WASHINGTON — — House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday she would appoint Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore to lead Democrats on a controversial select committee to investigate the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.
It's a subject with which Cummings is familiar: As the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Cummings has gained notice as one of the most vocal defenders of the Obama administration and its actions around the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
The Oversight Committee has held four hearings on the incident, which occurred nearly a year after the U.S.-backed ouster of Muammar Khadafi. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was among the Americans killed.
Republicans have accused the White House of falsely blaming the attack on spontaneous protests against a crude anti-Islamic video produced in the United States.
It was revealed to have been an organized plot by dozens of gunmen believed to have been linked to al-Qaida — but the GOP says the administration tried to suppress that conclusion because it contradicted President Barack Obama's assertion before the 2012 presidential election that the U.S. had the terror group "on the run."
Democrats accuse Republicans of exploiting the incident for political gain ahead of the midterm congressional elections this fall. They had been divided over whether to participate in the panel announced this month by Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
"I do not believe a select committee is called for after eight reports, dozens of witness interviews and a review of more than 25,000 pages of documents," Cummings said Wednesday. "Many of the so-called 'unanswered questions' Republicans have been raising recently have already been answered in these previous reports."
But he said he agreed to participate in order "to bring some minimal level of balance to this process and to check false claims wherever they may arise."
Boehner has named seven Republicans to the panel. Pelosi had opposed appointing Democrats before a closed-door meeting with Boehner on Tuesday.
"What happened in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, was a tragedy — for the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives; for America's diplomatic corps; for all Americans," she said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, the Republican obsession with Benghazi has not been about the victims or their families or our country."
Pelosi said she would appoint Cummings, Adam Smith of Washington, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and Adam B. Schiff and Linda T. Sanchez of California. Cummings is to serve as ranking member, the panel's top Democrat.
Boehner has appointed Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina to chair the committee and Reps. Susan W. Brooks of Indiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Martha Roby of Alabama, Peter Roskam of Illinois and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia to serve as members.
"This investigation is about getting answers for the families of the victims and for the American people," Boehner said in a statement accompanying the appointments. "These members have each demonstrated a commitment to this goal, and I have confidence that they will lead a serious, fact-based inquiry. As I have expressed to each of them, I expect this committee to carry out an investigation worthy of the American lives lost in Benghazi."