United States House Select Committee on Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi
The House Select Committee on Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi was created after Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner, on May 2, 2014, proposed a House select committee would be formed to further investigate the 2012 Benghazi attack. During that event, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya was attacked, resulting in the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to that country, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans. On May 8, 2014, the House voted 232–186 to establish the select committee, with 225 Republicans and 7 Democrats in favor, and 186 Democrats voting against. The chair of the committee is Representative Trey Gowdy from South Carolina.
Frank Wolf, Republican from Virginia, introduced House Resolution (H.Res.) 36 on January 18, 2013, with 192 co-sponsoring House members, to establish a "select committee to investigate and report on the attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya." On May 22, 2013, Speaker Boehner, Republican from Ohio, resisted calls to create one saying: saying "I don’t think at this point in time that it’s necessary." He remained confident the four House committees investigating Benghazi—the Armed Services Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee, Intelligence Committee, and Oversight and Government Reform Committee—were sufficient and that there was no reason to set up a fifth committee, saying "At this point in time I see no reason to break up all the work that's been done and to take months and months and months to create some select committee."
In late April 2014, Judicial Watch—a self-described "educational foundation" concerned with "transparency, accountability and integrity in government"—made public previously-unreleased White House emails showing administration adviser Ben Rhodes coordinating a public response strategy after the attack for then-United Nations ambassador for the U.S., Susan E. Rice, recommending she emphasize the attack was “rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” The email was part of materials, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, that were more comprehensive than those the White House had given congressional panels. A person whom Roll Call identified as a "senior GOP leadership aide" stated that this had been “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for Boehner.
Frustrated with what he considered "stonewalling" from the White House, Boehner proposed creation of the special committee May 2, 2014. He stated: “it’s clear that questions remain, and the administration still does not respect the authority of Congress to provide proper oversight. This dismissiveness and evasion requires us to elevate the investigation to a new level.” A growing battle for control of Benghazi investigations between existing House committees may also have been a factor in Boehner's decision to create the select committee. The resolution that passed and created the select committee was generally similar to, but not the same as, the original H.Res. 36. Only seven Democrats "broke ranks" to vote with the majority party to establish the select committee: Ron Barber of Arizona, John Barrow of Georgia, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, Patrick Murphy of Florida, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, Nick Rahall of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The Democratic National Committee sent out a statement describing the committee as a "ploy" and "political stunt."
Following passage, on May 12 Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas requested that the United States Senate agree to form a joint select committee on the matter with the House. The suggestion was quickly rejected in the Senate, which unlike the House was under Democratic control. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had said in November 2012 that Congress should form a special committee—like it had for the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals—to investigate what happened before, during and after the Benghazi attack. On May 15, 2014, he joined 36 other Republican senators calling on Majority Leader Harry Reid to establish a related select committee, saying: “Congressional oversight is crucial to understanding what happened before, during, and after the attacks, so we can be sure we do everything in our power to prevent future attacks."
On May 23, current Secretary of State John Kerry said he would appear before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in response to a second subpoena, to "answer questions regarding the Department’s response to Congressional investigations of the Benghazi attacks". In response to the State Department's insistence this would be a "one-and-done" appearance, meaning Kerry would not also appear before the select committee, a spokesperson for Boehner said: “We’re glad Secretary Kerry will appear at Oversight. Whether he will also be asked appear (sic) before the Select Committee will be a decision for Chairman Gowdy in the future.” Issa changed course a week later, releasing Kerry from the subpoena, thus nullifying State Department stated concerns about availability of the secretary for a select committee hearing.
Members during the 113th Congress
Speaker Boehner named the six remaining members of the Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi on May 9, 2014. The House Select Committee on Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi. Trey Gowdy had been announced as chair earlier, the 49-year-old, former 16-year federal prosecutor being well-regarded among House conservatives. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, announced on May 21, 2014, she was naming five members of her caucus to serve on the panel, with Elijah Cummings of Maryland the ranking member.
Gowdy is a member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a former federal and local prosecutor. Roby is chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and led that body's investigations into military activities during the events in Benghazi. She is a former lawyer. Roskam is chief deputy Republican whip, making him the fourth-ranking House Republican behind Boehner. Westmoreland is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Brooks is a former U.S. attorney, Jordan has a law degree, and Pompeo is a former lawyer.
Of the minority members, Cummings is the ranking Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Smith the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, and Schiff a member of the Intelligence Committee. Sanchez is the ranking member of the House Ethics Committee and a former member of the Intelligence Committee, while Duckworth is a wounded and decorated veteran of the Iraq War.
In his first personnel move, Gowdy selected Philip Kiko as majority chief of staff—a former aide to James Sensenbrenner, Republican from Wisconsin, when he was chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
Minority participation question
House Democrats did not immediately commit to participating in the Benghazi attack investigation select committee. Aides for Boehner and Pelosi engaged in discussions over how the committee would operate, points of contention being shared authority to issue subpoenas, interview witnesses, and determine what can be released to the public. When she finally made the decision that her party would participate in the committee investigation, Pelosi acknowledged: “I could have argued this either way. Why give any validity to this effort?”
Previously Boehner denied Democratic demands for equal representation on the 12-member panel, broken out 7-5 for the majority party. The percentage of Democrats on the select committee was about the same as on the aggregated four committees previously involved in Benghazi investigations and hearings.
In a letter Pelosi sent to Boehner May 9, 2014, referring to the related House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigation under chair Darrell Issa, she stated: "Regrettably, the proposal does not prevent the unacceptable and repeated abuses by committed by (sic) Chairman Issa in any meaningful way, and we find it ultimately unfair."
Schiff, calling the establishment of a select committee to investigate the 2012 attack a "colossal waste of time," stated Democratic leaders should not appoint any members, stating: "I think it's just a tremendous red herring and a waste of taxpayer resources." Rosa DeLauro, Democrat from Connecticut, pushed her party to appoint a single representative, believing: "Such a participant could maintain Democratic access to committee proceedings and material, question witnesses, monitor the House Majority's activities and provide a powerful voice to raise issues and make appropriate public comments." By some reports, supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton—Secretary of State at the time of the attacks, and possible presidential candidate in 2016—urged Democrats to participate fully in the committee to better counteract possible Republican criticism of her.
When on May 21 Pelosi decided to name a full slate of Democrats to the committee, she argued that by selecting senior legislators—most of whom had already been engaged in investigations of the Benghazi attacks—Democrats could have a say in access to pertinent documents and determining the direction of the committee's investigation. Pelosi stated that participation would allow Democrats "to be there to fight for a fair hearing and process, to try to bring some openness and transparency to what’s going on.” Reacting to the minority appointments to the committee, Gowdy commented: "The ones that I know well are very thoughtful and very smart, and I have a great working relationship with them."
Investigation and report
The expected focus of the investigation by the select committee is on events before, during, and after the actual attack. In particular, the resolution passed by the House states that the scope of the Select Committee's investigation include, but not be limited to:
- security decisions and military posture prior to the attack
- the terrorist attack that occurred in Benghazi on September 11, 2012
- the Executive Branch's response to the attack
- the Executive Branch's efforts to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack
- the Executive Branch's response to congressional inquiries and subpoenas
- recommendations for improving executive branch cooperation and compliance with congressional oversight
- lessons learned from the attacks and efforts to protect United States facilities and personnel abroad.
The panel has been assigned a budge of $3.3 million for this investigation and related hearings.
- Ambassadors of the United States killed in office
- Aftermath of the Libyan Civil War
- International response to the reactions to Innocence of Muslims
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- OVERSIGHT: Investigation of Benghazi House Republicans
- House Resolution to Create Select Committee on Benghazi
- Section-by-Section Analysis of the Resolution