WASHINGTON: Benghazi is back. The controversy over the deadly 2012 attack in the Libyan city has resurfaced with Republicans accusing the White House of creating a political smokescreen in the aftermath of Benghazi to protect President Barack Obama’s re-election.
Republicans hope to gain election-year traction on the issue, but could face a voter backlash if they push it too hard. Similarly, Democrats cannot afford to dismiss questions about an attack in which four Americans were killed.
Until a 2012 email on Benghazi from top Obama foreign policy aide Ben Rhodes surfaced last week, the events surrounding the attacks on a US compound in Benghazi had largely faded from media attention. The email breathed new life into the controversy because it suggested a White House effort to protect Obama from political damage. This week, House Speaker John Boehner appointed South Carolina Republican Representative Trey Gowdy to chair a select committee that will investigate the controversy again. Hearings are to start later this month. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry has been subpoenaed to testify about Benghazi before a separate House committee on May 21.
The new probe comes at a difficult time for Democrats, who are fighting to hang on to control of the US Senate in the November 4 congressional elections. They can ill afford to be seen hindering a congressional investigation unless they can prove it is politically motivated.
Democrats say Benghazi is a settled issue with established facts: Armed militants attacked a US facility in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, killing US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
They point out that there have already been seven congressional investigations into the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks, with eight subpoenas, 13 hearings, 50 briefings, hundreds of hours of transcribed interviews and the release of 25,000 pages of documents. “This is a conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters this week.
In a potential flashpoint to the proceedings, the White House is insisting that the Obama administration will only cooperate with “legitimate” oversight. This could mean the Obama administration would resist Republican demands for testimony from key actors in the drama, such as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s insistence that Boehner’s select committee have equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans as members was an indication that should Boehner refuse, House Democrats could boycott the proceedings. Typically the majority party in the House, in this case the Republicans, would have more members. The new Benghazi probe offers a test for the new White House counsel, Neil Eggleston, who was picked in part because of his experience in dealing with the type of congressional investigations that tend to turn up in a president’s second term. He served in a similar role in Bill Clinton’s White House.
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