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House GOP pursue Benghazi inquiry going into midterm campaigns

May 8, 2014 at 6:21 PM EST
The House of Representatives moved to form a special committee to investigate the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. House Speaker John Boehner says there are valid questions to pursue over the Obama administration’s role in the aftermath, but some Democrats dismiss the efforts as politically motivated. Robert Costa of The Washington Post joins Judy Woodruff for more.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the continued fallout and controversy over the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Two years ago, four Americans, including an ambassador, were killed in Benghazi, and Republicans argue there are unanswered questions about what more could have been done to prevent the deaths and the White House’s role in the aftermath.

The House of Representatives today moved to form a special committee to investigate, led by South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor.

Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland said it was all about politics, but House Speaker John Boehner argued there are valid questions to pursue over the administration’s actions.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, D, Md.: We’re here to consider a resolution to create another partisan committee to investigate what the speaker and five — his five chairmen have already been investigating.

With all due respect, if the Republicans want to fix the problems with their partisan investigation, they need more than just a new chairman. I have tremendous respect for Mr. Gowdy. And I’m glad that he said that the fund-raising shouldn’t be done on the deaths of these four people. And I hope that the Republican Conference will finally agree with that. We are better than that.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R, Speaker of the House: Last week, a line was crossed in two places. First, it came to light that the White House did more to obscure what happened and why than what we were led to believe. Second, we now know that the administration defied a formal congressional subpoena.

Our committee sought the full truth. And the administration tried to make sure that they wouldn’t find it, which means they tried to prevent the American people from finding the truth as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With us now is congressional reporter Robert Costa of The Washington Post. And he joins us from Capitol Hill.

Robert Costa, welcome back to the NewsHour.

It’s been two years since Benghazi, almost, will be in September. The speaker earlier was against a new investigation. What has caused him to change his mind?

ROBERT COSTA, The Washington Post: There was a release of recent documents procured by Judicial Watch, a conservative group.

And these documents included new e-mails about how the White House messaged the attacks right in the immediate aftermath. And the release of these e-mails really has angered House Republicans here on Capitol Hill, and it has spurred them to create this select committee.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So after all the investigations — we know there were four investigations under way. There have been a lot of documents released. So just in the release of these e-mails, that’s what changed the speaker’s mind?

ROBERT COSTA: It’s not only that. I think that is the main factor and that is the factor Speaker Boehner has cited.

But there also is a political to it. The conservative wing of the Republican Party, the GOP base, they have been very frustrated about the administration’s handling of the attacks for a long time. And ahead of the midterm elections, Republican leadership, they are paying attention to the base and the desires of those backbench conservatives, who are also eager to have a select committee.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is the White House, what is the administration saying in response to this — what the Republicans are saying smells like something fishy was happening?

ROBERT COSTA: Democrats both at the White House and in Congress are skeptical of this Republican initiative. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, has said the Democrats may even boycott this select committee, that they will make that decision tomorrow when they meet privately at the Capitol.

At the White House, Democrats there believe that they there have already been investigations on the Intelligence Committee, on the Oversight Committee, in the Foreign Affairs Committee and elsewhere, and they think that’s enough.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is only the House pursuing this investigation? Why not the Senate?

ROBERT COSTA: Well, simply, the House is dominated by Republicans and the Senate is not.

And I think the House has always, especially with the Oversight Committee in the House, they have really been delving into this issue for a long time. It animates the Republican Party. And they feel like now because there is a such a divide in Congress, there’s not much chance on bipartisan deals in fiscal matters, House Republicans, broadly speaking, are turning to oversight, looking into Benghazi, looking into the Internal Revenue Service and the administration’s handling of that. That is the focus right now for the GOP.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You were saying, Robert Costa, not much chance of substantive legislation. I mean, do you mean that literally, that there is not much that is going to be happening this year?

ROBERT COSTA: That’s right.

We’re really in a phase now where we move towards summer campaigning, the August recess, and these — and the oversight. And there won’t be much time even for the select committee to do much work before the election because of the August recess. So you are looking at Republicans positioning themselves, looking at Benghazi and trying to underscore it before November and reminding voters that this is at the top of their list in terms of issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as you alluded, the Democrats have a tough decision to make about whether or not to participate in this special committee. They’re divided, I gather.

ROBERT COSTA: It is.

There has been an interesting turn today on Capitol Hill. I was speaking to some House Democrats. And they initially were very reluctant to participate in the select committee. But now, because they know Secretary — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is likely to be called, they now want to perhaps be on the committee to act as defenders for her.

She is the party’s leading contender for the 2016 presidential campaign. And if she is called, they want to be in that room.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Robert Costa, I also want to ask you about something else we just heard Congressman Cummings mention, and that is the fact that some Republicans are using the Benghazi allegations to raise money for the party. Where does that stand?

I know that Congressman Gowdy, who is going to be the chairman of this committee, said he thought it was inappropriate. But then Speaker Boehner today declined to say that it’s — that it’s wrong. So, what is the thinking on that?

ROBERT COSTA: This is a case study in how the select committee is complicated politically.

Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor from South Carolina who is chairing the select committee, Speaker Boehner, they are trying to present a sober look for the Republicans in the House, a seriousness to this entire process. Yet, almost immediately, the NRCC, the campaign arm of the House GOP, started to fund-raise off of this entire initiative.

And so you have sober on one hand and then fund-raising and political on the other. It is going to be a hard balance for Republicans to make. And Speaker Boehner today in a press conference didn’t address the fund-raising from the NRCC related to Benghazi. And I think that is a testament to his ability — his inability to grapple with that tension.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there — is this something the Republicans believe they can raise money off of?

ROBERT COSTA: Oh, I think they have. Not only can they, but they have for quite some time.

I spend a lot of time out on the campaign trail. And when I talk to Republican base voters, Tea Party conservatives, Benghazi, more than jobs, it seems, more than any other issue, is at the top of their list of concerns. They really believe the Obama administration is out of line in how it handled the response of these attacks, and they want — they’re pressuring the leadership day in and day out, calls, e-mails, et cetera, to go in and do it more.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, more than health care?

ROBERT COSTA: Even more. I think Obamacare ahead of 2014 is certainly at the top of that same list. But it’s Obamacare and Benghazi when I’m out on the trail. That is what I hear as a reporter. I think the Republican leadership would echo that if you had a conversation with them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Robert Costa of The Washington Post, we thank you.

ROBERT COSTA: Thank you.