A vehicle and the surrounding area are engulfed in flames after it was set on fire inside the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.  (STR/AFP/GettyImages)

“Republicans have now spent more than two years and nearly $7 million of taxpayer funds.”

— statement by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), May 8, 2016

In statements and tweets, Democrats accused the House majority of spending nearly $7 million in taxpayer funds for the Select Committee on Benghazi, which is probing the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2012.

Whether someone believes the existence of the committee is worthwhile depends a lot on party affiliation, with Democrats saying the probe is an ill-disguised attack on former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and Republicans saying it is necessary to learn from the errors of the past.

The Fact Checker takes no position on the politics, but we are interested in whether it is accurate to say Republicans have spent $7 million in funds.

The Facts

The monthly bills for the Benghazi Committee can be found on two sections of the website of the Committee on House Administration. They are signed by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the committee chairman, as is routine.

The committee reports show that about 90 percent of the committee costs relate to personnel. The staff directors for the Republicans and the Democrats each make more than $170,000 a year. Quite a few other staff members make close to that amount, largely because of their expertise.

An additional 5 percent of spending is on equipment, both sides more or less equally.

But as is standard, the minority accounts for about one-third of the expenses.  So far, the committee has not spent all of the funds that were apportioned to it. The numbers work out like this:

2014

Apportioned to Republicans: $2.199 million

  • Spent: $1.211 million (55 percent)
  • Not spent: $998,000

Apportioned to Democrats: $1.099 million

  • Spent: $616,000 (56 percent)
  • Not spent: $483,000

2015

Apportioned to Republicans: $3.066 million

  • Spent: $2.455 million (80 percent)
  • Not spent: $611,000

Apportioned to Democrats: $1.533 million

  • Spent: $1.304 million (85 percent)
  • Not spent: $229,000

2016

Apportioned to Republicans: $3.066 million

  • Spent so far by Republicans: $779,000

Apportioned to Democrats: $1.533 million

  • Spent so far by Democrats: $405,000

Spending to date

Spent by Republicans: $4.445 million

Spent by Democrats: $2.325 million

Total: $6.77 million

Note: the Democrats have a running tab on the Web that actually shows spending of more than $6.9 million. Democrats acknowledged it’s a little off, saying that it is an estimate based on the previous month’s expenses. Recent staff departures have slowed spending, making the estimate run a bit faster than actual expenses.

The committee is so split along partisan lines that it’s taken The Fact Checker some days to sort through various charges and countercharges.

Democrats allege that Republicans have wasted nearly $30,000 on a “lavish” overseas trip; Republicans say it was for two people who traveled by commercial coach and had simple working lunches on military bases. Republicans claim that the Democrats awarded themselves more than $30,000 in staff bonuses, but Democrats say the number reflects salary adjustments for staff promotions.

Both sides accuse the other of making unreasonable requests or taking steps that have resulted in dragging out the investigation. The list of complaints from both is rather endless, reflecting the high level of acrimony on the committee.

To put the nearly $6.8 million in perspective, the State Department received $6.5 million in reprogrammed funds from Congress in fiscal 2015 and 2016  for a new unit that responds to congressional requests, including inquiries from the Benghazi Committee, according to a State Department official. That figure does not include the efforts of the Freedom of Information Act office and legal and regional officials at the Department to re-digitize Clinton’s 30,000 emails and make them ready for public release.

A Democratic spokesman defended attributing the entire cost of the investigation to the Republicans:

“None of the expenditures of the Committee would be necessary but for Chairman Gowdy’s repeated decisions to delay our work into the election year and continue requesting more and more interviews and documents,” he said.  “Yes, Democrats could walk away, but as we have seen repeatedly, the American people need someone in the room to protect the truth.”

The Pinocchio Test

It is too facile for Democrats to pin all of the spending for the Benghazi committee on Republicans. One-third of the spending goes to Democratic staff and expenses, and that should be acknowledged in Democratic statements. Democrats choose to participate in the committee and hire staff, meaning they share in the cost as well.

Two Pinocchios


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