By Russell Berman - 05/02/14 11:55 AM EDT
Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerConservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Ohio) said Friday he would appoint a select House committee to expand the Republican investigation into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.
BoehnerJohn BoehnerConservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE had resisted a push by conservatives to name a special panel to investigate the terrorist attack, but a senior leadership aide said that new emails released by the Obama administration this week were “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“These revelations compel the House to take every possible action to ensure the American people have the truth about the terrorist attack on our consulate that killed four of our countrymen,” he added.
“In light of these new developments, the House will vote to establish a new select committee to investigate the attack, provide the necessary accountability, and ensure justice is finally served,” Boehner said.
The Speaker called the White House's withholding of emails “misleading” to the public and a “flagrant violation of trust [that] undermines the basic principles of oversight upon which our system of government is built.”
Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrump is right about one thing Benghazi Report and Hillary: What it means for Philadelphia Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Judiciary and Oversight committees, is under consideration to lead the select committee and is said to be the preferred choice of Boehner and Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorThree strategies to help Clinton build 'Team of Teams' David Brat may run for Senate if Kaine becomes VP The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Va.), officials said.
An aide said the structure of the proposed committee was still being finalized, and it was not immediately clear what powers it would have that a standard House committee lacked. The select committee would also have to be approved on the House floor.
The committee would have members of both parties on it, but a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she had not been informed about the creation of a new panel.
Republicans are renewing their focus on Benghazi in response to a new batch administration emails obtained by Judicial Watch under a Freedom of Information Act request.
In one of the emails, White House official Ben Rhodes outlined “goals” for the talk-show appearances of Susan Rice, who was serving as ambassador to the United Nations at the time.
Rhodes said Rice should “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
Republicans have long alleged that the administration falsely blamed the 2012 attack on a spontaneous response to an anti-Islamic video to protect President Obama as he ran for reelection and are pointing to the Rhodes email as proof.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Thursday said the email was not provided to congressional investigators because it was not “explicitly” about Benghazi.
He said Republicans were trying to “politicize a tragedy” by claiming a conspiracy “when they haven't been able to find one."
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced plans on Friday to subpoena Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryDefense chief casts doubt on cooperation with Russia in Syria Five decades of Democratic convention memories Three strategies to help Clinton build 'Team of Teams' MORE to testify over the newly released emails, which Republicans say were improperly withheld by the administration for more than 19 months.
Boehner said that while the standing House committees were doing “extraordinary work,” the administration’s “dismissiveness and evasion requires us to elevate the investigation to a new level.”
The Speaker has supported Issa’s investigations of Benghazi, the IRS and other matters, but the Oversight panel chairman's aggressive tactics have at times distracted attention from the subjects of the investigations and led Democrats to criticize him as overzealous.
Boehner's decision ensures that the Benghazi investigation will remain in the spotlight heading into the November midterm elections.
Separately, a trio of Republican senators wrote to Obama Friday, demanding he reveal his whereabouts during the attack after former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Fox News that Obama was not in the White House’s basement Situation Room monitoring events.
“Over a year and a half has passed since the terrorist attacks, and the American people still do not have an accounting of your activities during the attack. Mr. President, can you now confirm that Mr. Vietor’s account of your absence in the White House Situation Room is accurate?” the letter asks.
Republicans have also signaled they will use the issue to tarnish the potential presidential candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDems put immigration front-and-center on convention's first day Warren to accuse Trump of fanning flames of hatred Booing in Philly? This time it’s Sanders supporters, not Flyers fans MORE, who has called the attacks the "biggest regret" of her tenure.
“For the first time, we have clear and public evidence that the White House was more involved in misleading the American people than it had previously admitted,” a senior leadership aide said, explaining the Speaker’s decision. “And, second, it’s now proven that the administration withheld relevant documents from a congressional subpoena request.
“While the existing investigatory committees in the House have full subpoena power, the administration has now demonstrated it is willing to flagrantly defy such subpoena requests, compelling the House to consider taking the strongest actions possible in an effort to ensure Americans have the truth about what happened,” the aide added.
Democrats have dismissed the Benghazi investigation as a GOP “obsession.”
“What I will say, again, is diversion, subterfuge,” Pelosi said on Thursday. “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. Why aren’t we talking about something else?”
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems put immigration front-and-center on convention's first day Dem ad blasts Indiana senate candidate on Social Security Super-PAC targets Portman on trade MORE (D-Nev.) accused Republicans of wasting time better spent working with Democrats on economic issues.
“Republicans are showing yet again that they have nothing to offer the middle class. Republicans care more about defending billionaires like the Koch brothers and trying to rekindle debunked right-wing conspiracy theories than raising the minimum wage or ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work,” he said in a statement.
“There have already been multiple investigations into this issue and an independent Accountability Review Board is mandated under current law,” he added. “For Republicans to waste the American people’s time and money staging a partisan political circus instead of focusing on the middle class is simply a bad decision.
“While Republicans try to gin up yet another political food fight, Senate Democrats will remain focused on fostering economic growth for all hard-working Americans,” said Reid.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf on Friday said the select committee is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
"Everything this committee will look at has been looked at my multiple committees already," she said. "What's the point?"
But the attacks remain a common topic on conservative talk radio and Fox News.
Last April, Boehner rejected calls for a select committee and defended his handling of Benghazi.
“The reason I haven't called for a select committee yet is that I don't think it's risen to that level," Boehner told Fox News. "I think the five committees that have jurisdiction over this matter are working closely together. They're getting the job done."
Rep. Frank WolfFrank WolfBenghazi Report and Hillary: What it means for Philadelphia Lobbying World Overnight Regulation: Supreme Court rejects GOP redistricting challenge MORE (R-Va.) has long been calling for a select committee. His resolution now has 189 co-sponsors, more than 80 percent of the House majority, including Gowdy.
Last year, Wolf suggested the Speaker risked becoming “complicit” in a cover-up if he didn't create a special panel.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.) said he agreed with Boehner's decision in a statement Friday.
“The Obama administration's ongoing reluctance to provide information and documentation voluntarily to the American people and their representatives has created the need for additional action by the House of Representatives," he said. "I respect the Speaker's judgment and decision to establish a select committee — particularly in light of the involuntary release this week of additional White House communications."
Statements applauding Boehner's move also flooded in from House conservatives in the hours after the Speaker's announcement.
Rep. Michele BachmannMichele BachmannNo-shows at GOP convention Clinton camp: Trump VP pick is 'divisive,' 'unpopular' Lobbying world MORE (R-Minn.) wrote in a Twitter post Friday that the creation of a Benghazi select committee was "long overdue."
Issa issued a considerably more muted response, reiterating that he would still hold Kerry to his subpoena while saying he "supported" Boehner's decision and would share information with the new panel.
Updated at 2:17 p.m.
Erik Wasson contributed.