ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
On September 11, 2012, four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, were killed in attacks on two U.S. facilities in Benghazi. Since then, Congress has held dozens of hearings and meetings on the matter. One featured a notably animated Hillary Clinton.
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HILLARY CLINTON: Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?
SHAPIRO: That was May of 2013. This Thursday, the former secretary of state returns to Congress for a new round of questioning. And the phrase hotly anticipated is being used a lot. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us to help sort the substance from theater. Hey, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: This time she is not only a former secretary of state. Hillary Clinton is also a presidential contender. Is it fair to say that this is going to be something of a circus?
LIASSON: Yes. I think that's fair. The politics of this hearing are very complicated. Not only is Hillary Clinton running for president, and in advance of her testimony, her campaign put out a video with glowing tributes to her tenure as secretary of state. And the Super PAC supporting her is running their very first television ad based on her appearance at the Benghazi hearings in the first four primary states.
Then there are the committee members. Half of the Republicans on the panel could be either candidates for House speaker or majority leader. Jim Jordan, who's the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, is on the panel. Trey Gowdy, the chairman, might want to run for statewide office in South Carolina. So there's lots of interest in how these members use their turn on the national stage. On the Democratic side, it's similar. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is on the panel. She's running for Senate, and she's expected to be a very strong defender of Hillary Clinton.
SHAPIRO: Beyond the style, let's talk about the substance. What is this meeting supposed to be about on paper?
LIASSON: Republicans are looking for evidence that Hillary Clinton ordered the military to stand down on the night of the attack that killed the ambassador and three others or evidence of her directing a reduction in the State Department security in Benghazi before the attacks. Democrats say there's no evidence of that. And actually, the top Democrat on the panel is calling for the committee to disband.
Now, so far, the committee has uncovered one big thing - the private server where Hillary Clinton stored her emails. And this weekend, Democrats and Republicans sparred back and forth over whether any classified or sensitive information was shared on that server. But those - that private server and the emails have, of course, become a huge headache for Hillary Clinton, and they are partly responsible for her dropping poll numbers and the rising numbers of people who say she's not honest and trustworthy.
SHAPIRO: And Mara, what are we expecting from Hillary Clinton as a witness? What kind of style do you expect from her on the stand?
LIASSON: Well, the last time she testified on Benghazi was 2013, and Democrats thought she was a very strong witness for herself. But Republicans point to that clip of tape that you played earlier and say that she damaged herself. But this time around, Hillary Clinton has the added ammunition of the words of Kevin McCarthy and Richard Hanna, two Republican House members who said that the purpose of the Benghazi committee was political, to damage Hillary Clinton.
SHAPIRO: OK. I have to end with a question about Vice President Joe Biden. And you know what the question is. Will he or won't he?
LIASSON: We don't know.
LIASSON: The rumor mill reached a fever pitch again over the weekend with reports that Biden would make an announcement within the next couple of days. But his office is not confirming that. First he was going to decide by the end of the summer, but he didn't. There's still a lot of speculation about why, after seven years as vice president - the natural heir to a president - he's done very little in the way of laying a foundation for a run for the White House. But I guess the bottom line is we will know what he is doing when we know what he is doing.
SHAPIRO: That is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.