House Democrats to GOP: End Benghazi probe

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., speak with each other before a House Oversight Committee hearing entitled 'Reviews of the Benghazi Attack and Unanswered Questions,' in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, September 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

More than a year and a half after the attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, House Democrats say they've had enough of Republicans' "partisan investigation" into the incident.

In a letter sent Wednesday, all 17 Democrats on the House Oversight Committee asked the panel's chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., to end his probe of the attack and to focus instead on "responsible oversight" that helps protect overseas diplomats.

Four Americans were killed in the attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, including then-Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.

"To date, the Committee's investigation has been characterized by wild and unsubstantiated political accusations that turn out to be completely inaccurate after further investigation," wrote the Democrats, led by the committee's ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md. "We believe it is time to end these seemingly endless and unsubstantiated political attacks and direct the Committee's efforts toward concrete and lasting reforms."

The letter cited several of Issa's statements on Benghazi that were deemed false by fact-checking organizations, bemoaning the "reckless pattern of launching wholly unfounded accusations on national television" that has undermined "the credibility of our Committee and the seriousness of our work."

Democrats singled out Issa's claim last month that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had told the Pentagon to "stand down" on the night of the attack, preventing them from deploying any assets in response.

"Just one week before you made this accusation," they wrote, "eight of your Republican colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee issued a report concluding that there was no 'stand down' order issued to U.S. military personnel in Tripoli who sought to join the fight in Benghazi."

That report, authored by Armed Services Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., faulted the administration for ignoring a "dramatically deteriorating security situation in Libya," but it concluded that no "stand down" order was issued on the night of the attack.

Democrats have accused Issa of hyping his investigation to handicap Clinton ahead of what could be a formidable run for the White House in 2016.

"This is all about putting up points against Hillary," a Democrat close to the issue told Politico. "It's clear what they're trying to do."

Republicans disagree.

"That's not true, that's not our aim," insisted Oversight Committee spokesman Frederick Hill, according to Politico. "We're trying to get to the bottom of what occurred...If the basic question is does the chairman still have concerns that [Clinton] had personal responsibility to ensure the safety of the people at this facility? Absolutely, he continues to."

Issa's relationship with the Democrats on his committee, already brittle, was nearly shattered earlier this month when he cut off Cummings' microphone during a hearing about the IRS. The chairman eventually apologized to Cummings, but not before Democrats forced Republicans to defeat a resolution condemning Issa on the floor of the House.