WASHINGTON — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Wednesday named a slate of Democrats, including Rep. Adam Smith of Bellevue, to participate in the new select committee on Benghazi, surprising some in her party by giving legitimacy to an inquiry many had dismissed as a political stunt.
Smith, ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, has made no secret of his disdain for the Republican Party’s Benghazi obsession.
The 2012 Benghazi attack left four Americans dead, including the ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens.
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of misleading Americans about a terrorist attack weeks before the presidential election.
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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 been arrested.
Pelosi conceded that congressional Democrats were divided on the wisdom of the move, but argued that by participating, Democrats could influence the direction of the investigation and get access to documents and other evidence. Democrats had debated whether to even participate in the committee. Pelosi said Democrats would participate to “stand up for the truth.”
At a news conference with Pelosi and the other panelists, Smith said he had dim hopes for the exercise.
“This is a committee that should not have been formed,” he said. “But since the Republicans chose to form it, I think we have to participate to do our best to bring out the correct arguments.”
Other Democrats appointed by Pelosi to the committee are: Reps. Elijah Cummings, of Maryland, Adam Schiff of California, Linda Sanchez, of California, and Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois. They’ll join seven Republicans on the committee, chaired by South Carolina’s Rep. Trey Gowdy.
The Republican-led House voted mostly along party lines to create the select committee this month.
In announcing that vote, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused the Obama administration of withholding information about the Benghazi attacks and the White House’s early efforts to spin the Benghazi incident to the public. “The administration’s withholding of documents — emails showing greater White House involvement in misleading the American people — is a flagrant violation of trust and undermines the basic principles of oversight upon which our system of government is built. And it forces us to ask the question, what else about Benghazi is the Obama administration still hiding from the American people?”
By naming members who served on committees that have already investigated the attack, Pelosi raised the pressure on Gowdy.
If he recycles previously reviewed material, Democrats from those committees will be there to dismiss it as old news. If he finds new information, Democrats can raise questions about why it was not unearthed by the Armed Services, Intelligence or Oversight Committees, all of which have investigated the attack.
“We need someone in that room to simply defend the truth,” said Cummings,
ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Boehner had resisted forming the newest panel, but after legal action unearthed a new email that the White House appeared to have concealed, he relented.
The Republican panel members largely lack foreign-policy and military credentials, although with Gowdy and Rep. Susan Brooks, of Indiana, they have prosecutorial experience. They include Rep. Peter Roskam, of Illinois, Rep. Jim Jordan, of Ohio, Rep. Mike Pompeo, of Kansas, Rep. Martha Roby, of Alabama, and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, of Georgia. Westmoreland is deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Roskam is the Republican leadership’s chief deputy whip.
Gowdy said Cummings had met with him this week to seek assurances that the proceedings would go forward without spectacle. Much of the work will be done through depositions, not open committee hearings, although there will be some. For now, both sides need to build their staffs and examine documents already in hand to determine what else to seek. That could take a long time.
Gowdy said he would like to hire a nonpartisan woman as chief counsel, since many of the important witnesses will be women.
Includes material from The New York Times, The Associated Press and Seattle Times political reporter Jim Brunner