Congressional Republicans have long been demanding the creation of a committee with special investigatory powers to probe the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. On May 8, they finally got their wish.
House lawmakers, led by the GOP majority, voted to create a select committee on Benghazi for the sole purpose of finding out why four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, were killed and how the Obama administration responded to the crisis.
Republicans say they felt compelled to create the special committee because of months of stonewalling from the administration, who the GOP says have refused to turn over all the relevant documents and emails related to Benghazi despite being compelled to do so under House subpoenas.
Republicans want to know, among other things, why administration officials continued to blame the attack on an anti-Muslim video, despite evidence that it was terrorism. They have suggested the narrative was used to bolster President Obama's claim that he had tamed the threat of terrorism in his first term.
The last straw for House Speaker John Boehner, his aides said, came after an email was released that had been sent from Obama adviser Ben Rhodes to United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice in the days following the attack. In it, he advised her to stick to blaming the attack on the video in her upcoming appearances on five Sunday television talk shows.
“It is unfortunate that it has to come to this, but when four Americans are killed by terrorists in a well-coordinated assault, the American people will not tolerate the evasion we have seen from the White House,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said this week.
Boehner went on to cite a “pattern of obstructing oversight efforts” from the administration.
But Democrats see the Benghazi committee as part of a pattern of politics, or, in the words of one lawmaker, “red meat,” to excite the GOP base in the months leading up to the critical November elections.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in an interview on MSNBC that she believes the GOP is exploiting the deaths of the four Americans who died in Benghazi, noting that there have already been six congressional reviews and an internal State Department investigation into the attack.
“It really looks like the Republicans are using this to avoid governance,” the California Democrat said on the network. “It's subterfuge, it's diversionary. Instead of creating jobs and taking us forward, they want to be stuck -- their needle is stuck on Benghazi.”
In fact, it was not clear whether Democrats would even participate — Pelosi was weighing whether to appoint members to the panel.
She said that Democrats want the panel to be made up of an evenly split number of Democrats and Republicans.
“Only then could it be fair,” Pelosi said.
The GOP, however, created a panel with seven Republicans and five Democrats. It's a ratio similar to one Democrats used when they were in the majority and created a select committee on climate change. That panel was made up of nine Democrats and six Republicans.
"I think the 7-5 split is eminently fair,” Boehner said Thursday. “Frankly, it's fairer than her global warming committee that she set up.”
Boehner this week tapped Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to serve as chairman of the select panel. Gowdy is a former prosecutor who now serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has long been a vocal critic of the administration's response to Benghazi.
Gowdy said he'll aggressively seek interviews and documents from the administration and will use subpoena power if necessary. Among the witnesses he is likely to question, Gowdy said, is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has so far managed to remain relatively untarnished by the Benghazi matter, even though she was in charge at the time.
Clinton is now believed to be considering running for president, so she could stand to lose the most if the select committee finds she bears some responsibility.
Gowdy said he may try to interview Clinton in a deposition, rather than before the full committee,
“That is the route that is most conducive with eliciting the truth,” Gowdy said on Fox News. “It's not five minutes of pounding your chest in a committee room.”