- Clinton supporters respond quickly to story saying Benghazi documents were sanitized
- House committee is holding another hearing into the 2012 attack, which killed 4 Americans
- Clinton supporters say claims are effort to boost GOP midterm turnout, make it an issue in 2016
Hillary Clinton supporters launched a counteroffensive this week against claims that documents related to the Benghazi attack investigation were sanitized and ahead of another congressional hearing.
A Clinton spokesman responded quickly to the story released Monday, calling it "patently false," and a group helping with the former secretary of state's communications and rapid response mobilized an entire communications strategy, website and talking points around the issue.
The strategy has a directness that has not always been seen from Clinton aides and affiliated groups, which have generally waited for a story to fully emerge before taking it on.
A GOP-led House Select Committee on the Benghazi attack holds its first public meeting Wednesday, with seven Republicans and five Democrats looking into the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. compound in Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The issue has been white hot politically since then. It loomed as an issue that Republicans used against President Barack Obama in the closing months of the 2012 election, and with the prospect of Clinton running for president in 2016, the issue has continued to burn.
Sharyl Attkisson, who resigned from her job as a CBS News correspondent in 2014 for what she said was liberal bias, published a report Monday alleging that a State Department official close to Clinton had withheld and sanitized documents during the department investigation.
The story, which many conservative outlets branded as a "bombshell," was hung on Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, one of the men reprimanded over the attack.
The State Department flatly denied the story.
The Accountability Review Board "had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents. Any accounts to the contrary like that one you mentioned are completely without merit, completely ill-informed," said Marie Harf, the department's deputy spokeswoman. "These reports show a complete lack of understanding of how the ARB functioned. It collected its own documents directly from anybody in the department. There was a department-wide call for information to be given directly to the ARB."
Nick Merrill, Clinton's spokesman, followed up Tuesday with a statement to CNN.
"This is patently false, as the State Department said yesterday about the process that allowed unfettered access to the Accountability Review Board."
Correct the Record, the outside group handling communications for Clinton and urging her to run for president in 2016, launched a rapid response the same day "to rebut, fact check, and respond to the upcoming Benghazi Select Committee hearings."
The effort includes a website -- BenghaziCommittee.com -- that highlights statements from the group, points out questions already addressed by past Benghazi panels and fact-checks some critics' claims. The group says it hopes to model its response after the way campaigns respond during debates.
"The loss of life in Benghazi was a tragedy but the questions of what happened that night have already been asked and answered," the group said in an email. "Republicans have no credibility on this issue and are wasting taxpayer dollars on these sham hearings to ask questions that have already been answered, all for political gain: both to drive up their base turnout in 2014 and to go after Secretary Clinton for 2016."
Clinton has taken responsibility in the attacks and has told a number of groups that it was her biggest regret at the State Department. In her memoir, "Hard Choices," she knocks those "who exploit" Benghazi for political gain and says, "Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me."
The passage is considered a flat no to any suggestion that Clinton would testify before the House's latest Benghazi committee.
Despite that, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, is undeterred from proceeding with the investigation.
A statement Tuesday from the committee said, "As Chairman Gowdy has said, he is willing to risk answering the same question twice rather than risk it not be answered at all."