Will Congressional Committees Pull Together for One Benghazi Probe?
Next week's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing to expose new witness testimony on the Benghazi attack should add fuel to the long-simmering quest to appoint a special congressional committee for an all-encompassing probe.
Security hawks have been calling for a select committee since last fall. “I would suggest that we have a joint select committee of House and Senate members and we do this together, not have three different committees going off in three different directions, so we can get to the bottom of it like we did in Watergate and Iran Contra,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in November. “I think that would be smart for the Congress to combine resources.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced a resolution in November to establish a select committee to "make a thorough and complete investigation" of the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. consulate that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) introduced a House resolution in early December to establish a select committee. It attracted 34 co-sponsors and never made it out of the Rules Committee.
When Wolf reintroduced his measure with the dawn of the 113th Congress in January, as many as 135 -- at his last count -- Republican lawmakers piled on board as co-sponsors. Fifteen signed on after last week's release of the House's interim progress report on Benghazi. No Democrats have joined the resolution.
"I think if you had a select committee it would be bipartisan," Wolf told PJM on Thursday. "I don't think it has to be a political partisan thing. Treat Democrats fairly; let them call witnesses they want to call."
"Eventually someone will break and come forward," he added.
The select committee would consist of 19 members: the chairmen and ranking members of the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Judiciary committees; five members appointed by the Speaker of the House; and two members appointed by the Speaker after consultation with the minority leader. Leadership will pick a chairman and ranking member for the select committee.
The committee would have 90 days to compile a report on any intelligence known to the U.S. relating to the attack, any requests for additional security or actions taken by federal agencies to improve security at the consulate before the attack, a definitive timeline of the attack, how the relevant agencies and the executive branch responded to the attack and whether appropriate congressional notifications were made, any improper conduct by officials relating to the attack, and recommendations on what steps Congress and the president should take to prevent future attacks.
To highlight the ridiculousness of Congress not appointing a select committee to dig into the attack on the American diplomatic facility, Wolf points out that in 1976 there was the Select Committee on the House Beauty Shop, which issued an 8-page report. Congress has also called select committees to regulate parking on the Hill and to study global warming and voting irregularities.
"This is not a new, bold, creative idea that's never been thought about," Wolf said.
The Virginia Republican is convinced that "if you bring the right people in, ask the right questions, you will get to the truth."
"I think a committee will coalesce around the truth," he said, adding "iron sharpens iron."
Wolf said he's reserving judgment on the administration's culpability on Benghazi until it can be probed by a select committee, but finds plenty of fault with recent assertions such as Jay Carney's dismissal of Benghazi as happening a long time ago -- "I don't think the families feel that way," Wolf said -- and President Obama's continued insistence that al-Qaeda has been crushed.
"I don't think anybody really believes it, that they got al-Qaeda," he said. "It's just mutated, it's growing, it's spreading -- and while bin Laden is dead you can't say al-Qaeda is dead, and I don't think they really believe it."
The congressman sees it as a fault that the White House is treating Benghazi "like a law enforcement issue" while it sent a drone after Anwar al-Awlaki.
"This puts the FBI in a difficult opposition -- they've been a little frustrated, I think," Wolf said, noting how they've been stymied trying to interview suspects in North Africa.
But this allowed the administration to put FBI officials at briefings who couldn't answer the questions being posed by lawmakers, Wolf noted. "It was almost a way of avoiding the issues," he said.
Benghazi outcry faded after the presidential election and Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's (R-Calif.) hearing will undoubtedly be packed with cameras to hear the State Department whistleblowers spill on the attack. "Ultimately, it'll either go away and we'll never find out or it'll be a big story and public and the whole country will know," Wolf said.
Today, after reports that al-Qaeda operatives from Yemen were sent to Benghazi to participate in the attack, the congressman said the news, which makes clear it was not a spontaneous attack, only solidifies the need for a select committee.
“The fact that this significant development is just now being reported – nearly 8 months after the attack – demonstrates the critical information still emerging about the attack, which took four lives and injured untold others," Wolf said. "This is why a select committee is needed now more than ever to combine the five separate investigations into a single, comprehensive and exhaustive investigation."
"If we've had a Select Committee on the House Beauty Shop, we can certainly have one on Benghazi," Wolf told PJM.