Washington (CNN) Hillary Clinton said Friday that while she will do her “best” to answer the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s questions in her testimony next week on Capitol Hill, she doesn’t have very much to add and that “conspiracy theories” about the attack have already been debunked.
In the wide-ranging 20-minute interview Friday on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” Clinton addressed everything from her performance in the first Democratic debate and her top rival for the Democratic nomination Sen. Bernie Sanders to Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s “oversize personality” and whether Vice President Joe Biden should jump into the race.
But less than a week before she testifies for the first time before the panel and on the same day as her top aide Huma Abedin testified privately before the committee, Clinton previewed her testimony and girded herself for the tough questioning she is expected to endure by pointing to the committee’s political motivations. And it’s already clear she is arming herself with the since-repudiated comments of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who a few weeks ago linked the committee’s fate to Clinton’s once-slipping poll numbers.
“I think it’s pretty clear that whatever they might’ve thought they were doing, they ended up becoming a partisan arm of the Republican National Committee with an overwhelming focus on trying to — as they admitted — drive down my poll numbers,” Clinton told Tapper. “I’ve already testified about Benghazi. I testified to the best of my ability before the Senate and the House. I don’t know that I have very much to add.”
Clinton also swatted away questions about her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state and whether she mishandled any classified materials through her email, once again insisting that “nothing that I was sent or that I sent was marked classified.”
It’s a fine-tuned phrase that she has often repeated in recent weeks as she and her campaign have adjusted their messaging on the controversy swirling around her email use — messaging that she struggled to keep consistent in the first waves of criticism that plagued her campaign’s debut.
While it appears none of the emails Clinton sent or received were marked classified, the intelligence community’s inspector general has said that some of the emails contained classified information when they were generated — not just information that was retroactively classified.
Clinton called that “a very strong difference of opinion” and noted that the State Department disagrees with that assertion and explained that various agencies often disagree about what information should or should not be classified.
And addressing her email exchanges with longtime confidant Sidney Blumenthal — exchanges that have drawn scrutiny and are sure to come up in next week’s hearing — Clinton was quick to insist that nothing he sent her and that she at times forwarded to her aides could be construed as classified “because it came from an outside non-government person.”
Clinton, whose use of personal email as secretary of state was permitted under the State Department’s rules at the time, said no one at the State Department signed off on her decision to set up a private email server.
The Republican National Committee slammed that answer in a statement Friday and insisted that “what she did was not allowed.”
“Hillary Clinton’s stunning admission that she unilaterally set up her secret email server that exposed Top Secret material shows she alone is responsible for putting national security at risk,” RNC spokesman Michael Short said. “While Hillary Clinton may think she can mislead and laugh off tough questions about her judgment, her growing email scandal personifies why an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t trust her.”