WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. congressional committee investigating the attack in Benghazi, Libya, on Wednesday defended his panel's work after a fellow Republican boasted on television about its impact on Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
"Kevin screwed up," committee chairman Trey Gowdy told MSNBC television, referring to U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who said in a television interview last week that the federally funded investigation had successfully dented Clinton's poll numbers as she seeks her party's presidential nomination.
McCarthy later said he had not meant to suggest the committee's purpose was to harm the former secretary of state's chance of winning the November 2016 election.
Clinton, who was the top U.S. diplomat at the time of the Benghazi attack in 2012, and fellow Democrats have seized on the comments as proof of what they say has been a politically motivated congressional investigation focused on the candidate rather than the incident, which killed four Americans.
Her campaign this week released a new ad featuring McCarthy's remarks in an attempt to rally her supporters ahead of her Oct. 22 testimony to the committee.
On Wednesday, Gowdy said McCarthy has apologized for his remarks and defended his committee's work.
"Our interest in her is because she was secretary of state at the time," Gowdy told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.
The comments could hurt McCarthy, who is seeking to become the next House speaker in a vote later this month.
In remarks this week Clinton stopped short of calling for the Benghazi committee to be disbanded but other Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have said the panel may have violated ethics rule and should dissolve.
Democratic U.S. Representative Alan Grayson of Florida, who is running for the U.S. Senate, plans on Wednesday to file an ethics complaint against McCarthy following the Republican leader's comments, his campaign office said on Tuesday.
On Monday, Democrats on the committee said they will defy the Republican majority by releasing the transcript of a closed-door interview with a former Clinton aide to combat what they said are selective leaks aimed at damaging Clinton.
The committee was set up in 2014 after other congressional investigations on Benghazi ended. The House committee has largely focused on Clinton’s response to the attack in Libya but has expanded to investigate her use of a private email server instead of government email while at the State Department.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Bill Trott and Jeffrey Benkoe)