A Senate panel’s bipartisan conclusion that the terrorist attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, “were preventable” is bound to increase pressure on House Speaker John Boehner to convene a select committee with wide-ranging powers to get to the bottom of unanswered questions. That doesn’t mean a muscular probe is imminent.
“The most obvious next step is to go for the House select committee on Benghazi that has been proposed by Representative Frank Wolf,” Heritage Foundation Senior Fellow Helle Dale told The Foundry. The Virginia Republican’s bill to create the panel, she noted, “has the support of almost 200 lawmakers as well as the families of the victims.”
Boehner, though, has resisted authorizing such a powerful committee, preferring to allow five separate and more limited committees to demand information from the Obama administration, despite appeals by Judicial Watch and others, including retired military officers.
New Information Emerges
Only recently have key details emerged from behind closed doors on what happened the night of September 11, 2012, when the State Department’s diplomatic post in Benghazi and the CIA’s annex nearby came under heavy fire, leaving Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
Dale said the report released Wednesday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and previously secret testimony to the House Armed Services Committee released the day before, only spurred more questions about what President Obama knew at the time and what he did about it.
“It appears he was AWOL,” Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), speaking of Obama, told The Foundry Wednesday.
Next Steps in Congress
A House Select Committee on Benghazi with subpoena powers would the most effective way to move forward short of a special prosecutor, Dale said, if Congress wants to “step up the pressure” on the White House, the State Department and the Defense Department – as well as such key players as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Congress deployed such investigative committees for such scandals as Watergate and Iran-Contra, both under Republican presidents, though the more apt precedent might be the congressional probe into the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Democrat-controlled Senate appears to have no stomach for a wider probe. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the new report should “put to rest many of the conspiracy theories and political accusations about what happened in Benghazi.”
Seeking Answers and Accountability
Despite the tough bipartisan assessments in the Senate panel’s new report, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) was among those calling it a missed opportunity to hold Clinton and other State Department officials accountable, as USA Today noted.
“Sufficient time had elapsed for the State Department to demonstrate whether or not decision makers would be held accountable for poor judgments, refusal to tighten security, and misinformation,” Collins wrote.
A special House committee empowered to look into all aspects of the Benghazi attacks would be neither a liberal nor a conservative approach, but “a solution that the system offers,” stressed Heritage’s Dale, who has written extensively on the Benghazi scandal.
“Leon Panetta, for instance, has resisted testifying before the committee in the House,” Dale told The Foundry. “He did testify in the Senate, and I might say that testimony had so many holes you could walk through it if you were there.
“The [newly] unclassified documents indicate Panetta had to have told President Obama the military’s analysis of what had happened as it was still happening — a terror attack. Clinton also could be called to testify.”
For now, Dale doesn’t see public interest dissipating if satisfactory answers aren’t forthcoming before the November elections, when Democrats could lose control of the Senate. “It may be,” she said, “that both houses can exert pressure.”