House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy |

Kevin McCarthy walks back Benghazi statements

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy Wednesday tried to put out the fire over his recent statements regarding the Benghazi embassy attack. 

In a press conference, McCarthy accused the press of playing politics but admitted he was not sufficiently clear in statements he made implying that Hillary Clinton's poll numbers are dropping in response to the Benghazi committee’s continuing investigation of her role in the 2012 terrorist attack.

In comments made on Fox News last week, McCarthy, who is vying to become the next Speaker of the House, tied the Democratic presidential front-runner's drop in recent polling to the recent Benghazi committee hearings.

Clinton was secretary of state at the time of the terrorist attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, along with two security professionals and an embassy staffer, were killed in the attack, and Clinton has been dogged by claims that she tried to minimize her office’s responsibility for the loss.

Clinton seized on McCarthy’s statements, quickly putting together a television ad emphasizing them and using the suggestion that the hearings were politically motivated as a talking point.

Republican members of Congress have joined in the criticism of McCarthy’s remarks, with some questioning his ability to lead the House.

In Wednesday's press conference, McCarthy conceded that his comments could have been better phrased.

“Look, I think I have been very clear when it comes to Benghazi,” McCarthy said. “I could have said it in a different manner. Yes — and I think at any given time somebody could always say something better. Over time we will prove we have a very good message.”

Wednesday's press conference came after Benghazi committee chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina called out McCarthy on the issue. McCarthy sought to smooth out the differences with his fellow Republican. 

“That is the only reason the committee was created,” McCarthy said. “The integrity of Trey Gowdy, the integrity of the work that was done has never come into question and it never should be. Stop playing politics.”

He characterized the debate as a political ploy intended to undermine him and fueled by the media.

“Let’s be very clear, Benghazi is not political,” McCarthy said. “[The committee] was created for one purpose and one purpose only: to find the truth on behalf of the four dead Americans, period. I’ve been very clear about this. Don’t use politics to try to change this around.”

House Speaker John Boehner, who announced he will be resigning later this month following several months of infighting with the House GOP, defended McCarthy.

“Let me just add this: There is not one American who, in the course of their lifetime, wouldn’t rather have the opportunity to say words over again,” he said. “There is not one American that hasn’t had this experience.”

Neither Gowdy nor McCarthy's office responded to requests for comment.