Rules for Benghazi panel fuel Democrats’ suspicion of political motive
A congressional investigation of the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, is operating outside rules that require other House committees to publicly disclose how much money they spend and the issues they intend to pursue, according to Democrats on the panel.
The arrangement has added to suspicion among Democrats that the Republican-led committee — with no budget constraints or clear end date — is politically motivated and aimed primarily at damaging a likely White House run by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attacks in Libya.
The House investigation of Benghazi “operates with no limit on its budget or timeframe,” according to a letter of protest submitted by Democrats to the House Administration Committee, which oversees the chamber’s other panels.
The letter calls for a “public debate about the amount of additional time and money Congress plans to spend” investigating Benghazi, and for a public hearing before the House Administration Committee, as is typically required of other panels.
The Benghazi committee is on course to spend more than $3 million in 2015, exceeding the annual budgets of long-standing committees that oversee veterans affairs and other issues, according to the letter.
The letter was signed by all five Democrats on the Benghazi panel, including Elijah E. Cummings (Md.). A spokesman for the Republican chairman of the Benghazi committee, Trey Gowdy (S.C.), declined to comment.
Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Administration Committee, said in a written response that the issues being raised by Democrats could have been debated on the House floor, and she described the Democrats’ letter as “remarkably odd.”
The conflict reflects the extent to which political tensions persist more than two years after Islamist militants killed four Americans in eastern Libya, including the U.S. ambassador to the country, J. Christopher Stevens.
As many as eight previous investigations have rejected many of the most politically charged Benghazi allegations.
A two-year inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee criticized a “flawed” process that led White House officials to make erroneous assertions about the nature of the Benghazi attack, and concluded that the State Department facility where Stevens was killed had been inadequately protected.
But the committee found no evidence that interference from Washington undermined efforts to defend the besieged State compound or a nearby CIA facility, or that there was a politically motivated coverup afterward.
Despite those findings, House Republicans created a stand-alone panel last year to focus exclusively on Benghazi. The panel has held three hearings since its inception in May and has been beset by political skirmishes.
Democrats have said that they were excluded from interviews that GOP members conducted with Benghazi witnesses, meetings that Democrats said they found out about only after Gowdy had mentioned them publicly.
Gowdy has accused the Obama administration of being slow to turn over records, and Gowdy recently vowed to “ratchet up” pressure on the executive branch.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), who serves on the panel and is also the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a recent hearing that the Benghazi inquiry has already taken longer than previous House probes — including a 2005 examination of the response to Hurricane Katrina — with no clear finish line.
“This committee has such an indefinite scope, we don’t know exactly what we’re looking for,” Schiff said.