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Clinton campaign used Benghazi as distraction from email scandal

Emails taken from the inbox of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chair, and published this week by WikiLeaks shed light on the campaign's efforts to confuse voters by blurring the lines between separate controversies over Benghazi and her private email use.

For example, one Oct. 2015 email from Oren Shur, Clinton's director of paid media, showed the campaign used a focus group to test whether voters would believe their attempts to paint the two scandals as one and the same.

"I feel like we really need to understand whether voters will believe that we can credibly conflate Benghazi and emails," Shur wrote to a group of high-level campaign aides.

Robby Mook, Clinton's campaign manager, expressed his optimism that the message could "cut through" the "crap they hear about her on the news" with the message Shur proposed for ads slated to run in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The conversations took place just weeks ahead of Clinton's highly-anticipated appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, where she testified for 11 hours about her role in handling the 2012 terror attack.

Later, when pressed to explain her misstatements about the email controversy amid an expanding criminal investigation, Clinton consistently pointed to her Benghazi testimony as evidence that she had already answered for her emails.

The two controversies are unrelated.

Shur's email, which was published by WikiLeaks on Tuesday, was not the only indication that the Clinton campaign tried to make the email scandal disappear inside the Benghazi probe.

In a conversation from March of last year, Podesta told aides to steer the media's attention back to the House Benghazi investigation, which the campaign had already framed as a Republican witch hunt.

"My perspective is that we want the fight to be about Benghazi, not about servers in her basement," Podesta wrote to Cheryl Mills, a board member at the Clinton Foundation.

Clinton and her allies worked aggressively to characterize the Benghazi investigation as a purely political exercise, a tactic that allowed the conclusion of the House probe to end the issue's relevance to the presidential race.

Other emails made public Tuesday show the campaign used social media to further their argument that the Benghazi probe was a product of Republican gamesmanship.

Clinton's aides even discussed working with Democrats on the Benghazi committee to manage the controversy.

In a conversation among aides in Aug. 2015, the campaign shaped a script for an explainer video that would present Clinton's cooperation with the Benghazi committee as cooperation on the email controversy as well.

Clinton was far less willing to work with the administration on its email probe than the Benghazi investigation, however.

The former secretary of state refused to meet with the State Department's inspector general when the watchdog looked into her email practices. Five individuals involved with the set-up and operation of her email server demanded immunity deals with the Justice Department before providing information to FBI agents.