Rep. Trey Gowdy, a second-term Republican congressman from South Carolina and former prosecutor, will head a select House committee charged with investigating the Obama administration's response to the deadly 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (Cliff Owen / AP)
WASHINGTON — Republicans are sharpening their focus on the deadly 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attack as midterm elections loom closer, with a likely vote this week on establishing a select House committee to investigate the Obama administration’s response.
Ongoing wrangling over a panel’s subpoena of Secretary of State John Kerry will further highlight Benghazi, as could multiple hearings ostensibly designed to examine other subjects.
The GOP-led House is planning the vote sometime in the next several days to authorize the committee, which would provide Republicans with a high-profile forum to criticize President Barack Obama and his team over the next several months. The administration and House Democrats are undecided about whether to take part in or boycott the probe, which they see as partisan and unnecessary given several ongoing investigations in Congress.
The two sides likely will lock horns in several other venues this week. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and the State Department are at odds over a subpoena for Kerry to appear before the panel on May 21, when America’s top diplomat has a scheduled trip to Mexico. A Kerry spokeswoman said Monday the secretary of state wouldn’t appear before Issa’s committee that day.
Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday will examine Republican-backed legislation that would authorize U.S. military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic post that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
And the House and Senate foreign relations committees will each get a chance this week to question the senior U.S. diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, who played a role in the talking points created by the administration after the violence, even if those hearings are supposed to be about the crisis in Ukraine.
The focus on Benghazi highlights a central plank in the Republicans’ strategy in the run-up to November’s elections, which could swing the Senate to GOP control.
Republicans say the White House, concerned primarily with protecting Obama in the final weeks of his re-election campaign, misled the nation after Benghazi. They accuse the administration of stonewalling congressional investigators ever since, pointing specifically to emails written by administration officials in the days after the attack but only released last week.
The Obama administration denies any wrongdoing, and Democrats in Congress say no evidence suggests officials did anything but try to provide the public with the best information available. They accuse the Republicans of trying to generate a scandal to drum up political support, and to target former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Asked about the select committee Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration cooperates with “legitimate” congressional oversight, including sending witnesses to hearings and providing bipartisan panels with documents. He declined to characterize whether a House select committee would be legitimate or not.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2-ranked House Democrat, said he and his colleagues would first have to see the specifics of House Speaker John Boehner’s proposed committee before making a decision on whether to participate. Hoyer said he and other party leaders would vote against establishing the committee.
“This has been seriously and thoroughly investigated,” said Hoyer, citing 13 public hearings on the Benghazi attack, 25,000 pages of documents handed over and 50 separate briefings. “There was nothing the military could have done in the time-frame available,” he told reporters Monday. He said all investigations thus far have produced “no smoking gun, no wrongdoing.”
Boehner said Monday that Rep. Trey Gowdy, a second-term Republican congressman from South Carolina and former prosecutor, would head the special committee. Its establishment is almost a formality given the GOP’s control of the House.
Democrats controlling the Senate have shown no interest in launching a similar probe.