Boehner picks fact-finders for Benghazi committee who appeal to big constituencies
Democrats are still weighing whether to participate in the select committee on Benghazi, but House Speaker John A. Boehner has managed to check off most of his big constituencies in naming the seven Republican members: a chairman with a background as a former prosecutor, two women, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, a deputy whip, and members with experience on the oversight and intelligence committees.
Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, is a former prosecutor known for his tough questioning of former Internal Revenue Service official Lois G. Lerner in his role on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He also has garnered respect from members of both parties for how he has pledged to conduct the panel.
"This is a serious investigation. I don't want theater; I don't want a sideshow," Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in an interview with Fox News that aired Sunday. "I want the members of this committee to find the facts for the four families who lost their loved ones, and the facts for the American people."
Mr. Boehner has charged the committee with exploring security lapses leading up to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Libya that claimed the lives of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, the U.S. response to the attack, the Obama administration's initial effort to portray the attack as a mob uprising spawned by an anti-Islam video, and the efforts to pursue the attackers.
None of the perpetrators has been brought to justice.
Even as they reserve judgment on whether their party should participate in the investigation, some rank-and-file Democrats have sung Mr. Gowdy's praises. Rep. Xavier Becerra, California Democrat and caucus chairman, said on "Fox News Sunday" that Mr. Gowdy is a "great prosecutor."
Mr. Gowdy and Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, one of the most liberal members of Congress, were glad-handing on the House floor last week during the vote to establish the committee.
"I have no friends to reward and no foes to punish," Mr. Gowdy said on "Fox News Sunday." "We're going to go wherever the facts take us. Facts are neither Republican nor Democrat. They are facts. And if we overplay our hand or if we engage in a process that is not fair according to the American people, we will be punished, as we should be, for that."
Mr. Gowdy's experience on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee could be a double-edged sword. Mr. Becerra and other Democrats have pointed out that it is one of several House panels that already have investigated the issue.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said last week that Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and committee chairman, was "damaged goods" and that part of the Republican calculus was to move the inquiry to a different venue with a different chairman.
Mr. Boehner's endorsement of the select committee is a reversal. For months, he said the House Oversight and Government Reform, Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs committees were best positioned to investigate.
But after a recent conflict between two of those panels and the revelation that the White House hadn't turned over a key memo suggesting a deeper role by close presidential aides in shaping the public relations response to the attack, Mr. Boehner said a special committee was warranted.
Mr. Boehner also said he was looking for an eclectic mix of members and that getting to the truth is important for the system of checks and balances.
"We have a lot of very talented people in our conference," he said on Fox. "What I tried to do is to find people who have worked on this investigation and others who frankly have not. But bright, energetic, and people committed to getting to the facts."
The two women Mr. Boehner named are Rep. Martha Roby, a second-term congresswoman from Alabama and a former lawyer who serves on the Armed Services and Appropriations committees, and Rep. Susan W. Brooks of Indiana, a former U.S. attorney who sits on the Homeland Security Committee.
Mr. Boehner gave a nod to conservatives with the appointment of Jim Jordan of Ohio, a member of the oversight panel and a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
Rep. Peter J. Roskam, another Republican member, served with Barack Obama in the Illinois legislature and, as chief deputy whip, serves to represent Mr. Boehner's leadership team on the panel. But Mr. Roskam, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has support from the House's more conservative voices as well.
Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas brings credentials from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as does Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland of Georgia, who is also a deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Assurances from Mr. Boehner and Mr. Gowdy notwithstanding, Democrats have accused Republicans of using the tragedy as a political tool and to raise campaign money ahead of the midterm elections.
"The bottom line here is that the Republicans have clearly lost the ability, because we've had such a precipitous drop among Republicans, even, in their fervor for repealing the Affordable Care Act, that they are clearly doing this to drive their turnout," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Florida Democrat and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
Mr. Gowdy reiterated his pledge not to use Benghazi to raise money and asked his colleagues not to do so either. But he also pointed out that Democrats have raised money by using the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the deadly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"It would be helpful if our colleagues on the other side of the aisle did not have selective amnesia when it comes to what's appropriate to raise money off of and what is not," he said.
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