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LISTEN: 5 Political Moments From The Benghazi Hearing

House Benghazi committee member Rep. Susan Brooks presents copies of a collection of emails suggesting that Hillary Clinton lost interest in Libya in the months before the deadly attacks in Benghazi.
Evan Vucci
House Benghazi committee member Rep. Susan Brooks presents copies of a collection of emails suggesting that Hillary Clinton lost interest in Libya in the months before the deadly attacks in Benghazi.

Hillary Clinton appeared before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday to defend her actions around the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya that claimed the lives of four Americans.

We broke down the substance of the hearing and followed it in our live blog. But the hearing also repeatedly brought politics front and center.

In some ways, the hearing became less about Clinton and more a volley between Republicans and Democrats on the committee.

In fact, the hearing was a political mud pit even before Clinton's testimony began, as NPR's Tamara Keith reported. And many Americans see it that way. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll, 53 percent of respondents said the investigation is trying to damage Clinton politically. And a Monmouth poll found that more than half of Americans felt the committee was more interested in going after Clinton than learning the facts. Republicans on the committee, especially chairman Trey Gowdy, countered that they have not reached any conclusions yet.

Here are five times the hearing got political:

1. Stacks of emails

Republican Rep. Susan Brooks pointed to two stacks of emails — one that she said represented the 795 emails Clinton sent about Libya in 2011, and another, representing the 67 emails from early 2012 until the day of the attack. Brooks said she was "troubled" that Clinton had more correspondence in 2011 than in the months leading up to the attack.

Clinton's emails have dogged her presidential campaign after it was revealed that she used a private server to conduct State Department business. Clinton responded that most of her business, especially during the day, was conducted outside of email — in the Situation Room and elsewhere.

"I didn't conduct the business that I did primarily on email," Clinton responded.

2. "An obsession with email"

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith jumped to Clinton's defense as he did several times during the hearing, cheekily asking, "You were also aware of those two attacks on our compounds even though you didn't email about it?"

Smith later, addressing Clinton, called the committee a "partisan exercise" and said its sole purpose is "to prosecute you."

3. Reaching conclusions

Committee chairman Trey Gowdy emphatically addressed accusations that the committee was just going after Clinton and had reached conclusions before her testimony even began:

Gowdy then spent a long time questioning Clinton about emails between her and Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton friend and former aide to Bill Clinton. Clinton said the emails started off "unsolicited," but that she had replied to some of them, which probably encouraged him.

4. "We don't know what we're looking for"

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff echoed much of the committee Democrats' criticism heard throughout the day — that the committee lacks focus and "we don't know what we're looking for." He added that he feels it's unlikely Republicans "will even consult with us on what their final report looks like."

5. Lost sleep

Clinton also jumped into the politics. She was asked to comment on allegations that she had deliberately interfered with security. In her response, she indirectly hit at the committee's existence and purpose, saying that accusation had been "rejected and disproven by nonpartisan, dispassionate investigators" and that having it "continued to be bandied around is deeply distressing to me." She also told the committee she's thought more about the incident "than all of you put together":

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Amita Kelly is a Washington editor, where she works across beats and platforms to edit election, politics and policy news and features stories.