House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is facing the wrath of his fellow Republicans after his comments Tuesday night linking the Benghazi Committee to Hillary Clinton's sinking poll numbers, insisting that the probe is not being done for political reasons.
"We started because there were four dead Americans and we didn't have answers," House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told CNN.
"I think he should apologize," said Chaffetz. "I think he should withdraw it. I think it's an absolute inaccurate statement as to what we're doing."
The firestorm started Tuesday night, when McCarthy ― highly favored in the election to replace outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, who resigned last week ― said that everyone thought Clinton was "unbeatable" for the Democratic nomination, reports The Hill.
"We put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee," the California Republican said in a Fox News interview. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable."
The comments brought a rebuke from Boehner himself, insisting that the investigation was never about Clinton, but because "the American people deserve the truth about what happened in Benghazi. That's always been our focus, and that's going to remain our focus."
The Benghazi attack occurred while Clinton was still Secretary of State, and the ongoing scandal concerning her use of a private email server came in part after the Benghazi committee, led by South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, focused on her role during the attacks.
Republicans say that the committee was formed, though, to determine what had really happened in the attack, during which four Americans were killed when terrorists stormed the Benghazi diplomatic outpost.
"I might have said it differently," California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa told CNN. "Any ancillary political activity that comes out of it is, in fact, not the goal of the committee and is not what the committee is seeking to do."
And Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan added in that he disagrees with the comments, and believes they "should be a concern" when it comes to picking a new speaker.
Democrats are using McCarthy's statement to resume their calls to disband the Benghazi committee
. In a letter to Boehner on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. and other key Democrats said it was "unconscionable" for the House to spend millions of taxpayer dollars for political purposes.
The controversy is also casting some doubt on McCarthy's almost-shoe-in bid in the House speaker election, being held next week.
The Californian is popular with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but even he said earlier this week that House members are seeking a new "culture" when it comes to picking a new speaker.
His comments could also be used against Republicans later this month, when Clinton takes the stand before the Benghazi committee. She told MSNBC that McCarthy's comments are "distressing" and she feels that they demonstrated a clear political intent that does a "grave disservice" to the memory of the four Americans who were killed.
Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Stewart, who supports McCarthy, said his colleague needs to be more careful about his statements, which will be more heavily scrutinized with his candidacy for the speaker's gavel.
"Being a majority leader is different than being the speaker," Stewart said. "There is a bigger microscope."
But he doesn't think the Republican conference set up the committee to harm Clinton, as he doesn't "think I have ever heard a single time Hillary Clinton's name mentioned in conference."
Even McCarthy's office is backtracking on his comments.
"These inquiries have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the consequences of what the former secretary has done and her confusing, conflicting and demonstrably false responses," said Matt Sparks, a McCarthy spokesman.
Georgia GOP Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a member of the panel, though, says McCarthy's comments were a "slip up" and said he does not think they'll hurt him in the Speaker's race.
Like the others, he told CNN the committee was not formed for political reasons, and McCarthy "knows that's not true at the committee. Chairman Gowdy has been clear this is not about politics."
But one Republican, Texas Rep. Bill Flores, defended McCarthy and said he does not think he was out of line.
"If you think about it, the American people would not know about Hillary's email server ― the lack of security she had, the transmitting of top secret messages via an unsecured server ― they wouldn't know about any of that if it hadn't been for the good work of the Benghazi committee," he said.
Illinois Republican Rep Adam Kinzinger called the comments "unfortunate" and predicted they could cause him problems among his own party in next week's election for speaker.
"We all know there's 25 troublemakers in our caucus and we'll see what they do," he told CNN.
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