WASHINGTON, D.C. — Republicans hoping to ride their Benghazi investigation to a November election sweep have entrusted a seven-member team with “getting to the truth,” in the words of House Speaker John Boehner, about whether the Obama administration misled Americans about the deadly attack in Libya.
They insist the investigation isn’t political.
But several GOP members of the new House Select Committee on Benghazi have made claims about administration wrongdoing. Some have participated in previous investigations into how the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11, 2012, and how the administration responded.
Democrats have yet to say if they’ll participate in what will be the eighth investigation since the attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in the eastern Libyan city.
Republicans said they need to find out why security was insufficient, what the president did the night of the attack, why the U.S. military didn’t intervene, why initial explanations focused on a protest over a YouTube video and whether the administration deliberately sought to hide evidence about its conduct.
Some of the more contentious arguments made by the GOP members:
CHAIRMAN TREY GOWDY:
The second-term tea partyer and former prosecutor from South Carolina said two weeks ago there is evidence of a “cover-up.” He cited a recently released email by White House national security communications aide Ben Rhodes.
He said the email “probably was the straw that broke the camel’s back because that memo made it really clear we’re going to blame an Internet video and not a broader policy failure in Libya.” The White House has said Rhodes was referring to attacks across the Muslim world, not Benghazi specifically.
Gowdy has said former CIA Director Michael Morell “sanitized” a series of talking points used by then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice five days after the violence, substituting the term “extremist” for all references to “terrorist,” and “demonstration” for “attack.” Republicans said this was part of an effort by President Barack Obama’s team to play down a major terrorist attack in the final weeks of his re-election campaign.
In April, Morell testified that he made no changes to provide political benefit to Obama or then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is considering running for president in 2016. He said the CIA considers extremist and terrorist as synonyms, and that references to al-Qaida in the talking points were avoided to protect classified sources.
REP. MARTHA ROBY:
The 37-year-old Alabama congresswoman, attorney and daughter of a federal judge led the House Armed Services Committee’s investigation. That panel rejected claims by conservatives that the military failed to respond the night of the attack – putting her at odds with other Republicans.
Her investigative panel concluded in a report in February that there was no “stand down” order issued to military personnel in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, who wanted to aid Americans in Benghazi. Select committee colleagues Gowdy and Rep. Jim Jordan have suggested otherwise.
“We simply were not postured to respond in time,” Roby said seven months ago.
REP. LYNN WESTMORELAND:
The Georgia congressman also is a veteran of a Benghazi investigation, one conducted by the House Intelligence Committee. In April 2013, he issued a news release describing his “two conclusions”: that Clinton personally denied much-needed additional security for U.S. diplomats in Libya and that White House officials perpetuated a “lie” about the anti-Muslim film “to protect their own backsides.”
Westmoreland pointed to a department cable declining security requests “signed” by Clinton. The conclusion has been widely challenged. The secretary of state’s name is routinely attached to State Department correspondence from Washington, most of which he or she never sees or is consulted on. Lower-level department officials have said they were responsible for specific security decisions related to Benghazi.
In recent days, Democrats have targeted Westmoreland for “politicizing” Benghazi because he serves as deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has begun an election-year fundraising drive linked to the attack.
Westmoreland, 64, has been criticized before as being overly partisan. Democrats disparaged him during the 2008 presidential election for describing candidate Barack Obama and wife Michelle as “uppity” – a derogatory term for blacks who sought equal treatment in the segregated South.
REP. JIM JORDAN:
The hard-charging conservative and occasional GOP leadership thorn has repeatedly pressed witnesses on Benghazi as a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Jordan has accused Clinton personally of trying to obstruct Congress’ investigation of Benghazi after a top aide asked for a department lawyer to be present when members of Congress spoke with U.S. diplomats in Tripoli after the attack.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Ohio Republican said at a Heritage Foundation event this month that the State Department rejected more than 200 requests for additional security. And when the attack happened, he said there was little effort to fight back. “Why weren’t we running to the sound of the guns?” Jordan reportedly asked.
Jordan, 50, said he wanted to know who started the narrative that Benghazi wasn’t a terrorist attack and has said in the past Republicans would like to have Rice testify about the matter.
REP. MIKE POMPEO:
The 50-year-old Kansas congressman similarly has focused on the talking points. In May 2013, he said the State Department and White House produced a document that “didn’t reflect the reality on the ground as they knew it at the time.” He accused “political” actors of withholding intelligence from the public.
“Were we misled?” Pompeo asked Morell at the hearing. “No,” Morell responded. “I have a different view,” Pompeo shot back.
REP. PETER ROSKAM
A confidant of Boehner, the congressman from Illinois has been less vocal about Benghazi than many of his colleagues. He may have less motivation to criticize the administration for the wording of its unclassified Benghazi talking points. Two days before the talking points were drafted, Roskam issued his own statement condemning the attacks. Roskam, 52, blamed “violent extremists” and not “terrorists” for the anti-American unrest in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere.
REP. SUSAN BROOKS:
The Indiana freshman also has been among the more reserved on Benghazi. The 53-year-old former Bush administration appointee who served six years as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana has said of the attack: “Until we have all the facts, we don’t believe that justice has really been served.”
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