WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-run House of Representatives voted along party lines on Thursday to set up a committee to investigate the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Unhappy Democrats were considering boycotting the panel.
The House voted 232-186 to set up a 12-member special investigative committee. It is expected to be chaired by South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy and include seven Republicans and five Democrats.
Democrats had sought an evenly divided panel, but Republicans prevailed with the argument that they should have a majority on the committee because they were elected to majority status in the House.
Armed militants attacked U.S. diplomatic posts in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Republicans accuse the administration of doing too little to repulse the attacks and later creating a smokescreen around the events to protect President Barack Obama’s image as tough on terrorism and help boost his re-election chances in November 2012.
Although there have been numerous investigations by congressional committees and a State Department “Accountability Review Board,” Republicans say the Obama administration has not provided all the relevant information about the reasons for the attacks and how the administration responded to them.
“Our committees sought the full truth and the administration tried to make sure they wouldn’t find it,” House Speaker John Boehner told lawmakers before Thursday’s vote. “Which meant they tried to prevent the American people from finding the truth as well.”
Democrats say Republicans are continuing to focus on the Benghazi attacks for political reasons, especially to harm the reputation of Hillary Clinton, a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate who was secretary of state at the time of the Benghazi attacks.
“One more committee weighted in favor of the majority is not going to do any better. We have bottomed out on Benghazi,” said Representative Louise Slaughter of New York.
She expressed outrage that some Republicans were using Benghazi to raise campaign funds: “Have you no shame?”
Democrats said they were undecided on whether to take part in the panel so long as the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is not even. Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said Democrats had made some proposals to Boehner’s office for other ways to ensure fairness in the committee.
“We’ve suggested if you don’t have even numbers, you could still ensure bipartisan support for subpoenas and other informational requests,” Van Hollen said.
Representative John Lewis Of Georgia said: “We’re still debating, but I lean toward participating. We should be at the table. We should be in the room.”
Representative Adam Schiff of California, however, said, “I don’t think we should” participate.
The resolution said the committee would investigate “all policies, decisions an activities that contributed to the attacks on United States facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, as well as those that affected the ability of the United States to prepare for the attacks.”
The panel would also probe the response, as well as internal administration communications about the attacks, the resolution said.
Seven Democrats voted for the formation of the committee, and no Republican voted against it.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)