Before the public and invited guests began filing the seats for an ornate congressional hearing room for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s much anticipated testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, the committee’s Republican chairman and the panel’s top Democrat met on the dais.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican leading the probe, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who has been Mrs. Clinton’s chief defender on the committee, faced off briefly and exchanged morning greetings as they prepared for what is expected to be a long and intense hearing.
Standing by their seats in front of the dark blue curtains adorning the walls behind the dais, Mr. Gowdy stood akimbo, his hands pushing back his suit jacket at the waist like a gunfighter. Mr. Cummings held a smart phone in one hand and a phone charger in the other.
Both men smiled and chuckled as they talked. Their words could not be heard in the expansive hearing room.
The two men have been at odds over the conduct of the investigation, with Mr. Cummings spearheading criticism that the probe is a partisan witch hunt designed to undermine Mrs. Clinton’s campaign as a Democrat for president.
Mr. Gowdy consistently defended the probe as a necessary investigation into the unanswered questions surrounding the the Sept. 11, 2012, attack by Islamic militants on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, an diplomatic information offer and two form U.S. special forces officers working as a security detail.
As the two men talked, a crush of TV news camera crews swarmed the table where Mrs. Clinton will sit facing the panel, preparing for her entrance.
Moments later, as invited guests began filling the rows of brown leather armchairs for the audience, Mr. Gowdy and Mr. Cummings led a procession of the 12-member committee to a rear meeting room to discuss what lies ahead.
As he passed rows of reporters seated in rows of black plastic chairs along the side of the room, Mr. Gowdy was asked about the exchange with Mr. Cummings.
“We are always cordial,” he said.