Boehner: Benghazi committee ‘fair’ even though it’s stacked with Republicans
WASHINGTON — House Republicans are unlikely to bend to Democratic demands for more equity in the structure of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi terror attack, a GOP source familiar with the matter said.
The House was set to vote on creating the panel later in the day that, at this point, would include seven Republicans and five Democrats.
House Speaker John Boehner called that division “fair” on Thursday at a briefing with reporters, and said he had spoken with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi about her party’s concerns.
Boehner said of the conversation that he “made clear that this is a serious investigation, that we wanted to work together to get to the truth.”
But when pressed about whether Republicans would make changes to give Democrats more power in the investigation, Boehner would only say that “there are further conversations continuing on that issue.”
Democrats are threatening to boycott the committee, believing they would not have access to witnesses or equal say in subpoenas, which would make the investigation inherently partisan.
Democrats are discussing another option — minimal participation — something short of an all-out boycott and less than the full contingent of Democrats.
According to a Democratic leadership aide, this option would “make clear they’re protesting, but also have full member participation to ensure that there are Democrats in the room to hold Republicans accountable for their behavior on the committee.
Benghazi a partisan flashpoint
It was unlikely that they would make a decision on whether to participate before the full House votes on establishing the panel. They will meet on Friday to discuss the matter further.
The September 2012 terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in eastern Libya killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
It has since become a partisan flashpoint over President Barack Obama’s conduct of foreign policy, and formation of a new investigation further magnifies the issue in a midterm election year.
The administration has come under fire over questions about the level of security before the armed assault, its reaction to it, and its slow-to-evolve public explanation of what had occurred.
Democrats have said the GOP has gone overboard in its multiple investigations. But Republicans say new information that surfaced last week raising more questions about how the administration handled the matter supported their contention the White House politicized its response to events in a presidential election year.
Boehner, who had been under pressure from conservatives to form a select committee, then announced his intention to do so last week.
On Thursday, many House Democrats attended a weekly meeting to go over strategy for floor action on the issue. But Pelosi and other top Democrats were still weighing the pros and cons from their rank and file on the issue of participation.
One aide said that Democrats recognized they were unlikely to get changes they outlined in a letter to Boehner.
But the aide said that “the calculus on this is being weighed – do we participate in a Darrell Issa-like committee or worse, or is it worth having someone in the room for it?”
Issa is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which has taken a leading role in the GOP-led investigation of Benghazi.
His effort has been sharply criticized by Democrats.
Rep. Steve Israel, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is in charge of electing Democrats to the House this November, is arguing privately it would be a mistake to participate.
He cited numerous reasons, including fear that independent voters fed up with Washington bickering would see Democrats as part of the problem.
Fundraising off Benghazi
Separately, the controversy grew more intense this week over revelations that Republicans were using it for political fundraising. Democrats contend that just underscores their belief that the select committee was politically driven.
Boehner punted on fundraising question on Thursday, refusing to endorse or dismiss it.
Despite multiple questions about whether it is right for Republicans to use the tragedy to raise political cash, all Boehner would say repeatedly is “our focus is on getting the truth for the American people and these four families.”
Boehner already appointed South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor, to head the select committee.
He said he would release the names of other Republican members in the near future. A GOP aide said he expected the names to be released on Friday.