much of the testimony before this committee has been done in private, but Hillary Clinton said she wanted a public hearing. Several of her advisers have done these closed-door meetings, and they've taken eight or nine hours, so Clinton can expect a lengthy hearing. There will be opening statements, but she is the only witness, which means that she's going to be on the spot for a very long time.

INSKEEP: OK, now, everybody on all sides says this should be about four dead Americans and about this incident, and yet everyone seems to acknowledge that it will on some measure be about Hillary Clinton. What is at stake for her?

KEITH: For her, this is a big public moment. The debate was a big performance, but this is a large moment in her campaign. And she has to be careful not to be too dismissive, even if she does think that this committee is really just on a partisan witch hunt. Also, the FBI is still investigating the handling of sensitive information on her private email server that she used while she was secretary of state. So there could be some legal considerations. And then there's just the spotlight. Anything she says could, and probably will, end up in a negative campaign ad. I'm sure we've all seen this video where she said, what difference does it make, in another Benghazi hearing a couple of years ago. Well, there was a much larger context to that. She was pushing back on a line of questioning about why the administration initially said the attack grew out of a protest. But that context isn't there in any of the many ads and web videos that have run using that footage, and so...

INSKEEP: Oh, it's made to suggest that she's asking what difference does the attack itself make. It's changing the meaning by omitting the context. Is that what you're saying?

KEITH: Exactly, and in this political silly season, anything anyone says in that committee, both the Democrats and the Republicans, could be clipped out and put into an ad made to look - make them look bad. Made to make the process look political or made to make Clinton look dismissive. I talked to Congressman Adam Schiff. He's a Democrat on the committee, and he said he's sure that Clinton will perform well but that this is perilous.

ADAM SCHIFF: It's very hard, I think, when you're fatigued and you're the one who's answering all the questions. So just maintaining that level of alertness without losing your cool is a challenge. So there are ample opportunities to be tripped up, which is I'm sure what the GOP will be hoping for.

INSKEEP: So that's a Democratic perspective. Now, how have Republicans done at persuading people of their claim that this is not a political investigation?

KEITH: Lately, it hasn't been going very well. It's gotten very muddy, in part because of a couple of House Republicans who have sort of bragged about the political damage that this committee has been able to do. The committee's chairman, Trey Gowdy, went on CBS's "Face The Nation" on Sunday and begged them to please stop.


TREY GOWDY: I have told my own Republican colleagues and friends, shut up talking about things that you don't know anything about. And unless you're on the committee, you have no idea what we've done, why we've done it and what new facts we have found.

KEITH: For Gowdy, the legitimacy of his committee is really at stake here. There have been seven other investigations, and he needs to show that this committee's time and money and resources were worth it. And to do that, he's going to need to turn up something new - something that could keep American diplomats safer in the future.

INSKEEP: Tam, thanks very much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith.

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