Pelosi threatens to end Dem participation in Benghazi probe

Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is threatening to pull Democratic participation from the select committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks in the wake of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) comments linking the panel to Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonAsian, Pacific Islander lawmakers to endorse Clinton Feds fight to prevent Clinton deposition in email case Trump decides he won't debate Bernie Sanders MORE’s falling poll numbers.

Pelosi said McCarthy’s comments show the panel is political, “unethical” and should be dismantled.

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“It's just a stunning admission on the part of the Republican leader that the Benghazi Committee was created with a political purpose in mind. In fact, it's really an ethical question,” Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “It makes the whole operation practically an unethical operation.”

Pelosi said Democrats will continue to participate in the panel for now, but she suggested that could end if they deem the panel unserious.

“It's obvious that it should be disbanded based on the leader's own words. But since we recognize Republicans do not intend to do that I would encourage my members to continue to participate, and then we will see how much longer they want this to go on,” Pelosi said. “How long we will participate depends on how serious they are, and we haven't seen any signs of seriousness.”

McCarthy, the majority leader and heavy favorite to replace outgoing Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerHouse GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return MORE (R-Ohio), suggested this week that Republicans’ goal in creating the Select Committee on Benghazi was, at least in part, to undermine Clinton's presidential ambitions.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee,” McCarthy said Tuesday in an interview with Sean Hannity. “What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”

Democrats pounced on the majority leader, saying he unwittingly “pulled the curtain back on the true purpose” of the panel, in the words of Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.).

The investigation is designed “not to get the facts,” charged Sánchez, a member of the committee, “but instead as a political ploy” against Clinton.

Amid the uproar, Boehner issued a statement Thursday asserting that the panel's only goal has always been to root out “the truth about what happened in Benghazi.”

“This investigation has never been about former Secretary of State Clinton and never will be,” Boehner said. “Indeed, the Select Committee’s very existence is only the result of the Obama administration’s obstruction of routine congressional investigations and its failure to properly comply with subpoenas and document requests.”

Created by House Republicans in May of last year, the select committee is charged with investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead.

Led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the panel has homed in on Clinton’s role in the tragedy, a focus that launched the private email scandal that's dogged the former secretary of State on the presidential campaign trail.

A number of top Democrats, including Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), had initially called to boycott the panel for fear that participating would legitimize a process they considered a political witch hunt from the outset. Pelosi decided to fill the seats, arguing that participation would allow the Democrats greater sway over the process. 

Clinton, who is scheduled to testify before the special committee on Oct. 22, said McCarthy's comments are “distressing.”

“When I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan, political exercise, I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost but of everybody who has served our country,” she said in an interview with MSNBC.

Pelosi declined to say whether McCarthy's comments mean he's unfit to serve as Speaker, but she emphasized that they might have uncovered “an ethical issue in the House.”

“You ask any member, one of the things you have to be very specific about is that none of your taxpayer dollars are used for any political purpose,” Pelosi said. “And I think he clearly, gleefully, claimed that this had a political purpose and had a political success.”