Raising the stakes in a showdown between Republicans and President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner today called on the House to vote to form a select committee to investigate the Benghazi terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2012.
"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," Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote in a statement. "These revelations compel the House to take every possible action to ensure the American people have the truth about the terrorist attack on our consulate that killed four of our countrymen."
In light of the new emails, the House will vote o whether to establish a new select committee "to investigate the attack, provide the necessary accountability, and ensure justice is finally served," Boehner writes.
This week, an email from National Security Council communications adviser Ben Rhodes surfaced which coached then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice's round of interviews "to show that these protests were rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
The video Rhodes referenced was an anti-Muslim YouTube video that sparked widespread protests across the Muslim world. The document also shows the White House advised Rice that the Benghazi attack was "spontaneously inspired" by protests at the U.S. embassy in Egypt that were motivated by the anti-Muslim video.
Those emails released this week by the Obama administration "were the straw that broke the camel's back," according to a top congressional source.
"The Speaker was furious to learn that the administration withheld relevant documents from a congressional subpoena," the source said on the condition of anonymity. "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 Select Committee will likely be a bipartisan proposal, but it's unclear whether Democrats will refuse to appoint members to it. One source said the committee could be led by former prosecutor and a rising star on the Oversight Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., according several top congressional sources.
A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi could not immediately say whether they would appoint members to the select committee.
"We've had no communication about this at all from the Speaker," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Boehner is "staging a partisan political circus" that is wasting time and money.
"There have already been multiple investigations into this issue and an independent Accountability Review Board is mandated under current law," Reid, D-Nev., noted. "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."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed that the White House's reluctance to provide information has necessitated additional action.
"The Obama administration's ongoing reluctance to provide information and documentation voluntarily to the American people and their representatives has created the need for additional action by the House of Representatives," McConnell, R-Ky., wrote in a statement. "I respect the Speaker's judgment and decision to establish a select committee-particularly in light of the involuntary release this week of additional White House communications."
While Boehner had previously seemed reluctant to back a committee to probe the Benghazi attack, he had kept the option open as several oversight committees examined the attack. Aides said the decision to move forward on a select committee was expedited after House Republican leaders and House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa "flipped out" when House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon issued a statement Thursday reacting to Brigadier General Robert Lovell's testimony at the Oversight committee.
"BG Lovell did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken," McKeon, R-Calif., stated. "In the end, while BG Lovell did not further the investigation or reveal anything new, he was another painful reminder of the agony our military felt that night; wanting to respond but unable to do so."
Lovell, who was on duty at AFRICOM headquarters in Germany during the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, testified that the State Department never requested help from the military. AFRICOM was responsible for securing the region that includes Libya.
Sources say the House Benghazi Working Group was so outraged by the McKeon statement, they planned to formally recommend Boehner form a select committee.
"The foundation for the Congressional investigation to date has been committees doing different things, but the McKeon statement has blown coordination to smithereens," one source said.
"This week's events demonstrate a new level of stonewalling and obfuscation by the administration that requires a new level of investigation," another Republican source said.
"The reasons for appointing a committee now are straightforward and twofold. For the first time, we have clear and public evidence that the White House was more involved in misleading the American people than it had previously admitted," the source said. "Second, it's now proven that the administration withheld relevant documents from a congressional subpoena request."
While the existing investigatory committees in the House have full subpoena power, one top Republican aide said "the administration has now demonstrated it is willing to flagrantly defy such subpoena requests," compelling Boehner "to consider taking the strongest actions possible in an effort to ensure Americans have the truth about what happened."
"The Speaker has an obligation to get the truth and to defend the privileges of the House, including its oversight authority," the source explained.
This morning Issa issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry to testify at a hearing on May 21 over the Congressional investigation into the Benghazi 9/11 terrorist attack.
"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," Issa wrote Kerry.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, jumped to Kerry's defense, describing the subpoena as a "disrespectful" affront to the secretary.
"These actions are not a responsible approach to congressional oversight, they continue a trend of generating unnecessary conflict for the sake of publicity, and they are shockingly disrespectful to the Secretary of State," Cummings said.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harfit told reporters today that she thought it was "highly unusual for a subpoena to be issued before there's even an official invitation for testimony."
Harfit added Kerry is already scheduled to be in Mexico on May 21, when Issa asked him to testify.
Cummings, D-Md., added that he believes Republicans are "in disarray" regarding the Benghazi investigation, noting that "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.
"After the expenditure of millions of dollars, interviews and testimony from dozens of Administration officials, and the review of tens of thousands of documents, it is unclear why Speaker Boehner is now reversing his position and taking this investigation away from his committee chairmen," he stated.