By Erik Wasson and Mike Lillis - 05/21/14 01:43 PM EDT
House Democrats will participate in the GOP’s special probe into the deadly 2012 attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday.
The issue has divided Democrats in recent weeks, as many urged leaders to boycott an investigation they consider unnecessary and politically motivated.
The Republicans’ track record, Pelosi said, “is all the more reason for Democrats to participate in the [select] committee — to be there to fight for a fair hearing and process, to try to bring some openness and transparency to what’s going on.”
A fair probe “would not be possible leaving it to the Republicans,” she added.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who had already named seven Republicans to the panel and urged Democrats to follow suit, welcomed Pelosi’s decision.
“The American people deserve the truth, and we are glad House Democrats have chosen to participate in this serious, substantive investigation,” said spokesman Michael Steel.
The two parties have been at odds over rules governing the select committee. Democrats wanted greater authority when it comes to subpoena power, accessing documents and deposing witnesses.
Pelosi said Wednesday that she and Boehner had failed to reach an agreement on those conditions, but she’s proceeding in hopes that the leaders of the special panel, Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), “can come to some better terms on how we proceed.”
Gowdy’s office said Wednesday there’s been no timeline yet established for the first hearing.
Cummings, who often spars with Issa on the Oversight panel, said he hopes he can work better with Gowdy. He said the two have already discussed issues of process, with Gowdy vowing to be fair.
“I’m going to hold him to that,” Cummings promised.
Gowdy issued a brief statement shortly afterward announcing his “respect [for] Mr. Cummings and his work in Congress.”
Created by House Republicans earlier in the month, the select committee is charged with investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.
Many Democrats, notably Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), had called for a boycott of the panel for fear that participating would legitimize a process they’ve deemed a political witch hunt designed to embarrass President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
A separate group of Democrats had urged party leaders to get on board, if only so they could access the documents and witnesses that emerge during the probe, and defend the administration from what would otherwise be a one-sided investigation.
Pelosi acknowledged the decision was a difficult one.
“I could have argued this either way,” she said at a press briefing in the Capitol. “Why give any validity to this effort?”
Cummings, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee and a veteran of the Benghazi debate, said he’s signed on to the effort to prevent the Republicans from politicizing the deaths of the Americans in Benghazi.
“I feel I owe it to the family of Ambassador Stevens to bring some minimal level of balance to this process and to check false claims where they may arise,” Cummings said Wednesday.
Filling out the panel, Pelosi also named Democratic Reps. Adam Smith (Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; Adam Schiff (Calif.), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Linda Sánchez (Calif.), who sits on the Ways and Means subcommittee on Oversight; and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a wounded veteran of the Iraq War who also serves on the Oversight Committee.
Pelosi’s decision to name top committee Democrats is a break from Boehner’s strategy. The Speaker went out of his way to exclude committee chairmen — most notably the controversial Issa — from the special panel.
Pelosi said she tried and failed to get Boehner to agree to require the committee to hold a public vote before issuing subpoenas. She noted that the Republicans, with their 7-5 majority ratio, would likely win every time, and accused them of fearing an open process.
“That is what they are afraid of,” she said.
A GOP leadership aide denied that an unfair process has been set up.
“We offered assurances on committee procedures, but no substantive changes that could hurt the investigation,” the aide said.
Schiff, who had advocated boycotting the panel, said he still thinks it is a waste of time but respects the tactical decision that at this point it is better for Democrats to be at the table.
This story was updated at 8:00 p.m.