Democrats weigh Benghazi probe participation

Party members to decide next step after Republicans create panel to examine September 11, 2012, assault in Libya.

US embassy fire Benghazi
Four Americans, including the ambassador, were killed when fighters stormed the consulate in 2012 [Reuters]

Democratic members of the US House of Representatives are weighing whether to participate in a new investigation of the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, or boycott the election-year inquiry of a tragedy they accuse Republicans of politicising.

Party leaders will meet rank-and-file members on Friday to decide the next step after Republicans succeeded the day before in getting passed a resolution creating a special select committee to examine the September 11, 2012, assault.

Four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the US ambassador, were killed when fighters stormed the diplomatic outpost.

The vote on Thursday to create the special committee was 232-186.

Seven Democrats, many of whom face tough re-elections in November, broke ranks and joined the Republican majority.

The panel’s investigation will be the eighth on Benghazi and means highly publicised hearings in the months leading up to the elections, with Republicans interrogating current and former Obama administration officials.

Certain to be called to testify is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ potential 2016 presidential candidate.

Divided Democrats

Democrats are split over whether to boycott the select committee, which will have a 7-5 Republican edge in membership.

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 will not have the chance to counter Republican claims and defend potential witnesses.

“This doesn’t need to be, shouldn’t be and will not be a partisan process,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in a speech on the House floor promising pursuit of the truth.

Democrats have their doubts.

“It’s hard to trust what Speaker Boehner is doing with this new select committee,” Democratic Representative Xavier Becerra, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement after the vote.

He pointed to Boehner’s comments a month ago that a special panel was unnecessary.

After the vote, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was noncommittal about whether Democrats would participate on the special committee, but assailed the new probe.

Boehner’s legislation creates the special committee through the end of the year. It will have to be reapproved when a new Congress begins in January or go out of existence.

The select committee has no explicit financial constraints. The speaker was expected to announce the Republican members on Friday.

Equal access sought

House Democrats have issued several demands if they are to participate in the select committee.

Rebuffed on their request for an equal split in membership, Democrats are seeking guarantees they will have equal access to documents, say on subpoenas and the right to question witnesses.

In the 20 months since the attack, multiple independent, bipartisan and Republican-led investigations already have blamed the State Department for inadequate security at the outpost, leading to four demotions. No attacker has yet been brought to justice.

Republicans say they are unsatisfied with explanations so far, and they have levelled a range of accusations against President Barack Obama, Clinton and other senior administration officials.

Chief among them is that the administration misled the American people about the nature of the attack during a presidential election campaign and stonewalled congressional investigators.

Benghazi has produced 13 public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents and 50 separate briefings.

Source: AP