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Boehner Proposes Creation of Special Benghazi Committee (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 3:34 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner is proposing the House create a special committee to investigate the attack and aftermath of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, his office announced Friday.  

“The House committees that have been investigating this attack have done extraordinary work, using their subpoena power, holding dozens of hearings, and conducting hundreds of interviews,” Boehner said in a statement on the same day House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before Congress about the administration’s response to the attack. “Without this work we would not know much that we do today.”  

“But it’s clear that questions remain, and the administration still does not respect the authority of Congress to provide proper oversight,” Boehner said. “This dismissiveness and evasion requires us to elevate the investigation to a new level.”  

The Ohio Republican said he intended the committee to have “robust authority,” and he said he expected it to work quickly to get answers. As recently as April, Boehner said there were four House committees investigating Benghazi — Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Government Reform — and Boehner said he saw “no reason to break up all the work that’s been done and to take months and months and months to create some select committee.”  

Fox News host Megyn Kelly pressed Boehner on the topic, saying there were 190 House Republicans who claimed they needed a select committee on Benghazi.  

“I understand that,” Boehner responded. “At some point, that may — that may be required. At this point, it’s not.”  

So what changed?  

A senior GOP leadership aide told CQ Roll Call that Boehner was “furious” to learn this week that the Obama administration had withheld relevant documents from a congressional subpoena.  “He’s sick and tired of this evasion and obstruction from the administration, and wants a solution to finally force accountability, get the truth and provide justice,” the aide said.  

Judicial Watch revealed this week that White House emails show administration adviser Ben Rhodes coordinating a communications response strategy for then-U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice after the Benghazi attack that occurred on Sept. 11, 2012. Rhodes included in his email that Rice should emphasize that the attack was “rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”  

The GOP aide said those emails were “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for Boehner, who also said the speaker, in a move that would likely delight conservatives, was considering Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to chair the select committee.  

Either way, conservatives already seem delighted by the news, sending out a round of press release applause for leadership’s decision to create the Benghazi select committee.  

Democrats, however, were far more reserved.  

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s communications director, Drew Hammill, said neither Boehner nor anyone in GOP leadership had contacted the California Democrat’s office about the proposal to create a select committee on Benghazi.  

A GOP source familiar with the situation said that though House Republicans have been calling on leadership for months to convene such a panel, its formal inception only came about in the past 24 hours, following an interconference eruption over comments by Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., discrediting a witness called to testify at a hearing on Benghazi held by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday.  

“I appreciate the service of Brigadier General Robert Lovell and his willingness to testify,” McKeon said in a statement released on the same day. “He confirmed what my committee has understood for some time, that the military never believed this was a protest gone bad, and that the President fundamentally failed to posture our forces [to] respond to any emergency in the weeks before [the attack].  

“Beyond those confirmations,” McKeon continued, “BG Lovell did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack … [He] did not further the investigation or reveal anything new.”  

The source told CQ Roll Call that the comments set off something of a turf war, and leadership saw the need to compartmentalize the investigation going forward.  

The senior Republican leadership aide who confirmed the details of the special Benghazi committee strongly denied that this scenario led to its formation.  

Update Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, released a statement Friday afternoon that said GOP leadership was in “disarray” over Benghazi.  

“Within just the last 24 hours, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee publicly criticized the chairman of the Oversight Committee, the Chairman of the Oversight Committee unilaterally subpoenaed the Secretary of State, and then the Speaker announced that he is stripping away Benghazi from both of them,” he said in a statement.  

“Obviously, the Oversight Committee had been taking the lead on this investigation, and there is no authority you can give a Select Committee that Chairman Issa doesn’t already have — including the ability to issue unilateral subpoenas to compel any witness or any document,” Cummings said.