Democrat Urges Benghazi Panel Boycott: Would Be 'Select Committee On Talking Points'

WASHINGTON -- The House is set to approve on Thursday the new select committee to probe the Benghazi attacks, but a Democrat who thinks his party should boycott the panel is arguing that the committee amounts to nothing more than an opportunity for spin.

"It's charged with doing exactly the same thing as the [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform] is doing, which is look for evidence of a conspiracy, whether you can find it or not, and if you can't find it, allege that you have found it," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told HuffPost.

More than a dozen probes have looked at the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. They have found failings in the U.S. response to the attack that left four Americans dead.

Primarily, they found that coordination was not good enough and it was extremely difficult to deploy forces to respond in the best way, although the military did all it could under the circumstances, according to the House Armed Services Committee. The State Department is attempting to implement dozens of recommendations made in its own Accountability Review Board report.

But House Republicans decided they needed a select committee after a Freedom of Information lawsuit by a conservative group unearthed a Sept. 14 email from the White House that detailed the talking points the administration wanted people to convey about Benghazi and the broader unrest in the Middle East.

It included the now-discredited line that the attacks had to do with a YouTube video, although the White House insists that line applied not to Benghazi, but to places where the video was an issue.

To Schiff, the fact that an email about White House messaging is what sparked the new panel reveals what the committee is really about.

"There are very few facts that are not known at this point in terms of the talking points," Schiff said. "But they want to go back over and over the talking points again. This is a select committee on talking points."

Schiff suggested the panel's goal is not just to examine the administration's spin, but also to create plenty of its own.

"They want to go after the current administration. They certainly want to go after Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton," Schiff said. "They really don't make any bones about it. I think most transparent of all is the fact that they are now fundraising off Benghazi. It makes very clear what their real goal is, which is to energize their most conservative base, both to send them money and turn up on Election Day."

It's not that there is nothing worth looking at when if comes to Benghazi, Schiff added. He mentioned making sure the reforms that stemmed from the previous investigations are being implemented effectively. He also said it would be useful to ask, "Where are we in the hunt for the people responsible, and bringing them to justice?"

A select committee, however, would be useful for neither of those questions, he said.

"A setting like Intel is probably better," said Schiff, referring to the House Intelligence Committee of which he is a member. "But that isn't the focus of this select committee. The focus of this select committee is not how we go after those responsible for the killing of four Americans, but to go after a political scalp."

Republicans and conservative advocates have insisted that their top goal is to capture the perpetrators, but they also argue that the victims cannot be honored until everything is known about what the White House was saying about the attacks amid a presidential campaign.

"The administration's obstruction and dishonesty are unacceptable and warrant a new level of investigation," Rep. Sam Jones (R-Texas) said on the House floor Thursday, adding that the select committee's creation will give "hope that Americans and the families of the victims will hear the truth and see accountability. They want, need and deserve no less."

Schiff is arguing that Democrats should boycott the select committee not just because he believes its mission is a sham, but also because it would have only five Democrats to seven Republicans, and Democrats would have no power to subpoena witnesses.

"There are no rules for this select committee. What the chairman wants the chairman gets," Schiff said. "And we've seen what happens in an environment like that on the [oversight committee]. One of the iconic moments of this Congress is Darrell Issa cutting off Elijah Cummings' microphone," Schiff said, referring to an infamous hearing on the Internal Revenue Service in which Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) ordered staffers to cut off the top Democrat on the committee.

"If that's how they'll treat Democrats in this so-called whole investigation," Schiff said, "it's pretty telling."

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.



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