As Democrats mull their role in Benghazi probe, GOP forges ahead

House Minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., answers questions during a press conference May 9, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee, Getty Images

It remains to be seen whether the House select committee to investigate the Benghazi will turn up any new information about the 2012 attacks that left four Americans dead. But with every day that passes it looks less and less likely the panel's conclusions will be regarded as nonpartisan as Democrats and Republicans have spent the past week engaging in a fierce battle over which party is responsible for politicizing the tragedy.

Although the House formally approved the creation of the panel in a virtual party-line vote last Thursday (7 Democrats joined the entire Republican conference in voting for it), Democrats have yet to decide whether they will participate. On Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said her members were divided: some feared participating in a "kangaroo court," while others think it is important to have at least one Democrat on the committee to monitor what the Republicans are doing.

Pelosi's office is negotiating with staff to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to determine the conditions under which Democrats will participate. They are seeking Democratic input and concurrence on issuing subpoenas, decisions to depose witnesses, the release of any reports, documents or information by the committee, which was not guaranteed in a proposal offered by Boehner's office Friday, they said.

"We've participated in all the other seven investigations. If it's a fair, open and balanced process, absolutely [we will participate]," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., said on "Fox News Sunday." "But we don't want to see reckless, irresponsible handling of an affair that took the lives of four brave Americans."

Democrats seem to be laying the groundwork for boycotting the committee if they feel the process is stacked against them.

"We don't have even the ability to be assured that we're able to participate in the interviews of the witnesses. We don't have consultation power on the subpoenas," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who is also chair of the Democratic National Committee, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Wasserman Schultz added that Republicans were using the Benghazi panel to drive up turnout in the 2014 midterm elections "because we have had such a precipitous drop among Republicans even in their fervor for repealing the Affordable Care Act." Despite casting aspersions on their motivations, however, she concluded a moment later that, "if it's fair, then we will participate."

Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. - who was debating Wasserman Schultz - took a different view of the politics of the situation.

"It's really clear that the Democrats have tried to sabotage this process from the very beginning," Bachmann said, to which Wasserman Schultz replied, "We don't have the ability to sabotage it."

Public statements and questions from the committee's chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., have only raised Democratic concerns that the investigation is politically motivated. A former federal prosecutor, Gowdy has pledged to seek "every single solitary relevant material document," surrounding the attacks as well as witnesses. He seems poised to retread ground that Democrats say has been settled.

On "Fox News Sunday," Gowdy was asked to name the single biggest question he wanted to ask former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the attacks. Gowdy responded, "Why were we still in Benghazi? The British ambassador was almost assassinated. Our facility was attacked twice. There were multiple episodes of violence. We were the last flag flying in Benghazi and I would like to know why."

Clinton addressed the issue in a House Committee on Foreign Affairs Hearing in January 2013, when she told Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., "Our team, led by security professionals, but also including intelligence professionals and others, did not recommend, based on those incidents, abandoning Benghazi, in part, because over the last years we have become accustomed to operating in dangerous places, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Yemen and elsewhere."

Gowdy indicated that he won't be satisfied with anyone else's work on the investigation, particularly when it comes to interviewing high-profile witnesses.

"I don't have access to intel. I don't have access to sources and methods," Gowdy said. "I have never interviewed Susan Rice about anything. I have never an opportunity to ask the secretary of state questions about the lead-up to Benghazi and why we were still there. One of the problems with the existing committee structure is they are stovepipe -- they are fragmented. We can't cross jurisdictional boundaries, which is why I asked for a select committee over a year ago, so that we can tear the barriers down and we can have access to all the information."

Boehner said in an interview on Fox News's "Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo" that all committees who have worked on the separate Benghazi investigations will be required to turn over their documents, committee records, notes, work product to the select committee. And he insisted once again that the investigation will be fair.

"I don't want theater; I don't want a sideshow. I want the members of this committee to find the facts for the four families who lost their loved ones, and the facts for the American people," he said.

His words have been complicated by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which invited supporters on Tuesday to "become a Benghazi watchdog" by donating. "House Republicans will make sure that no one will get away from Gowdy and the Select Committee," the pitch read. Becerra made sure to note the fundraising email on Fox Sunday.

Gowdy says he personally has never sought to raise money off the tragedy. But he was all too happy to point to a floor speech given by Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., last week that he said showed hypocrisy by Democrats.

"They raise money on Sandy Hook. They raise money on Katrina. They raise money on Iraq and Afghanistan," Gowdy said. "It would be helpful if our colleagues on other side of the aisle did not have selective amnesia when it comes to what's appropriate to raise money off of and what is not."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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