House votes to start new Benghazi investigation
(FILES) This file photo taken on September 11, 2012 shows an armed man waving his rifle as buildings and cars are engulfed in flames after being set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi. A long-awaited inquiry into a deadly militant attack on the US mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi late on December 18, 2012 slammed State Department security arrangements there as 'grossly inadequate.' But the months-long probe also found there had been 'no immediate, specific' intelligence of a threat against the mission, which was overrun on September 11 by dozens of heavily armed militants who killed four Americans. AFP PHOTO / FILES (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
A Libyan man walks in the rubble of the damaged U.S. consulate, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. The American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed when a mob of protesters and gunmen overwhelmed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, setting fire to it in outrage over a film that ridicules Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Ambassador Chris Stevens, 52, died as he and a group of embassy employees went to the consulate to try to evacuate staff as a crowd of hundreds attacked the consulate Tuesday evening, many of them firing machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades. (AP photo/Mohammad Hannon)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, listens as he and GOP leaders meet reporters following a Republican strategy meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Boehner said Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., did the right thing by stepping down from the the House Financial Services Committee after he was indicted Monday with evading taxes. Grimm told Speaker Boehner he should be removed from the panel but said he plans to return once his legal issues are resolved. (AP Photo)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 01: (L-R) U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell (Retired), former deputy director for the Intelligence and Knowledge Development Directorate (J-2) of U.S. Africa Command and former deputy commanding general of the Joint Task Force Odyssey Guard, Hoover Institution research fellow Kori Schake, Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior fellow Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Middle East Program senior associate Frederic Wehrey testify during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee May 1, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on 'Benghazi, Instability, and a New Government: Successes and Failures of U.S. Intervention in Libya.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 01: U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell (Retired), former deputy director for the Intelligence and Knowledge Development Directorate (J-2) of U.S. Africa Command and former deputy commanding general of the Joint Task Force Odyssey Guard, is sworn in during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee May 1, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on 'Benghazi, Instability, and a New Government: Successes and Failures of U.S. Intervention in Libya.' (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A vehicle sits smoldering in flames after being set on fire inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi late on September 11, 2012. An armed mob protesting over a film they said offended Islam, attacked the US consulate in Benghazi and set fire to the building, killing one American, witnesses and officials said. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/GettyImages)
FOR USE AS DESIRED, YEAR END PHOTOS - FILE - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
By Bradley Klapper and Donna Cassata
WASHINGTON (AP) - House Republicans on Thursday rammed through a measure opening a new investigation of the deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya, vowing to dig deeper in a search for truth. Democrats declared it merely a political ploy to raise campaign cash and motivate voters.
A bitterly divided House voted 232-186 to establish the panel that Speaker John Boehner insisted would answer questions that linger almost 20 months after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission. Seven Democrats, many facing tough re-election campaigns, broke ranks and joined Republicans in supporting the probe.
The panel's investigation will be the eighth on Benghazi and will examine the entirety of the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Independent, bipartisan and GOP-led probes have faulted the State Department for inadequate security at the outpost, leading to four demotions. No attacker has yet been brought to justice.
Republicans say they're unsatisfied with explanations so far, and they have leveled a range of accusations against President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other senior administration officials. Chief among them: that the administration misled the American people about the nature of the attack during a presidential election campaign and stonewalled congressional investigators.
"We will not take any shortcuts to the truth, accountability or justice," Boehner said during House debate.
Democrats remain divided over whether to boycott the select committee. They are concerned that their participation would grant legitimacy to what they believe will be a partisan forum. But they also worry that if they avoid it they won't have the chance to counter GOP claims and defend potential witnesses - including Clinton, a possible 2016 presidential candidate.
Party leaders will meet with their rank and file Friday morning to decide on the next step.
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida criticized the "song and dance" she said came from Clinton when House members wanted to question her about Benghazi a few months after the attack. Clinton's testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee was delayed when she missed a month of work toward the end of her tenure after suffering a virus, then a fall and a concussion, and then brief hospitalization for a blood clot near her brain.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said no evidence uncovered in any of the investigations thus far suggests wrongdoing by the administration. Republican claims have descended into "the crass and unbelievable," she said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the questions "have been asked and answered time and time and time again," and he added: "Let's end the political circus."
Benghazi has produced 13 public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents and 50 separate briefings. The select committee won't be the only inquiry, as other GOP-led congressional panels continue their probes, including a House Oversight investigation which just last week took the extraordinary step of subpoenaing a Cabinet member. Secretary of State John Kerry hasn't said when he might testify.
Democrats deride the effort as a conservative campaign designed to energize Republican voters in typically low-turnout midterm elections.
Boehner's legislation creates a select House committee through the end of the year. It will have to be reapproved when a new Congress begins in January or go out of existence. The select committee has no explicit financial constraints.
Earlier this week, the National Republican Congressional Committee sent an email vowing that "no one will get away" from the committee's investigation and asking people for donations.
Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the Democratic campaign committee chairman, called fundraising off Benghazi "despicable and insulting." Boehner on Thursday refused to criticize the fundraising drive.
In an opinion piece Thursday in USA Today, the congressman whom Boehner has chosen to head the probe signaled he'd re-examine the entirety of the Benghazi attack, including questions Democrats and some senior Republicans consider settled.
The GOP-led House Armed Services Committee concluded months ago the U.S. military couldn't have responded in time to save Stevens and the others. Still, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina asked: "Was our military response during the pendency of the siege sufficient?"
The Obama administration says officials tried to provide the public with the best information available after the attack at a time when U.S. embassies, consulates and other facilities were facing angry demonstrations across the Muslim world over a YouTube video mocking Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The administration originally attributed Benghazi to a similar protest that extremists hijacked, but retracted that account amid severe criticism.
House Democrats have issued several demands if they are to participate in the select committee. Boehner already has rejected their call for equal representation on the panel, deciding instead to fill it with seven Republicans and five Democrats. The Democrats also seek guarantees they'll have equal access to documents, say on subpoenas and right to question witnesses. Negotiations continue.