Is it better for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Democrats have decided against boycotting the new House investigation of the Benghazi attacks?
Several Democrats had urged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to leave the slots empty, saying it would be unwise to lend an air of legitimacy to an investigation they have derided as a political witch hunt. But others, particularly those close to Clinton, believed that having Democratic participation on the panel is the only way to ensure both sides of the story will be told.
The Benghazi hearings are likely to become televised spectacles, so the thinking in Clinton world is that it’s better to have Democrats join in the questioning in hopes of balancing the proceedings, ABC News has learned.
Today, Pelosi rejected the notion that Clinton and her successor, Secretary John Kerry, need congressional Democrats to help defend them from Republicans exploring the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans. But she did appoint five Democratic members to the committee
“We don’t think that Secretary Hillary Clinton or Secretary John Kerry or the others need our help in the room. We know that they are professionals, patriots, articulate spokespersons for what they have done and for our country,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a news conference Wednesday with her appointees. “The concern that I had is who are these other people that [Republicans] are going to call?”
Despite widespread Democratic dissatisfaction over House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to create the select committee, Pelosi appointed Reps. Elijah Cummings, Adam Smith, Adam Schiff, Linda Sanchez, and Tammy Duckworth to represent Democrats on the exclusive panel.
“I could have argued this either way. Why give any validity to this effort? But I do think it is important for the American people to have the pursuit of these questions done in a fair and open and balanced way as possible,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “That simply would not be possible leaving it to the Republicans.”
Still, several of Pelosi’s appointees maintained Wednesday that the new investigation will be a waste of time.
“I still think that this is ground that we have covered time and time again,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said. “The pertinent questions have been asked and answered again.”
Cummings, who Pelosi appointed as the Ranking Democrat, added that he does not believe the committee’s procedures and rules are fair, open or designed to conduct a neutral, reasoned, fact-based inquiry.
“I do not believe a select committee is called for after eight reports, dozens of witness interviews and a review of more than 25,000 pages of documents,” Cummings, D-Md., said.
Smith, another appointee who is also the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the committee “should not have been formed” and appears to be a “purely partisan and political effort.”
“I will tell you at this point I’m highly skeptical,” Smith, D-Wash., said. “Even when you look at the members that [Boehner] appointed to the committee…they’re lacking in experience on national security or foreign policy matters.”
Cummings said he ultimately agreed to join the committee because he’s seen “firsthand how abuse the Republicans have been” during the ongoing probe, and on behalf of the family of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador killed in the attack, he wants to ensure the investigation is not politicized.
“I feel that I owe it to the families of Ambassador Stevens and the other brave Americans who lost their precious lives to bring some minimal level of balance to this process and to check false claims wherever they may arise,” Cummings said. “In short, ladies and gentlemen, I believe we need someone in that room to simply defend the truth.”
Schiff says he hopes to steer the committee’s focus “instead on the things that really matter,” such as exploring what can be done to prevent future attacks at diplomatic posts and hunting down the perpetrators responsible for the Benghazi attack.
“Nonetheless, we’re going to do our best to make sure this doesn’t become a circus or continue to be a fundraising device,” he said.
While Pelosi said she was engaged in “good-faith discussions” over the past two weeks with Boehner’s office to revise the shape and standards of the panel, she admitted she was unable to reach an agreement to assuage Democratic concerns.
“That is all the more reason for Democrats to participate in the committee, to be there to fight for a fair hearing and process, to try to bring some openness and transparency to what’s going on,” she said. “We hope that we can shine a light on where our focus should be, preventing tragedy like Benghazi from ever happening again.”
Boehner has appointed seven Republicans to participate in the investigation, which will be led by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.