WASHINGTON -- Hillary Clinton's testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi was supposed to be her chance to clear the air surrounding her use of a private email server as secretary of state. She had been facing constant questions from the media all summer as Republicans hammered away at the related issues of the emails and her role in the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya.
But heading into her testimony scheduled for Thursday morning, Republicans are the ones playing defense, while Clinton is in a much stronger political position.
"I think it is pretty clear that whatever they might have thought they were doing," Clinton said in a CNN interview last week, "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."
The trouble started with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) Sept. 29 interview on Fox News, when he applauded the purportedly nonpartisan Benghazi committee for achieving the very partisan goal of hurting Clinton's presidential bid.
McCarthy apologized over and over again, but it did no good. Clinton's campaign quickly put out an ad using his own words to argue that Republicans are using taxpayer funds to settle a political score.
As Republicans were still dealing with the fallout from McCarthy's comments, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) then admitted that a "big part" of the Benghazi investigation was "designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton." Bradley Podliska, a former Republican staffer on the committee, came out and said he was punished for refusing to go along with directions to focus his work on taking down Clinton.
And causing further headaches, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) called for Clinton to face impeachment on day one of her presidency, should she win the election. He argued that her handling of government documents on her private email server -- the existence of which was discovered by the Benghazi committee -- constituted high crimes and misdemeanors.
"I would say in some ways these have been among the worst weeks of my life," committee chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) told Politico. Gowdy has worked harder than anyone to portray his investigation as above the partisan fray. "Attacks on your character, attacks on your motives, are 1,000-times worse than anything you can do to anybody physically -- at least it is for me."
On Friday, Gowdy had to return three campaign donations from the Stop Hillary PAC that aired an ad about the Benghazi attacks during the recent Democratic debate. The PAC's treasurer previously served as treasurer for a former fundraising committee tied to Gowdy.
"The chairman says, evaluate us by the actions, not by the words of our own members. Well, the actions of the committee have been the most damning of all, because they have had a singular focus on Secretary Clinton," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC Tuesday. Schiff is one of the five Democrats on the committee.
Democrats, meanwhile, are going all-out to undermine the committee's legitimacy. Priorities USA, the main pro-Clinton super PAC, is running an ad in the first four nominating states ahead of her testimony, focused on the Benghazi investigation.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Benghazi committee, on Monday called for the panel to be abolished. It has been in existence for 17 months and cost more than $4.5 million. Cummings and his fellow Democrats also released a report that day saying there is "no evidence" to support the claims Republicans are making about Clinton's role in the 2012 attack.
"[T]he implication that Chairman Gowdy is trying to make that somehow she's somehow personally responsible for the fact that they didn't have the security measures in place that they had been asked for is -- it's just an attempt to really smear her," Benghazi committee member Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said Monday on MSNBC. "When in fact many Republicans voted to cut funding for State Department to increase security at some of the embassies and some of the outposts."
Clinton also isn't going into Thursday's hearing blindly. She has testified about the 2012 attack in Benghazi before, albeit in front of different committees. (So far, there have been seven investigations into the Benghazi attack, and none of them found any gross negligence on her part.)
Her team is also looking at the recent testimony of Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards in front of the House Oversight Committee as a model for Clinton's appearance, since Richards walked away from it without giving Republicans any fresh fodder.
"[Clinton's] looking forward to doing this. She wants to answer all these questions," campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said on MSNBC Tuesday. "And we think once she is through Thursday, we are going to be done with this and she will have answered questions from all the media, she will have answered questions from the Hill. This will be the eighth time the congressional committee has investigated this, and it will be time to move on."