Pelosi: GOP needed special Benghazi panel to silence Issa

Greg Nash

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says newly released White House emails prompted him to launch a special investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack. But Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has a different theory.

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The Democratic leader argued Friday that GOP leaders created the select committee to silence House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose months-long probe into the tragedy has come under scrutiny, even by some top Republicans.

"Issa just is damaged goods," Pelosi said during a Friday press briefing in the Capitol. "They had to move from him to another venue with another chairman. That's what this is."

Known for his fiery rhetoric and sharp partisan attacks on the Obama administration, Issa has long been the subject of Democratic criticism over his investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.

But Issa also came under fire recently from fellow GOP Rep. Buck McKeon (Calif.), the head of the House Armed Services Committee, who took the rare step of publicly criticizing Issa's star witness at last week's Oversight hearing on Benghazi. That witness, retired Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, "did not further the investigation or reveal anything new," McKeon said.

“BG Lowell did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack," McKeon said in a press release, "nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken.”

A Democratic staffer for the Oversight panel said the unwritten rule governing the Benghazi probes has been to have potential witnesses speaking before either the Oversight or Armed Services committees vetted by both panels beforehand. Issa didn't extend that courtesy to McKeon in the case of Lovell, the staffer said.

"We had been working closely with the Armed Services Committee to interview military officials, so it's inexplicable that Chairman Issa cut Chairman McKeon out of the loop with this witness," the staffer said in an email. "With his press release, it looks like Chairman McKeon has had enough of Chairman Issa's political antics and his approach of lobbing unsubstantiated allegations without any facts to back them up."

McKeon's statement reportedly infuriated Issa — ABC News cited GOP aides saying the chairman "flipped out" — and led to Democratic charges that Boehner's decision to launch the select committee a day later was designed to take control away from the feuding chairmen for fear that the public focus would shift from Benghazi to GOP infighting. 

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) characterized Thursday's vote to create the select committee as "an internal civil war" between Republicans "lived out on the floor of the House." Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) said Boehner's move represented "the full neutering of Chairman Issa and his 16 months of work." 

Boehner, who for many months had resisted GOP calls to create a Benghazi select committee, said he reversed course last week after the release of new White House emails, which  Republicans say reveal that the administration purposefully misled the public about the attack.

"The administration's withholding of document, emails showing greater White House involvement in misleading the American people, is a flagrant violation of trust and undermines the basic principles of oversight upon which our system of government is built," Boehner said at the time.

Issa this week also defended Boehner's move to shift the investigation to a special panel, arguing that it will build off of the previous probes, including his, but also focus more intently on the role of the White House.

"It's not about, 'What can somebody accomplish that previously wasn't accomplished,'" Issa said. "Five committees brought together information from throughout various parts of government, but now the investigation primarily … will move to the cover-up, which included direct White House involvement."

Earlier this week, Boehner picked Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to head the committee, and on Friday he named the remaining six Republicans on the panel. 

Issa and McKeon were not among them.