WASHINGTON: US House Democrats remained divided Friday over whether to participate in the newly-created panel to investigate the Benghazi attacks of 2012, a probe Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi slammed as a “political stunt.”
Democratic and Republican staffers huddled behind closed doors to thrash out the terms of the select committee that the House of Representatives approved Thursday in a party line vote.
President Barack Obama’s Democrats are furious over Republican insistence on re-investigating the terror strike on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Republicans have seven panel seats while Democrats have five, one of several sticking points Pelosi said has caused some lawmakers to urge a boycott of a process they say is aimed at sullying Democrats in an election year.
“This is a political stunt,” Pelosi told reporters about the panel, which will be chaired by Tea Party Republican Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor. “We’ve been there, done that. Why are we doing this again?”
Eight investigations were conducted in the year after the attacks.
But several Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner say the White House has been “stonewalling” and refusing to turn over all Benghazi-related material.
Pelosi is weighing whether to have Democrats abstain from the panel altogether, send a single representative to keep track of events and have access to testimony, or fill her party’s five seats for as strong an impact as possible.
Staff were trying to negotiate more equal terms for Democrats, she said, including a ban on the committee hearing any testimony unless at least one Democrat was present.
Pelosi also wants a say in what testimony or other material gets released by the panel, and the ability for Democrats to sign off on subpoenas.
Some senior House Democrats like Steve Israel have urged a boycott unless there is panel fairness.
“If this select committee is structured to create imbalance, then I don’t think we should participate,” Israel told AFP.
Others want representation, particularly when former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Susan Rice are called to testify.