House Makes Special Benghazi Investigative Committee Official

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Republican-led House on Thursday voted to form a select committee to investigate the deadly Benghazi terror attack, elevating its oversight of an issue that has become a partisan flashpoint.

A nearly party line vote of 232-186 established the panel despite investigations by multiple House committees that have reviewed documents, interviewed witnesses and held numerous hearings.

The September 2012 armed assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in eastern Libya killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Democrats were still deciding whether to participate in the committee, arguing its creation was a political ploy to keep the controversy in play during a midterm election year.

As of now, they would get five of the 12 seats, a point of contention from Democrats who sought more equity on the committee's structure from Republican leaders.

Those issues involve the number of members as well as questions surrounding subpoenas and questioning of potential witnesses.

In a sharply worded statement after the vote, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Republicans have exercised "unending eagerness to exploit these deaths," and added that the "nation deserves better than yet another deeply partisan and political review."

She also chastised the GOP for "blocking a proposal offered by Democrats" to "ensure that this committee is truly bipartisan and fair."

But Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and an Army veteran, criticized President Barack Obama and his administration's handling of the matter, reflecting sentiment and pressure from members that prompted House Speaker John Boehner to seek its formation.

"For two years he's covered up his failure of leadership by stonewalling. Not anymore. We will now get to the truth," Cotton said.

New information last week

The Obama administration has come under fire over questions about the level of security before the armed assault, its reaction to it, and its slow-to-evolve public explanation of what had occurred.

Democrats have said the GOP has gone overboard in its investigations so far.

But Republicans say new information that surfaced last week raising more questions about how the administration handled the matter supported their contention the White House politicized its response to events in a presidential election year.

Boehner said that in an earlier conversation with Pelosi, he "made clear that this is a serious investigation, that we wanted to work together to get to the truth."

House Republicans are unlikely to bend to Democratic demands on the details of the committee, a GOP source familiar with the matter told CNN.

But when pressed about whether Republicans would make changes to give Democrats more power in the investigation, Boehner would only say that "there are further conversations continuing on that issue." Those talks were said to be intense.

In addition to a possible boycott, CNN has learned that Democrats also are discussing another option -- minimal participation -- something short of an all-out boycott and less than the full contingent of Democrats.

According to a Democratic leadership aide, this option would "make clear they're protesting, but also have full member participation to ensure that there are Democrats in the room to hold Republicans accountable for their behavior on the committee.

No decision likely until Friday

Democrats did not make a decision on whether to participate before the full House votes on establishing the panel. They will meet on Friday to discuss the matter further.

On Thursday, many House Democrats attended a weekly meeting to go over strategy for floor action on the issue. But Pelosi and other top Democrats were still weighing the pros and cons from their rank and file on the issue of participation.

One aide told CNN that Democrats recognized they were unlikely to get changes they outlined in a letter to Boehner.

But the aide said that "the calculus on this is being weighed -- do we participate in a Darrell Issa-like committee or worse, or is it worth having someone in the room for it?"

Issa is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which has taken a leading role in the GOP-led investigation of Benghazi.

His effort has been sharply criticized by Democrats.

Rep. Steve Israel, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is in charge of electing Democrats to the House this November, is arguing privately it would be a mistake to participate.

He cited numerous reasons, including fear that independent voters fed up with Washington bickering would see Democrats as part of the problem.

Fund-raising off Benghazi

Separately, the controversy grew more intense this week over revelations that Republicans were using it for political fund-raising. Democrats contend that just underscores their belief that the select committee was politically driven.

Boehner punted on the fund-raising question on Thursday, refusing to endorse or dismiss it.

Despite multiple questions about whether it is right for Republicans to use the tragedy to raise political cash, all Boehner would say repeatedly is "our focus is on getting the truth for the American people and these four families."

Boehner already appointed South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor, to head the select committee.

He said he would release the names of other Republican members in the near future. A GOP aide told CNN he expected the names to be released on Friday.

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Posted by: Nick Viviani