The likely next speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, returned to Fox News Thursday night in a bid to clarify his remarks 48 hours earlier on the Benghazi committee.
“It was never my intention to say that,” the California Republican told news anchor Bret Baier.
He was referencing Tuesday night’s comments to Sean Hannity in which he credited the special committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attacks with sinking 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton’s poll numbers, and cited that as an example of the kind of conservative leadership he would provide as speaker.
The remarks prompted a call for an apology from a fellow Republican, a walk-back from Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, bipartisan flak, and a rebuke from Clinton’s campaign, which was happy to have ammunition to discredit the committee ahead of Clinton’s Oct. 22 testimony.
McCarthy, the current House majority leader, explained:
“This committee was set up for one sole purpose: To find the truth on behalf of the families for four dead Americans. Now, I did not intend to imply in any way that that work is political, of course it is not. Look at the way they have carried themselves out.
“The point I was trying to make, and I want to be very clear about this: I wasn’t saying the committee was political. That committee is solely to get the truth out, but it happened within the truth you found out about a server. This committee’s sole purpose is to find the truth why four Americans were killed that night, and that is the work they have done, that is the hearings they have done, they have been applauded on all sides of the aisle, so it was never my intention to say that.”
Baier asked whether McCarthy had spoken directly to his colleagues in the days since his comments created a firestorm — Democrats reveled in what they called an acknowledgement of the committee’s political motivations, and some Republicans admitted they were concerned their future speaker might not be ready for prime time.
“I’ve talked to Trey,” said McCarthy of Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. “I’ve talked to the colleagues. I’ve expressed to them exactly what I’m telling you right now … it was never my intention. This committee has nothing to do with politics. Think for one moment: Look at the work that Trey has done, no one questions Trey’s integrity. It was never my intention to imply that this committee was political because we all know it is not. And it has one sole purpose: Let’s find the truth wherever the truth takes us.”
McCarthy said, “I told [Gowdy] I regret that this ever has taken place, it was never my intention, and Trey goes, ‘I know it’s not your intention because you know it’s not political,’” adding that Gowdy assured McCarthy the remarks would not undermine the scheduled committee hearing later this month in which Clinton will testify.
When questioned why it took him until now to speak publicly on the matter, McCarthy conceded, “I should have come out right afterwards … you can always improve.”
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