There's no question that the congressional investigation into the Benghazi attacks - and the resulting focus on Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server - have hurt Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. But top Republicans have studiously avoided saying that the special investigative panel also achieved political goals - until now.
Kevin McCarthy, the current House majority leader and the heir apparent to outgoing Speaker John Boehner, directly linked the Benghazi panel to decreased support for the Democratic frontrunner during an appearance on FOX News Tuesday night.
"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee," McCarthy said. "What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she's untrustable. But no one would have have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen."
In a statement, McCarthy spokesman Matt Sparks clarified that the Benghazi committee has "nothing to do with politics."
"The Select Committee on Benghazi has always been focused on getting the facts about the attacks on our diplomatic facilities in Libya that led to the death of four Americans. This was the right thing to do and the Committee has worked judiciously and honestly," he said. "As a result of that work, there are now numerous investigations being conducted - including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These inquiries have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the consequences of what the former Secretary has done and her confusing, conflicting, and demonstrably false responses."
But McCarthy's comment still runs counter to the party's longtime position of dismissing any suggestion that the probe could affect Clinton politically.
Boehner and Benghazi panel chairman Trey Gowdy have maintained since the committee's inception that its purpose is only to be a "serious investigation" of the events that led to the deaths of four Americans.
"This investigation is about getting answers for the families of the victims and for the American people," Boehner said in a statement in May 2014. "These members have each demonstrated a commitment to this goal, and I have confidence that they will lead a serious, fact-based inquiry. As I have expressed to each of them, I expect this committee to carry out an investigation worthy of the American lives lost in Benghazi."
"It is not my job to impact 2016 presidential politics, either on the right or the left," Gowdy said earlier this month. "It's not my job."
Democrats immediately pounced on McCarthy's remark, saying that the comment laid bare Republicans' political motivations in launching the investigation.
"Kevin McCarthy's admission that the Benghazi Committee is a taxpayer funded political hit job to bring down Hillary Clinton should be the final straw for the media, for Members of Congress, for taxpayers and for the families of the four Americans who died in the Benghazi tragedy," said David Brock, the founder of pro-Clinton group Correct the Record.
"House Republicans led by Trey Gowdy have shamelessly, recklessly and erroneously leaked misinformation to the media and blatantly fundraised off the tragedy to benefit Republicans in 2016. It is time this investigation comes to an end and Republicans admit - like McCarthy did last night - that this entire thing was a political sham," he said.