Benghazi panel in recess limbo

Greg Nash

A special panel to investigate the deadly Benghazi attack is in limbo during the House recess, with Democrats weighing whether to participate and Republicans vowing to proceed alone, if necessary.

The two parties are at odds over the rules governing the select committee, but agree on one thing: No major breakthroughs are expected while House lawmakers are out of town for the week.

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"With members home, there's just not a lot of conversation," a House leadership aide said Monday.

Democratic leaders on Friday rejected a proposal from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on the rules guiding the probe into the Sept. 11, 2012 terror attack, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

"The ball is in their court," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office said on Friday.

Democrats, though, remain divided over whether to boycott the process entirely or participate. But they have avoided pressure to make a quick decision as GOP leaders have yet to announce a timeline for the committee's activities.

The panel's Republican members met Friday afternoon for a preliminary meeting in Boehner's office, but there's been no indication when they'll schedule the first official hearing.

Boehner insists he is moving ahead, saying Monday that a Democratic boycott “will not impede the investigation.” His office, though, would not say if Friday's proposal on the committee’s rules was their final offer or if talks with Democrats on the investigation's rules will continue.

"If Republicans are really serious about not politicizing this process they should work with Democrats to make sure that it’s fair, open and balanced,” a Democratic leadership aide said Monday. 

Boehner has vowed the process won't be a partisan witch hunt, and on Monday he repeated that promise.

“I promised Ms. Pelosi that if she appoints members to this, they will be treated fairly,” he said.

“We’ve been having a discussion over the last four or five days over how witnesses will be handled, how documents will be handled, just trying to come to some understanding upfront of what I mean by fairness,” Boehner added.

The Democratic leadership aide suggested that GOP leaders might have proposed their guidelines on Friday to pressure Democrats to participate in the process, just as Congress was leaving town.

After Democrats rejected the offer, the aide said, that sense of urgency faded. The aide predicted that no major developments are expected while the House is away, unless Boehner reaches out to Pelosi.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, though, suggested that Friday's rules proposal was the GOP’s final offer.

"We made a fair offer," he said Friday. "We hope they appoint members. At this point, it's time to get to work." 

Steel declined to comment on the process on Monday.

The office of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the select committee’s chairman, also did not respond Monday to a request for comment.

Boehner has filled the seven Republican seats on the panel, and has urged Pelosi and the Democrats to name their five panelists. Pelosi has called for an equal split between both parties.

Democrats also disagree among themselves about the best course forward.

Some Democrats are pushing leaders to participate on the select committee, arguing that a one-sided GOP investigation would leave President Obama and administration officials open to partisan attacks without a line of defense from Democratic allies.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is said to be among the loudest proponents of this view.

Another camp is calling on Democratic leaders to sit this one out, warning that participation would dignify an investigation they believe is simply a political ploy designed to undermine the president and Democrats ahead of November's elections.

Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, has emerged as the highest-profile supporter of boycotting the probe.

"I don't know that you do yourself a whole lot of good volunteering to participate in a kangaroo court," Clyburn said Friday, as lawmakers were leaving town. "If you know it's a kangaroo court, why would you validate it? Or give any credibility to it?"

It's a lesson, Clyburn said, that he took from his minister father.

“'Son,' my dad would say, 'a good run is sometimes better than a bad stand,'" said Clyburn.

--This report was updated at 7:40 a.m.