Republican Senate primary in crucial Michigan race heats up with claims front-runner covered for Clinton

FIRST ON FOX: The GOP Senate primary in battleground Michigan is becoming more combative as a wealthy investor making his second bid for office is pouring big bucks into a major statewide ad blitz that takes aim at the front-runner in the race, who’s backed by former President Trump.

And a new campaign commercial from businessman Sandy Pensler, which launches statewide on Monday in Michigan, hits former Rep. Mike Rogers for his role a decade ago as chair of the House Intelligence Committee in the congressional investigation into the deaths of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The ad, shared first with Fox News on Monday, is the latest from the deep-pocketed entrepreneur who’s self-funding his Senate bid. The spot is part of what Pensler’s campaign says is a seven-figure ad buy on broadcast and cable TV and digital.

Rogers, a former FBI special agent before serving in Congress, enjoys the backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which is the campaign arm of the Senate GOP. And in March, Rogers landed the endorsement of Trump, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee. Rogers has teamed up with the former president twice in the past month at Trump campaign events in the crucial Great Lakes swing state.


Mike Rogers Donald Trump Freeland MI May 1 2024 scaled

Former President Trump listens as Michigan Senate candidate and former Rep. Mike Rogers speaks at a campaign rally in Freeland, Michigan, on May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Besides Rogers and Pensler, the crowded GOP primary field also includes former Rep. Justin Amash. The eventual Republican nominee will likely face off in November with Democrat Rep. Elissa Slotkin in the race to succeed longtime Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election this year.

The seat is one of a handful that Republicans are aiming to flip from blue to red in November as they push to regain the Senate majority they lost in the 2020 cycle.

The 30-second ad alleges that Rogers helped Hillary Clinton cover up key facts involving the Benghazi attack. Clinton was secretary of state in then-President Obama’s administration at the time of the attack in which Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service officer Sean Smith and two CIA contractors were killed.

The narrator in the Pensler spot calls the attack “Hillary Clinton’s worst scandal” and charges that “Mike Rogers helped Hillary cover it up.”


The ad includes a video clip of Kris Paronto, a former Army Ranger who was one of a handful of CIA contracted guards defending the consulate during the attack. Paronto and fellow guards said in a book that they were told to stand down by CIA and State Department officials for 20 minutes while the attack was unfolding.

“I looked Mike Rogers in the eyes and said that if we would have not been delayed, we would have saved the ambassador’s life,” Paronto says in the clip.

The spot’s narrator says that “Rogers called our soldiers liars.”

Rogers is then heard in an audio clip saying that “it’s just all nonsense. This didn’t happen the way they said back then.”

The report from the heavily polarized House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence investigation into Benghazi spotlighted that bureaucratic and interagency blunders contributed to the Americans’ deaths but didn’t specifically blame Clinton or any other American officials.

“The Obama administration’s White House and State Department actions before, during, and after the Benghazi terrorist attack on September 11, 2012, ranged from incompetence to deplorable political manipulation in the midst of an election season,” Rogers wrote in an op-ed piece following the publication of the report.

Pensler’s commercial is his second in a week. The previous ad, which went up as Rogers joined Trump at a rally in Michigan, targeted Slotkin for failing to condemn Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., for controversial comments the far-left “Squad” House member made about the war between Israel and Hamas.

“Rashida and Elissa, you have no moral compass,” Pensler says in the ad. “You’re an embarrassment to Michigan and America.”


As they work to win a Senate election in Michigan for the first time in three decades, Republicans were hoping to avoid a potentially costly and combustible primary, especially with Slotkin facing little competition for the Democrat nomination.

Former Rep. Peter Meijer recently ended his campaign, and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig dropped out of the race in February.

But Pensler is vowing to run ads straight through the Aug. 6 primary.

Sandy Pensler headshot scaled

Entrepreneur and investor Sandy Pensler is making his second bid for the Republican Senate nomination in the key battleground state of Michigan.

“He’s going to spend a serious amount,” Pensler campaign senior adviser Stu Sandler told Fox News. “We’re just going to keep putting them on the air.”

NRSC spokesperson Mike Berg said the committee would “do what it takes” to make sure Rogers is the party’s nominee.

And NRSC Chair Sen. Steve Daines of Montana said during a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast in the nation’s capital that “I think the Trump endorsement of Mike Rogers really seals the deal in that primary.”


But Sandler, who was NRSC political director last cycle when Sen. Rick Scott of Florida was steering the committee, said “the Michigan voters are going to decide this.”

The NRSC had a hands-off policy in GOP Senate primaries in the 2022 cycle, which many blamed for a handful of divisive primary battles that critics said contributed to the party’s failure at winning back the Senate majority. 

This cycle, Daines and the NRSC have been hands-on, elevating candidates and mostly avoiding nasty primaries.

When it comes to Trump, Pensler’s campaign says its candidate is a major supporter of the former president.

This is Pensler’s second run for the Senate GOP nomination in Michigan. He lost his 2018 bid to now-Rep. John James after James ran ads attacking Pensler for slamming Trump “behind closed doors.”

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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