House Democrats to join new Benghazi probe. Prudence, or worry?

Democrats had threatened to boycott a new House panel to investigate the Obama administration's handling of the deadly 2012 assault on US posts in Benghazi, Libya. On Wednesday, they relented, citing need to keep check on GOP.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi speaks about the Benghazi panel during a press conference in the Capitol in Washington May 21. Pelosi on Wednesday named the five members of her party who will serve on a special panel investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

House Democrats will participate in the new Benghazi committee after all.

Minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California on Wednesday named the Democrats' full allotment of five members to the special 12-person panel, which was created by the GOP House leadership to continue probing the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, assault on US diplomatic buildings in Benghazi, Libya.

US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died that day. Many Republicans accuse the Obama administration of misleading the public about the nature of the attack, which occurred just prior to the 2012 presidential elections. Democrats, in turn, accuse Republicans of distorting the facts surrounding Benghazi and keeping it alive for political reasons.

“We can’t simply let the Republicans run the show,” said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and one of Ms. Pelosi’s choices for the panel.

Some Democrats thought Pelosi should boycott the panel’s work. They call the committee simply a mechanism to keep the Benghazi issue open as the 2014 midterm election approaches, after numerous other House panels had already thoroughly examined available Benghazi evidence.

Some disgruntled left-leaning commentators say Pelosi has thus fallen into a GOP trap by participating and implicitly giving the committee bipartisan legitimacy.

“I suppose if the GOP steers the committee entirely off the rails, Dems can just begin the boycott later,” writes Brian Beutler at The New Republic.

But Pelosi appears to have decided it is better to try to influence the panel from within. Most of the Democrats named to the committee are experienced members who serve on standing panels such as Armed Services and Intelligence that have already held extensive Benghazi hearings. This will give them some standing on the new special committee to complain that particular evidence is not new, or has been thoroughly aired before.

“I feel that I owe it to the families of Ambassador Stevens and the other brave Americans who lost their lives to bring some minimal level of balance to this process and to check false claims whenever I can,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland, one of the new special committee members. As the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which has held extensive Benghazi hearings, Representative Cummings has fought often with panel chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California over evidence.

It’s also possible that the Democrats are simply more worried about this committee than they let on and felt they had to participate. Speaker John Boehner pointedly did not name Representative Issa to be the Benghazi committee chairman. Instead, he picked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) of South Carolina, a former federal prosecutor widely thought to be one of the House’s more skilled inquisitors.

“Besides, the VA [Veterans Affairs] scandal and the parallels to White House inaction are rapidly eroding the outrageous-outrage claims of Democrats who argue that the Benghazi probe is just about politics,” writes conservative Ed Morrissey on "Hot Air."

Besides Smith and Cummings, Democratic lawmakers named to the panel are Reps. Adam Schiff of California, a member of the Intelligence Committee; Linda Sánchez of California, who serves on Ways and Means; and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an Armed Services committee member.

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