By Bradley Klapper And Donna Cassata Associated Press
WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Thursday prepared to ram through their demand for a new investigation of the deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya, vowing to pursue questions old and new in a search for truth. Democrats rejected the inquiry as a political ploy to raise campaign cash and motivate voters.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Speaker John Boehner promised an “eminently fair” investigation to answer questions that linger almost 20 months after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission. Approval of the select committee’s establishment was only a formality in the GOP-controlled House.
The panel’s investigation will be the eighth on Benghazi and will examine the entirety of the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Independent, bipartisan and GOP-led probes have faulted the State Department for inadequate security at the outpost, leading to four demotions. No attacker has yet been brought to justice.
Republicans say they’re unsatisfied with explanations so far, and they have leveled a range of accusations against President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other senior administration officials. Chief among them: That the administration misled the American people about the nature of the attack during a presidential election and stonewalled congressional investigators.
At the start of Thursday’s House debate, Republican Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas said investigations up to now show the Obama administration won’t “fess up” to systemic weaknesses that must be addressed. “This is not political,” Sessions said.
Democrats disagree but remain divided over whether to boycott the select committee. They are concerned that their participation would grant legitimacy to what they believe will be a partisan forum. But they also worry that if they avoid it they won’t have the chance to counter GOP claims and defend potential witnesses — including Clinton, a possible 2016 presidential candidate.
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida criticized the “song and dance” she said came from Clinton when House members wanted to question her about Benghazi. Clinton’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee was delayed when she missed a month of work toward the end of her tenure after suffering a virus, then a fall and a concussion, and then brief hospitalization for a blood clot near her brain.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said no evidence uncovered in any of the investigations thus far suggests wrongdoing. Republican claims have descended into “the crass and unbelievable,” she said.
Benghazi has produced 13 public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents and 50 separate briefings. The select committee won’t be the only inquiry, as other GOP-led congressional panels continue their probes, including a House Oversight investigation which just last week took the extraordinary step of subpoenaing a Cabinet member. Secretary of State John Kerry hasn’t said when he might testify.
Democrats deride the effort as a conservative campaign designed to energize Republican voters in typically low-turnout midterm elections.
Boehner’s legislation creates a select House committee through the end of the year. It would have to be reapproved when a new Congress begins in January or go out of existence. The select committee has no explicit financial constraints.
Earlier this week, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent an email vowing that “no one will get away” from the committee’s investigation and asking people for donations.
Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the Democratic campaign committee chairman, called fundraising off Benghazi “despicable and insulting.” Boehner on Thursday refused to criticize the fundraising drive.
In an opinion piece Thursday in USA Today, the congressman whom Boehner has chosen to head the probe signaled he’d re-examine the entirety of the Benghazi attack, including questions Democrats and some senior Republicans consider settled.
The GOP-led House Armed Services Committee concluded months ago the U.S. military couldn’t have responded in time to save Stevens and the others. Still, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina asked: “Was our military response during the pendency of the siege sufficient?”
The Obama administration says officials tried to provide the public with the best information available after the attack at a time when U.S. embassies, consulates and other facilities were facing angry demonstrations across the Muslim world over a YouTube video mocking Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. The administration originally attributed Benghazi to a similar protest that extremists hijacked, but retracted that account amid severe criticism.
House Democrats have issued several demands if they are to participate in the select committee. Boehner already has rejected their call for equal representation on the panel, deciding instead to fill it with seven Republicans and five Democrats. The Democrats also seek guarantees they’ll have equal access to documents, a say on subpoenas and the same right to question witnesses. Negotiations continue.