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Almost from the moment, he was named chairman of the House investigation into the 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has been insisting that he would keep the probe above the political fray.

“There are certain things in our culture that have to transcend politics, and I don’t mean to sound naive, but the murder of four fellow Americans and an attack on a facility that is emblematic of our country should transcend politics,” Gowdy said on Fox News Channel the day after he was tapped to lead the Select Committee on Benghazi.

In the 17 months since, his pleas have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears, deeply complicating Gowdy’s task as he prepares for the most closely scrutinized moment of the investigation: Thursday’s hearing featuring former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

[Inside the mind of Trey Gowdy, the Republicans’ Benghazi prosecutor]

Republicans ranging from the sitting House majority leader to grass-roots activists and a prominent GOP operative have seized on the Benghazi attacks in bids to derail Clinton’s presidential campaign, emboldening Democratic critics.

As Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton prepares to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, here’s a breakdown of what happened from the attack on Sept. 12, 2011 to the current political controversy. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

“I think we should take the chairman at his invitation, which is judging the committee by its work, and its work has been obsessively focused on Secretary Clinton,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a panel member. “I think that ultimately Benghazi is going to become synonymous with the abuse of congressional process.”

And the politicization of the probe has forced Gowdy, a former state and federal prosecutor chosen for his reputation as a careful investigator, to repeatedly play defense to preserve the committee’s credibility.

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