WASHINGTON—House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Friday relented to long-time pressure from within his party and announced the House will vote to form a special select committee on Benghazi.
“Americans learned this week that the Obama administration is so intent on obstructing the truth about Benghazi that it is even willing to defy subpoenas issued by the standing committees of the people’s House,” Boehner said.
Congress has used select committees in the past to conduct major investigations such as Watergate and Iran-Contra. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has for 16 months made the case that Congress cannot get to the bottom of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, without forming the special panel. Wolf has 189 cosponsors for his bill to create a select committee, but until Friday no member of the House leadership supported it.
“The administration has forced the need for a select committee investigation by failing to provide and in some cases withholding information vital to our congressional investigations,” said Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., another member of House leadership who on Friday voiced support for the special panel.
Thursday’s events demonstrated Wolf’s reasoning for a select committee: A Republican-led House panel heard startling testimony from a retired U.S. Air Force general—who said the State Department never ordered a rescue mission—and within hours the Republican chair of the House Armed Services Committee challenged the officer’s testimony.
The two main problems holding up the investigation, Wolf told me last year, are that each committee only has subpoena power “in their lane,” and each committee member is limited to five minutes of questioning. He pointed to lawmakers such as Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who should have an hour to interview key witnesses such as former CIA director David Petreaus.
Gowdy may get that time. While Boehner made no official announcement, Gowdy, a former prosecutor who sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is the rumored frontrunner to chair the select committee.
Boehner’s announcement came hours after oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to appear at a May 21 hearing. The State Department’s response to the committee’s requests have shown “disturbing disregard” to its legal obligations, Issa wrote. He said the committee received Benghazi-related emails as recently as April 17—the day before a federal court ordered the State Department to turn over some of the same documents to Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that sued to get them under the Freedom of Information Act.
Judicial Watch on Tuesday released those documents, some of which had large sections redacted, showing the White House played an integral role in crafting since-debunked talking points blaming the Benghazi attack on an obscure YouTube video. The email disclosure caused renewed scrutiny, even among some Democrats, of the White House, which last year said it had turned over all documents relative to Benghazi.
On Friday, Issa hailed Boehner’s decision as critical to understanding what happened in the Benghazi attack and said he will “work to share the insight” the oversight committee has gained during its investigation. He said the committee still expects Kerry to appear at its hearing later this month.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member on the oversight committee, called it “shockingly disrespectful” to subpoena Kerry and said it was not a responsible way to achieve congressional oversight.