WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican-run U.S. House of Representatives named seven lawmakers to a special committee on Friday to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attacks, but Democrats called the panel a stunt and were undecided on whether they would participate.
Democrats say several committees have already investigated the Benghazi attacks exhaustively, without proving Republican allegations that the administration did too little to repulse the attacks and then tried to protect President Barack Obama from the political fallout.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters that there was a range of opinions among Democrats as to whether they should join the committee with full or partial participation - or boycott it.
House Speaker John Boehner announced the appointment of the seven Republicans in a statement.
“I have confidence that they will lead a serious, fact-based inquiry,” Boehner said, a day after the House voted 232-186 to establish a 12-member panel on the attacks in the Libyan city in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
The committee will be chaired by South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor and outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the attacks. The others named were Susan Brooks of Indiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Martha Roby of Alabama, Peter Roskam of Illinois and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia. Five places are available for Democrats.
Pelosi called the panel “a political stunt” to make the attacks an issue in congressional elections this November.
“Their focus on the Affordable Care Act has run its course,” Pelosi told reporters, speaking of Republican criticism of Obama’s healthcare law. “Now they have to talk about something else.”
Pelosi and Democratic whip Steny Hoyer sent Boehner a letter this week outlining proposals they said would help ensure the committee’s fairness, such as bipartisan agreement on subpoenas and protocols governing the questioning of witnesses and release of documents.
Pelosi’s office said on Friday that she had received a memorandum from Boehner’s office in reply. But the committee rules suggested in the memo were “fundamentally unfair,” Pelosi wrote back to Boehner, and asked for a meeting to discuss it.
The proposed rules would not prevent the “unacceptable and repeated abuses committed by Chairman (Darrell) Issa,” the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, one of the panels that has already been investigating the Benghazi events, Pelosi wrote to Boehner.
The memo from Boehner’s office suggested that Gowdy would be able to issue subpoenas unilaterally and exclude Democratic staff from witness interviews if he thought consulting with the Democrats was not “practicable,” a Democratic aide said.
Republicans said Boehner’s and Pelosi’s staffs were still in discussions, but it would not stop the panel starting work. “We’re happy to meet, and we hope they appoint members, but we’re not going to allow this to hold up the committee from getting started,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Grant McCool