Updated, 8:24 p.m. | The special House panel tasked with investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, will operate as an investigative super committee of sorts with access to classified material, subpoena power and unlimited funding and time to carry out its work, according to legislative text released Tuesday night.
The House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi, as it will be known, combines the Intelligence Committee's access to classified material with subpoena power wielded only by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Both committees had been investigating the attack on a consulate that left four Americans, including an ambassador, dead. But Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio said he thinks the White House has been stonewalling Congressional investigators, so the special panel, which will be headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy , R-S.C., is necessary.
"It is unfortunate that it has to come to this, but when four Americans are killed by terrorists in a well-coordinated assault, the American people will not tolerate the evasion we have seen from the White House," he said. "And given the administration’s history of slow-walking information, Chairman Gowdy and this panel will be provided as much time as needed to bring forth answers, accountability, and justice."
The panel will be able to access information from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Intelligence Program, none of which is available to panels other than the Intelligence Committee.
It also will have more Republicans than Democrats, a setback for Democrats who had called for party parity. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had been calling for an equal distribution of Republicans and Democrats on the committee , but Republicans decided to provide seven slots for the GOP and five slots for Democrats on the 12-member panel. A Boehner spokesman reminded reporters earlier in the day that prior special committees, such as one dealing with global warming, had more slots for the majority party. The resolution empaneling the committee will most likely pass easily on a party-line vote later in the week, as Republicans have long pushed Boehner to take this step. Boehner already had announced that Gowdy would head the panel, but sources have been tight-lipped about who else might be chosen to fill the remaining slots.
Another open question is how Democrats will handle the panel. Some Democrats have called on leaders to boycott it, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who is close to leadership, said that is a legitimate option. "If the Republicans go ahead and establish a panel – as we expect they will – should Democrats participate?" he said on MSNBC on Tuesday afternoon. "And what Leader Pelosi has said is, if this is a fair process – meaning if you’re genuinely interested in trying to get more facts, rather than engage in a political witch hunt – then you should have even participation. ... So, if Republicans aren’t willing to do that, it just is more evidence that they’re interested in politics rather than substance.”
On Tuesday evening, the House's No. 3 Democrat, Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, told reporters that if the panel isn't set up like the House Ethics Committee, which has an even number of Democrats and Republicans serving, "I would be dead set against it."
Clyburn said he wasn't concerned about the optics of not having Democrats play a role on the special panel, saying the party "should not even participate in it" if the panel ultimately calls for anything less than an even split. "Let them drive it, they're driving it anyway," Clyburn said. "I'm not bringing a noose to my own hanging."
Earlier in the day, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also suggested that she would be adverse to appointing Democrats to the select committee if bipartisanship were not guaranteed, but stopped short of committing to a full boycott.
Asked as she left the House floor on Tuesday night if she agreed with Clyburn's position, Pelosi demurred: "You asked him what he thought, and I'll let you know what I think tomorrow."
Emma Dumain and Matt Fuller contributed to this report.
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