GOP-led investigations expected to carry over beyond summer
Five House committees are investigating elements of the deadly terror attack
Leadership message: keep going, keep demanding documents and witnesses
For all the unanswered questions about the Benghazi attack and the Obama administration crisis management in the hours and days after, this much is certain: The GOP-led investigations will carry over from spring into summer and likely beyond.
Five separate House committees are investigating facets of the attack and its aftermath, and the five chairmen compared notes on Thursday at a meeting organized by House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
The leadership’s message: keep going, keep demanding access to documents and witnesses – and keep the conspiracy theory rhetoric to a minimum.
“The facts are on our side. We can take it slow and take it calmly,” one participant in the meeting told CNN on Friday.
The conversation came near the close of a week in which President Barack Obama made clear his administration will characterize the continued inquiries as a partisan sideshow, and congressional Democrats – in both the House and Senate – have argued that the key questions have been answered and that, in their view, there is hardly a need for a multi-pronged investigation.
Boehner, according to participants, urged the committees to ignore the Democratic criticism and to take their time pursuing information in each of the committee’s jurisdictions.
Several participants, including Boehner and Cantor, urged the chairmen to be measured in their public statements and to frame their work in the context of trying to get answers about the deaths of four Americans.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee is the lead panel in the investigation, but the House Foreign Affairs, Judiciary, Armed Services and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence also have pieces.
Judiciary, for example, is looking into why it took the FBI so long to get to the crime scene in Benghazi, and has raised several additional questions about the investigation.
Intelligence staffers are poring over thousands of classified cables detailing the security situation and terror threat in Libya in the weeks prior to the terror attack last September 11.
The Armed Services Committee is exploring whether there should have been or could have been military resources more quickly available as the armed assault unfolded, and Foreign Affairs is looking into staffing and security issues that fall under the State Department’s responsibilities.
The chairmen have met in the past, both formally and informally, to compare notes and discuss jurisdiction lines in the investigations. This week’s session, though, was organized by the House GOP leadership and both Boehner and Cantor attended.
Most of the committees are also in the middle of other oversight projects that create some tension with the administration.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, who was also in the meeting, wants answers about the sweeping Justice Department subpoena for telephone records of The Associated Press, and has other active investigations under way as well.
“Where is the accountability?” Goodlatte asked on CNN in raising a question about the management skills of the Obama administration in overall and Attorney General Eric Holder in particular.
Yet, in this week of worry for the Obama White House, perhaps the president might want to drop Goodlatte a note.
Yes, the Virginia Republican says he sees a president dealing with several big challenges and potential scandals. But no, he insists, it should not spill over and impact other big agenda items, including the thorny immigration reform debate that is the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction.
“I will work every way we possibly can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Goodlatte said when asked about chatter in Washington that conservative Obama critics will try to use his recent troubles to derail legislative priorities with which they disagree.
Not that Goodlatte and the president see eye to eye on immigration, or even that the conservative House member sees eye to eye with many more moderate Senate Republicans on the issue.
But in a conversation in his Capitol Hill office, Goodlatte both in tone and substance made clear he believes it is possible to bridge the differences on immigration, even on the divisive question of whether those who entered the country illegally should be allowed a path to citizenship.
Goodlatte has labeled past such proposals amnesty, and makes clear he still believes the Senate framework has too easy of a path to citizenship. But, and this is noteworthy, Goodlatte said he was confident his committee could pass a measure that granted legal status to those in the country illegally and then allowed them to seek citizenship.
“Not a special path to citizenship,” Goodlatte said, suggesting the current Senate framework was too generous in moving currently undocumented workers first into legal status and then eligibility for citizenship. “It is too close to making the same mistake they made in 1986,” he said.
But he noted there were some 300 proposed Senate amendments and said if a measure passed the Senate – after an open debate – with a big bipartisan vote, “we would be influenced by that.”
Influenced but not necessarily completely swayed.
“My first priority is to get a measure that can pass the Republican controlled House,” he said, suggesting a new framework being drafted by a bipartisan House group would heavily shape the beginning of the Judiciary Committee debate.