House GOP to form select committee on Benghazi attack

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WASHINGTON — The House Republican leadership will form a select committee, likely to be led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.), to investigate the State Department’s handling of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya.

The terrorist attack, which occurred not long before the 2012 presidential contest, has been thrust back into the spotlight after new documents about the State Department’s handling of the attack were made public earlier this week.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of orchestrating a coverup of how they responded to the attack, while Democrats have admitted that the administration made a mistake by initially blaming the attack solely on outrage over the “Innocence of Muslims” video, which included a derogatory depiction of the Muhammad and sparked protests throughout the Middle East.

The State Department recently released new emails about how its talking points were crafted — ones that had not been provided to Congressional Republicans who subpoenaed all Benghazi-related documents -- to a conservative watchdog group, sparking outrage on the right.

“Americans learned this week that the Obama administration is so intent on obstructing the truth about Benghazi that it is even willing to defy subpoenas issued by the standing committees of the People’s House,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement on Friday. “In light of these new developments, the House will vote to establish a new select committee to investigate the attack, provide the necessary accountability, and ensure justice is finally served.”

The GOP has renewed its outrage about the attack — which left four Americans dead, and which was a major Republican talking point during the 2012 presidential race — after the State Department recently released new emails about the attack. Those emails had not been included previously when the House Oversight Committee had subpoenaed the department’s communication about the attacks, which has led some Republicans to declare that they are evidence that the Obama administration orchestrated a “coverup” of its handling of the attack.

“The new emails released this week were the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said a senior GOP leadership aide.

House Democrats said Friday afternoon that they had not been contacted by the Republican leadership about the select committee.

“We have not been contacted by Speaker Boehner or the Republican leadership concerning a select committee proposal,” said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement that the Republicans’ new-found focus on Benghazi is for political gain.

“There have already been multiple investigations into this issue and an independent Accountability Review Board is mandated under current law. For Republicans to waste the American people’s time and money staging a partisan political circus instead of focusing on the middle class is simply a bad decision,” Reid said. “While Republicans try to gin up yet another political food fight, Senate Democrats will remain focused on fostering economic growth for all hard-working Americans.”

The formation of the committee comes just hours after Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced that he has issued a subpoena for Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before Congress about why the new e-mails were not included previously when batches of Benghazi documents were subpoenaed by his committee.

“The State Department’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack has shown a disturbing disregard for the Department’s legal obligations to Congress,” Issa wrote in a letter to Kerry. “Compliance with a subpoena for documents is not a game. Because your Department is failing to meet its legal obligations, I am issuing a new subpoena to compel you to appear before the Committee to answer questions about your agency’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack.”

Boehner had previously called on Kerry to explain why the emails were missing.

“Someone needs to answer why this administration hid these documents — and tell the American people what else is being concealed,” Boehner said in a statement on Thursday.