WASHINGTON — House Democrats opened the door Tuesday to participating in a select committee investigation of Benghazi if they are equally represented on the panel with Republicans.
House Speaker John Boehner has named a GOP congressman to chair the select committee but has yet to outline his full plan. A vote to authorize the probe is expected this week. It is unlikely the Republican majority would accept the Democratic minority's request for equal representation.
"If this review is to be fair, it must be truly bipartisan," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said.
"The panel should be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans," she said in a statement. "It should require that witnesses are called and interviewed, subpoenas are issued and information is shared on a bipartisan basis. Only then could it be fair."
Republicans are sharpening their focus on the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic post as midterm elections loom closer. In addition to the select committee vote, a senior GOP congressman has issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry to testify and the subject could surface in multiple congressional hearings this week.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Libyan port city. Twenty months on from the attack, Republicans have made Benghazi a central plank of their strategy to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in November's elections.
Republicans say the White House, concerned primarily with protecting President Barack Obama in the final weeks of his re-election campaign, misled the nation by playing down intelligence suggesting Benghazi was a major, al-Qaida-linked terrorist attack. They accuse the Obama administration of stonewalling congressional investigators ever since, pointing specifically to emails written by administration officials in the days after the attack but only released last week.
The administration denies any wrongdoing and says officials tried to provide the public with the best information available. Democrats accuse the Republicans of trying to generate a scandal to drum up political support, and to target former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumed front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Establishment of a select committee is almost a formality given the GOP's control of the House. Boehner on Monday said Rep. Trey Gowdy, a second-term Republican congressman from South Carolina and former prosecutor, would head the special committee. Democrats controlling the Senate have shown no interest in launching a similar probe.
Up to now, House Democrats have criticized the effort as partisan and unnecessary given several ongoing investigations in Congress. But they haven't said clearly if they'd participate in or boycott the investigation. White House spokesman Jay Carney has been similarly vague, saying Monday the administration cooperates with "legitimate" congressional oversight.
Meanwhile, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and the State Department are at odds over a subpoena for Kerry to appear before the panel on May 21, when America's top diplomat has a scheduled trip to Mexico. A Kerry spokeswoman said Monday the secretary of state wouldn't appear before Issa's committee that day.
The House and Senate foreign relations committees will each get a chance this week to question the senior U.S. diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, who played a role in the talking points created by the administration after the violence, even if those hearings are supposed to be about the crisis in Ukraine. On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee will examine Republican-backed legislation authorizing U.S. military force against Benghazi perpetrators.