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NBC: 'Obvious Political Undercurrent' to New Benghazi Testimony, GOP Targeting 'Most Popular Democrat' Clinton

Wrapping up a report on Monday's NBC Nightly News about a fresh round of congressional hearings on the Benghazi terrorist attack, correspondent Andrea Mitchell dismissed the development as political posturing by the House GOP: "There is an obvious political undercurrent. Republicans are taking direct aim at Hillary Clinton, the country's most popular Democrat and a possible presidential contender." [Listen to the audio]

Mitchell began the report by noting new testimony from Gregory Hicks, the State Department's deputy mission chief in Tripoli, Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack, "who said he called for military help from four more special forces operatives in Tripoli, but was overruled."  Mitchell emphasized that Hicks was "a diplomat, not a military officer," just before quoting his statement on the lack of U.S. military air support during the attack.

In part, Hicks explained: "I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split."

Mitchell promptly parroted Pentagon talking points to discredit Hicks: "But the Pentagon said today the commandos had to stay and defend the embassy in Tripoli, and were not prepared for a combat assault mission. As for buzzing the Benghazi consulate with fighter jets to scatter attackers, the closest F-16s were in Italy, or at least five hours away."

While Mitchell was devoid of any skepticism of the Pentagon argument, two questions become immediately obvious. First, how was it that military commandos "were not prepared for a combat assault mission," the very definition of their occupation?

Second, why would it have taken military fighter jets five hours to reach Libya from Italy? From the U.S. airbase in Aviano, Italy, it is just under 1,000 miles to Benghazi. A commercial aircraft could travel that distance in about two hours, maybe less. A supersonic military jet would take even less time.

Perhaps there are perfectly reasonable answers to those questions, but Mitchell didn't seem the least bit curious.

On Tuesday's Today, Mitchell again pushed the idea of a "political subtext" behind the testimony, "After all, those Republicans are taking direct aim at Clinton, the country's most popular Democrat and a potential presidential candidate."

Here is a full transcript of Mitchell's May 6 Nightly News report:

7:07PM ET

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Well, the topic of Benghazi is back, the tragedy there took four lives. The controversy over what happened that night during the attack never went away, specifically the question of what the U.S. knew, when they knew it, and what they did about it. Congress is set to here some dramatic new information on this topic later this week. Our chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell has new details from our Washington newsroom tonight. Andrea, good evening.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Good evening, Brian. Republicans are gearing up for hearings this week with new State Department witnesses they say will undercut Hillary Clinton's explanation of what went wrong in Benghazi. The attack on the Benghazi mission started around 9:40 p.m., by 3:00 in the morning, Ambassador Chris Stevens and information officer Sean Smith were dead. But two other Americans, former Navy SEALs working as security contractors, did not die until a second full assault at 5:15 a.m. on a CIA annex several miles away. Six special forces commandos flew in from Tripoli but couldn't stop the onslaught.

Now House Republicans have released an interview with Gregory Hicks, at the time the deputy chief of mission, who said he called for military help from four more special forces operatives in Tripoli, but was overruled. Hicks, a diplomat, not a military officer, said, "I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split."

But the Pentagon said today the commandos had to stay and defend the embassy in Tripoli, and were not prepared for a combat assault mission. As for buzzing the Benghazi consulate with fighter jets to scatter attackers, the closest F-16s were in Italy, or at least five hours away. For months Republicans have charged cover-up. Last January, Hillary Clinton took the blame but also pushed back.

HILLARY CLINTON: What difference, at this point, does it make?! It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

MITCHELL: But now House Republicans say they have State Department witnesses who can prove Clinton covered up.

DARRELL ISSA [REP. R-CA]: Well, I think it's damaging because it happened on her watch. I think the important thing is that it's – Hillary Clinton is no longer secretary of state but there are many people still at State Department who were involved in this at the highest levels who continue to keep their jobs.

MITCHELL: Tonight Admiral Mike Mullen and Ambassador Tom Pickering said, "We had unfettered access to everyone and everything, including all the documentation we needed. Our marching orders," they said, "were to get to the bottom of what happened and that's what we did."

Still, there is an obvious political undercurrent. Republicans are taking direct aim at Hillary Clinton, the country's most popular Democrat and a possible presidential contender. Brian.

WILLIAMS: Andrea Mitchell in our D.C. newsroom tonight. Andrea, thanks.