An array of Democrats — including Hillary Clinton’s allies — are meeting this week to hammer out a united front on national security issues, including a clear response to Republicans over the Benghazi controversy.
They see an opportunity to wrest control of a narrative that some allies fear could be damaging to Clinton if she moves ahead with a 2016 presidential campaign.
A major milestone in the effort will take place this Friday, when a coalition of Democratic-leaning groups and influentials converges at the headquarters of the centrist think tank Third Way for a briefing that includes top Clinton adviser Philippe Reines.
The meeting is one in a series that Third Way has convened with Democrats since the George W. Bush era to discuss and shape national security policy. But at least some Democrats involved in the upcoming session are hoping it results in a coordinated and strengthened response to the new congressional probe into the deadly Benghazi attack.
Several people involved in the meeting say Reines was invited to speak at Third Way on Friday to discuss the chapter of Clinton’s upcoming book “Hard Choices” that covers the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead — including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Reines is one of a few guests expected to speak on various topics. Other anticipated topics of discussion include President Barack Obama’s Wednesday speech about foreign policy.
“With national security issues taking up more oxygen right now — the president’s speech at West Point, the Benghazi hearings — there are a lot of Democrats who understand that this is our window to control the narrative,” said one invitee, who, like almost everyone interviewed, asked not to be identified on a topic all described as “delicate.”
Mieke Eoyang, the director of the national security program at Third Way, said in an interview that while Benghazi is a key topic on Friday, it is not the only subject with which the group has been grappling.
“Well, [Clinton’s] book’s coming out, you’ve got the select committee coming, the Republicans are trying to make this a big target on her, but we’ve got other issues to talk about,” Eoyang said. “We’re going to have [Reines] come because, from time to time, we’re going to have special guests at these things. … He’s also a national security person, having been with her at State.”
Their involvement in the meeting suggests that some Clinton allies and Democrats are concerned about the stain the Benghazi attacks could leave on the former secretary of state if Republican charges go unanswered. The concerns have been heightened since Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the creation of a special committee probing the Benghazi attacks.
Over the past few weeks, Clinton allies privately contacted Democratic lawmakers, urging them to participate in the probe. Republicans have hinted that Clinton could again be called to testify on the attacks.
Some of the people expected to attend the briefing have been communicating over the past few weeks in calls and through an email listserv, with the goal of keeping the broad-based group informed about the news accounts of the committee’s anticipated activities.
A broad group of people are on the listserv, including people who work for groups like Media Matters, former Hillary Clinton foreign policy adviser Andrew Shapiro, former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor and several current and former Hillary Clinton aides. The universe of invited guests is large, although several people involved in the meeting said many may not attend.
Clinton, several sources have said, devotes a chapter of the book, which is mostly about her time as secretary of state, to the events in Benghazi.
And while the group’s overall goal is to work on several national security policy items, grappling with the House select committee on Benghazi is currently the most pressing of its issues.
Clinton aides — and several other participants — referred questions to Eoyang at Third Way.
The Friday meeting takes place as Clinton is preparing to embark on a media blitz surrounding “Hard Choices.”
POLITICO reported last week that members of Clinton’s team, through a loose ring of intermediaries, sent word to several Democratic members of the House that they did not see boycotting the committee as productive or strategic. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who initially considered appointing no Democrats to the select committee, has appointed a full slate of five. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will serve as his party’s top lawmaker on the panel.
Put together, the uptick in communication and the Friday briefing indicate an urgency in Clinton’s world to exert influence over matters of Democratic policy and politics at a time when she is set to re-engage in a very public way through her book tour and, in the fall, when she campaigns for Democrats in the midterm election.
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