Democrats haven’t decided about joining Benghazi probe

As Congress left Capitol Hill for a two-week recess on Friday night, it remained unclear whether Democrats will participate in the newly minted House committee to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) announced a roster of seven Republicans — primarily comprised of members loyal to the GOP leadership — who will serve on the committee, which is charged with determining whether the State Department responded to the attacks properly.

Democrats have decried the committee’s creation, and the caucus remains torn over whether its members should participate. The panel, Democrats say, is a politically motivated witch hunt.

The Republicans named to the committee were Reps. Susan Brooks (Ind.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Mike Pompeo (Kan.), Martha Roby (Ala.), Peter Roskam (Ill.) and Lynn A. Westmoreland (Ga.). The roster notably excludes many of the Republican caucus’s most vocal members when it comes to the controversy over the Benghazi attacks. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) will chair the panel.

The attacks — in which four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed — occurred just weeks before the 2012 presidential election. Initially, the State Department blamed the attacks on a controversial YouTube video that had sparked protests throughout the Middle East. That proved to be an incomplete — if not inaccurate — explanation for the attacks.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of purposely crafting dishonest talking points in order to insulate the president from criticism in an election year.

That furor was reignited this month when a conservative watchdog group obtained new State Department e-mails about the attack — e-mails that had previously been withheld from the House committee investigating the matter.

Some Democrats have called for a boycott of the new committee, while others favor appointing at least one Democrat to serve on it.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that the committee membership should be split 50-50 to be fair, but the House GOP leadership rejected that and created a panel with seven Republicans and five Democrats.

Democrats took issue with several other provisions of the committee, saying that under the current rules, Gowdy, as chairman, could subpoena and interview witnesses without consulting Democratic members.

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who had previously declared that Democrats should not participate, told reporters Friday that no Democrat should be named to the panel if it is going to function as a “kangaroo court.”

It is unclear when Democrats will decide on whether, or to what extent, they will participate.

“We’ve made a fair offer, we hope they appoint members,” said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman. “At this point, it’s time to get to work.”

Dozens of Republican House members had petitioned the House leadership to be considered for a spot on the committee, which is seen as a potential springboard to stardom on the right.

Boehner and other members of the GOP leadership were careful in crafting a roster that includes no bomb-throwers and one they can argue is a serious investigative body and not a partisan noise machine.

“This investigation is about getting answers for the families of the victims and for the American people,” Boehner said in a statement. “These members have each demonstrated a commitment to this goal, and I have confidence that they will lead a serious, fact-based inquiry. As I have expressed to each of them, I expect this committee to carry out an investigation worthy of the American lives lost in Benghazi.”

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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