Whatever Happened to the Benghazi Select Committee?

Since 2013, the 12-member committee led by Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), has held no public hearings. Since 2013, the 12-member committee led by Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), has held no public hearings. Flickr user republicanconference

Friday will mark exactly three months since House Republicans, with great fanfare,voted to impanel the Select Committee on Benghazi – a tribunal charged with uncovering the truth behind the 2012 terrorist attack after five other congressional committees had apparently fallen short.

Since each party named its members to the panel, however, we've heard barely a peep.

After an initial photo-op, the 12-member committee led by Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), has held no public hearings. It has issued no reports, and the only two public statements of any kind it has released have been to disclose that it received a pair of classified briefings.

The radio silence is by design, Republicans say.

Gowdy spent the first weeks after his appointment by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insisting that Democrats were wrong in their predictions that the committee would be nothing more than political theater, a show trial timed to fire up a conservative base full of conspiracy theorists right before the November elections.

By not rushing to hold hearings, Gowdy can demonstrate that he's taking his time and not creating a campaign spectacle.

"There's no frustration," said an aide to one Republican member of the panel. "It's good that it's a deliberate process and not a flash in the pan."

While the House set an initial budget of $3.3 million for the investigation, it gave the committee no deadline, and Gowdy has said it will definitely go into the next Congress, which begins in January.

Gowdy, who was unavailable for an interview Thursday, told a South Carolina newspaper, the Greenville News, earlier this week that the committee would hold its first public hearing in September after the House returns from its August recess. The lawmakers plan to hear testimony about security improvements the State Department has made since the attack that killed four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.

The former federal prosecutor said the committee was hearing from witnesses who had not cooperated with the other Benghazi investigations, a development he attributed to his impartial approach.

I know I’m biased, but one of the good parts about running an investigation in a way that appears to be serious-minded is that witnesses who were previously unavailable or not interested in cooperating are now interested in cooperating. The universe of witnesses is expanding.”

The panel's slow start also was a function of bureaucratic delays; it took time to secure office space, hire staff and obtain security clearances. While members are not meeting while Congress it out of town, the staff that has been hired will be working on the investigation, Gowdy told the Greenville News.

While Democrats on the panel have not criticized Gowdy, the party has kept up its claims that the select committee is unnecessary and a waste of its $3.3 million taxpayer-funded budget.

They renewed those cries last week when the G.O.P.-led House Intelligence Committee declassified a report finding there was no deliberate wrongdoing by the Obama administration during the Benghazi attack.

The top Democrat on the Benghazi committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), issued a statement arguing that the new report once again demonstrates the futility of Boehner's decision to launch a new investigation.

 The Benghazi Select Committee was created more than two months ago, but Republican committee chairmen who were passed over continue to hold their own hearings, release their own transcripts, and issue their own reports—achieving exactly the opposite result Speaker Boehner promised when he created the Select Committee and authorized its $3.3 million budget.”

And Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, suggested in a statement to The Wire that Republicans only want to push their Benghazi hearings closer to November.

House Republicans are still planning on spending millions of taxpayer dollars to ‘investigate’ claims that have already been debunked – by two Republican-led congressional committees in the past three months.  The only thing that this pace shows is that House Republicans took time off to sue the president and want their hearings to be closer to election day to fire up their Tea Party base.”

Though Democrats have yet to complain about the panel's pace, some conservatives appearing to be chafing at the fact that Benghazi has faded from the headline. A group on Facebook has gone so far as to change their middle names to "Benghazi." 

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