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Democrats divided over role in new Benghazi probe

May 9, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats stand deeply divided over whether to participate in a Republican-led investigation of the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, with some Democrats characterizing the newest inquiry as a political spectacle.

Some Democrats insisted Friday that the party avoid appointing members who would give it legitimacy. Others feared that that if they avoid it, they won’t have the chance to counter Republican claims and defend potential witnesses.

Party leader Nancy Pelosi called the investigation a “political stunt” but said negotiations with Republican House Speaker John Boehner were continuing.

Democratic Party leaders huddled with rank and file in a closed-door session to decide whether to take part in the eighth investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012 assault, or whether they should boycott the proceedings.

Republicans the day before rammed through a resolution creating a special select committee to examine the Sept. 11, 2012, assault, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. The panel will have a 7-5 Republican edge in membership.

Republicans are focusing on the issue as congressional elections loom in November and as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton weighs a run for president in 2016. Among other allegations, Republicans say the Obama administration misled the American people about the nature of the attack during a presidential election campaign and stonewalled congressional investigators.

Democrats say the Benghazi inquiry is a political ploy designed to energize Republican voters ahead of the elections, when a fierce battle for control of the Senate will play out.

Pelosi said Democrats have heard from the families of two men killed in the attack who said “don’t take us down this path again.”

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

Republicans say they’re unsatisfied with explanations so far.

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen criticized the “song and dance” she said came from Clinton when House members wanted to question her about Benghazi a few months after the attack. Clinton’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee was delayed when she missed a month of work toward the end of her tenure after suffering a virus, then a fall and a concussion, and then brief hospitalization for a blood clot near her brain.

The vote 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.

Moving full-speed ahead Friday, Boehner appointed the six Republicans members who will join committee chief Rep. Trey Gowdy on the panel.

The investigation means high-profile hearings in the months leading up to the elections, with Republicans grilling current and former Obama administration officials. Clinton is certain to be called to testify.

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’ll have equal access to documents, say on subpoenas and the right to question witnesses. Staff level negotiations have continued.

Following the morning meeting, Rep. Chris Van Hollen indicated a boycott is still possible.

“We don’t want a kangaroo court,” he said. “We think that this whole Benghazi hearing is a waste of taxpayer dollars, but if at the very least they’re going to establish a fair process then we could participate, but if it’s going to be a kangaroo court, we can’t.”

But Rep. Henry Waxman, a veteran of congressional investigations, argued strongly in favor of Democratic participation.

“I think the Democrats ought to be there every day, recording why it’s a sham,” he said.

Benghazi has produced 13 public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents and 50 separate briefings. The select committee won’t be the only inquiry, as other Republican-led congressional panels continue their investigations, including a House Oversight probe which just last week took the extraordinary step of subpoenaing a Cabinet member, Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry hasn’t said when he might testify.

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Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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