McCarthy expresses regret for Benghazi comments

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Kevin McCarthy Says Benghazi Committee Tanked Clinton's Poll Numbers

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says it was never his intention to suggest that the House Benghazi committee was created to undercut Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and he regrets suggesting the panel's purpose is political.

In an interview on Fox News, the California Republican sought to quell controversy after boasting earlier this week that the Benghazi committee led to Hillary Rodham Clinton's drop in the polls. Democrats and some Republicans criticized his comments, and McCarthy acknowledged the flap has been a setback in his campaign to replace outgoing Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.

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"This committee was set up for one sole purpose — to find the truth on behalf of the families for four dead Americans. I did not intend to imply in any way that that work is political. Of course it is not," McCarthy said.

He said he'd spoken with the chairman of the committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. "I told him I regret that this has ever taken place. It was never my intention."

"It's been a setback, yes, because I do not want to make that harm Benghazi committee in any way, because it's not political," McCarthy told Fox host Bret Baier Thursday night.

Republicans have expressed concern that McCarthy's initial comments undermine the work of the committee established to investigate the 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, which occurred while Clinton was secretary of state. She is now the Democrats' leading presidential candidate, and she and other Democrats point to McCarthy's comments as proof that the true aim of the committee is to attack her politically.

Gowdy and other Republicans, including outgoing House Speaker John Boehner, have long been scrupulous about putting the committee's work in a fact-finding — not political — context. But McCarthy's comments give Democrats ammunition to attack the panel just weeks before Clinton is scheduled to testify in a long-awaited appearance Oct. 22.

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McCarthy expresses regret for Benghazi comments
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 30: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves the House chamber following a vote on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
US House of Representatives' majority leader Kevin Owen McCarthy speaks during a meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on August 13, 2015. McCarthy is leading 36 US Republican congressmen on a trip to the region to meet IsraelI and Palestinian officials as well as academics and journalists. AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON (Photo credit should read GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, listens during a news conference after a House Republican Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., Tuesday, July 28, 2015. The U.S. House plans to vote on a three-month highway funding bill Wednesday and leave for a summer break without considering a longer-term measure now before the Senate, Speaker John Boehner said. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - JUNE 24: Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, left, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., participate in the House GOP leadership media availability following the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 2: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., arrives to speak to the media following the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) ? Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) appears on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday March 1, 2015. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, speaks during an event to urge US President Barack Obama to sign the Keystone XL legislation on February 11, 2015 in the Rayburn Room of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Congress was set Wednesday to green-light the Keystone XL pipeline transporting Canadian oil to US refineries, but President Barack Obama is pledging to veto the measure. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 13: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (3rd L), House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (2nd L), and House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) listen during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House January 13, 2015 in Washington, DC. President Obama met with congressional leaders to discuss issues including the economy and the nationals security. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 06: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., takes a picture before the 114th Congress was sworn in on the House floor of the Capitol, January 6, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 13: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., participates in the press conference announcing House GOP leadership for upcoming session of Congress on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 9: House Majority Leader elect Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., with House Majority Whip elect Steve Scalise, R-La., looking on, speaks during the House GOP leadership media availability after the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
New Majority Leader of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy arrives to speak during the Faith and Freedom Coalitions Road to Majority Conference on June 20, 2014 in Washington,DC. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' Policy Conference at the Omni Shoreham hotel June 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. In the wake of Majority Leader Eric Cantor's decision to resign, McCarthy was elected majority leader by the House Republican conference Thursday. Led by the Christian political activist Ralph Reed, the coalition heard from conservative politicians who are courting religious conservatives as they eye a run for the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 19: (L-R) Speaking to the media, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), the newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) after the secret ballot voting in the House leader and House Whip races at the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Thursday June 19, 2014. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 17: House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to reporters in his bid to be Leader of the House before the upcoming House leadership vote Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Tuesday June 17, 2014. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is trailed by reporters while walking through Statuary Hall the U.S. Capitol building, June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Yesterday House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his Virginia primary to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat, opening a slot for Majority Leader. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 25: U.S. Congress member Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) during Music Policy and the U.S. Congress: An Insider's Briefing, A GRAMMY Townhall at The Wilshire Ebell Theatre on January 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Sullivan/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 16: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters during the media availability immediately after the House Republican Conference meeting at Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, April 16, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
MEET THE PRESS -- Pictured: (l-r) ? Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD,) left, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA,) right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, March 17, 2013. (Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
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In his initial comments that caused the controversy, McCarthy told Fox News Channel that since the House created the Benghazi committee, Clinton's popularity in public opinion polls has fallen.

"Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen," he said.

McCarthy is still expected to win election as speaker, given the absence of a strong challenger. The House election will be held Oct. 8.

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McCarthy expresses regret for Benghazi comments
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya in the Rayburn House Office Building on January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya in the Rayburn House Office Building on January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the September 11, 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya in the Rayburn House Office Building on January 23, 2013 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama pauses while speaking as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks on in the Rose Garden of the White House September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke on the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya which left US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American dead. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) makes a statement about the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Rose Garden at the White House September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. Stevens and three other embassy employees were killed when the embassy in Benghazi was attacked by a mob potentially angered by an American-made video mocking Islam's founding prophet. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks at her weekly news briefing Friday, May 9, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Democrats stand deeply divided over whether to participate in a Republican-led investigation of the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, with party leader Nancy Pelosi calling the newest probe a "political stunt." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Rep Darrell Issa, R-CA, speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Benghazi attacks in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on September 19, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 17: Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., speaks with ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., before the start of the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing on 'Implementation of the Accountability Review Board Recommendations' on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
FILE - This April 8, 2014 file photo shows Secretary of State Kerry testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Speaker John Boehner on Friday declared he’d schedule a vote to create a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack, escalating a political battle that has raged since the final days of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Separately Friday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., one of several that have investigating Benghazi, said he would subpoena Kerry to testify about the administration’s response to the attack. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
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