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Hillary Clinton Looks To Planned Parenthood President As Model For Benghazi Testimony

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 16/10/2015 Amanda Terkel
ATHENA IMAGE © Pat Sullivan/AP Photo ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON -- Fresh off a strong debate performance in Las Vegas this week, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is already digging in for her next big test : her testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, where Republicans are expected to grill her about her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.

Clinton isn't going into this blindly. She has testified about the 2012 attack  in Benghazi before, albeit in front of different committees. And she now has a model in someone who recently faced Republicans' ire and came out standing: Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, who went before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Sept. 29.

Clinton and her aides are deeply studying Richards' performance, according to a source close to the campaign.

"Cecile was methodical, very straight forward, had a command of the information, was respectful, answered their questions even when they interrupted her, did not let herself get rattled," the source said, referring to the repeated interruptions that became Internet fodder. "She was grounded, she just kept focusing on answering the question. Whenever she would get the same question, she would give the same specifics."

This approach, of course, is easier said than done -- especially after the fatigue from hours and hours of grilling. (Richards testified for five hours.) Clinton's frustration with the GOP questioning came out when she testified in 2012, during an exchange with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.):

Studying Richards' performance is also helpful because a couple of lawmakers Clinton will face were also present for the Planned Parenthood president's testimony -- most notably, Benghazi committee chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).  Watching how they treated Richards could give a clue about how they will question Clinton.

"Trey Gowdy and a few others are on both committees. It gives you an opportunity to see when they're questioning: what's their tone, their demeanor? Each of them had a style," the source said.

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Elijah Cummings (D-.Md.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) are also on both committees. 

But Clinton will also be going in with another advantage: The Benghazi committee's reputation has taken a beating in recent days, largely due to Republican lawmakers' own missteps.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) applauded the purportedly nonpartisan committee for helping damage Clinton's presidential prospects -- and then spent the following week trying to backtrack while Democrats made hay of it . This week, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) said " a big part " of the Benghazi investigation was designed to go after Clinton rather than get to the bottom of the attacks. A former Republican staffer on the committee also said his bosses were singularly focused on going after the former secretary of state.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who sits on the Benghazi committee, said in a statement to The Huffington Post that he expects next week's hearing to be all about partisan politics.

"The Committee is supposed to focus on the events of that tragic night in Benghazi, but after eight investigations and multiple appearances before other Committees by the Secretary, I'm not sure there is much additional and productive ground to cover," he said. "In light of the Committee's conduct thus far and the admissions of Rep. McCarthy and the GOP whistle-blower that they merely want to attack the Secretary I am also skeptical the majority will do more than make an initial showing of interest in Benghazi."

Schiff added that he plans to use his questions to try to "keep the committee focused on a legitimate topic and objective and ensure the Secretary is given an adequate opportunity to answer all the questions."

Schiff, as well as other Democrats , have called on the House to shut down the Benghazi committee, which has cost taxpayers more than $4.5 million in its 17-month existence.

The Clinton camp knows the GOP has points it wants to make, particularly that the presidential candidate is untrustworthy. But the goal is to shift the onus back to the Republicans and make them justify why they're engaged in what is now universally understood to be a partisan operation.

"There were clear points they wanted to push and [Richards] just kept repeating her answer and going back to the facts and going back to the information," the source said. "The burden is now more on them to justify their legitimacy."

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