WASHINGTON — Divided House Democrats are weighing whether to participate in a new investigation of the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. Ambassador, or boycott the election-year inquiry of a tragedy they accuse Republicans of politicizing.
Party leaders will meet with rank-and-file members on May 9 to decide the next step after Republicans the day before rammed through a resolution creating a special select committee to examine the Sept. 11, 2012, assault. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed when militants stormed the diplomatic outpost.
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.
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. The Democrats will meet morning to decide on their next step.
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, and they have leveled 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.
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 May 8 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 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.
Democrats are concerned that their participation in the committee, which will have a 7-5 Republican edge in membership, would grant legitimacy to what they believe will be a partisan forum. But they also worry that if they avoid it they won’t have the chance to counter Republican claims and defend potential witnesses.
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.
Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly accused Republicans of perpetuating “myths and conspiracies” and remaining obsessed with “recycling tired and worn talking points in a cynical attempt to fire up the (Republican) base in the run-up to an election year.”
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.
By Dawn Cassata. AP writers Bradley Klapper and Alan Fram contributed to this report.