WASHINGTON – House Speaker John Boehner on Monday chose Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican and former federal prosecutor, to head a special committee that will investigate the deadly September 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, and the Obama administration’s response.
Gowdy has been an outspoken critic of how President Barack Obama and his top aides handled the fallout from the assault, which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
During one of several congressional hearings since the attack, Gowdy ticked off a series of alleged misrepresentations by the Obama administration before yelling, “I want to know why we were lied to!”
Democrats criticized the inquiry as a partisan stunt.
“We think this is a political, not a substantive, effort,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters Monday.
Many Democratic leaders have said the Republicans’ relentless focus on the Benghazi tragedy is aimed at weakening Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state when the attack occurred and is leading in early presidential polls for the 2016 election. The former senator and first lady has not said whether she will be a candidate.
Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he was compelled to set up the special committee because of last week’s “revelation that the Obama administration had withheld (certain) documents from a congressional subpoena” in an earlier Republican probe.
At issue is a Sept. 14, 2012, email – three days after the attack – obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by a conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, from deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes to then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
Rhodes advised Rice, who was slated to appear on several nationally televised news shows, to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader policy statement.” Rice, now the White House national security adviser, said the attacks resulted from a spontaneous protest ignited by a demonstration at the American Embassy in Cairo against an anti-Islam video on YouTube.
“With four of our countrymen killed at the hands of terrorists, the American people want answers,” Boehner said in a statement.
As recently as four weeks ago, however, Boehner said a special committee was not needed because four House of Representatives panels already were investigating the Benghazi affair.
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney declined to say whether the administration would cooperate with the new probe.
Carney said Congress has launched seven Benghazi investigations that have produced 13 hearings, 15 briefings of lawmakers or their aides, and more than 25,000 pages of documents.
“The facts of yesterday are the facts today, and they will be the facts no matter how often or for how long Republicans engage in highly partisan efforts to politicize what was a tragedy,” Carney told reporters.