WASHINGTON — House Democrats will participate in the special, Republican-led select committee investigating the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, despite serious concerns within the party that the inquiry is an election-year ploy to energize core GOP voters.
In a brief statement, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she will appoint the full complement of five Democrats on the 12-member panel, tapping lawmakers who have been deeply involved in previous congressional investigations of the Sept. 11, 2012 assault on the U.S. diplomatic outpost.
Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, died in the attack when militants stormed the mission.
The Democrats who will join seven Republicans are Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking member on the Oversight committee; Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the Armed Services panel; Adam Schiff of California, a member of the Intelligence committee; Linda Sanchez, also of California, who is on Ways and Means’ oversight subcommittee, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who serves on Armed Services.
Cummings will serve as the ranking member on the select committee. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had selected Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a seasoned prosecutor, to be the panel’s chairman.
Democrats have been divided over whether to boycott the investigation, the eighth probe. Some Democrats have called the new inquiry a political sham designed to embarrass the Obama administration and rough up former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Among Democratic leaders, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina reiterated his reservations on Tuesday. Clyburn had said, “If you’re going to have a hanging, don’t ask me to bring the noose.”
Other Democrats have maintained that they must participate in the select committee to ensure they have a role in questioning witnesses.
Pelosi and Boehner met for an hour on Tuesday, and she held subsequent meetings with Democratic leaders. Her staff and aides to Boehner discussed the parameters of the investigation.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney wouldn’t comment on Pelosi’s potential decision, but said there was reason to suspect the House GOP’s investigation “might not be divorced from politics.”
“We defer to the leader,” Carney said, referring to Pelosi.
“Our view has always been — and it has been not just our view, but our practice — that it is appropriate to have legitimate congressional oversight,” Carney added, without elaborating on whether the Gowdy-led investigation constitutes legitimate oversight.
The Benghazi attack has become a conservative rallying cry, with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of intentionally misleading the public about the nature of the attack and stonewalling congressional investigators.
The special investigation means high-profile hearings in the months leading up to the elections, with Republicans likely to target current and former administration officials. Almost certain to be called to testify is Clinton.
The panel is authorized to work through the end of the year, past November’s midterm elections, when the GOP hopes to win control of the Senate and tighten its majority grip on the House.
In the 20 months since the attack, multiple independent, bipartisan and GOP-led probes have faulted the State Department for inadequate security in Benghazi, leading to four demotions. No attacker has yet been arrested.