House Republicans introduced a resolution Tuesday to set up a Watergate-style investigative committee to probe the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the Obama administration’s response to it.
Fourteen Republican lawmakers signed on behind the resolution’s author, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, before it was even introduced.
Mr. Wolf and his staff are “very optimistic it will come to the floor this year” for a vote and pass, said the congressman’s press secretary, Jill Shatzen.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the military-style assault, which unfolded in two stages over the night of the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S.
Republicans also have alleged that administration officials were tardy in identifying the attack as a planned assault by militias tied to al Qaeda, instead of as a spontaneous reaction to the protests against a U.S.-made anti-Islam video.
The five Republican chairmen and five ranking Democrats on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Foreign Affairs, Judiciary, Armed Services, and Oversight and Government Reform committees would sit on the investigative panel.
The select committee also would include seven other members — five named by the speaker and two by House Democrats.
It would have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.
No one in the speaker’s office or the majority leader’s office could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Republicans have charged that the Obama administration ignored requests from Mr. Stevens and other diplomatic and security staff on the ground for increased security in Libya, and for more personnel at the compound in Benghazi, specifically.
Benghazi, which was a hub for extremists long before last year’s revolution that toppled longtime Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, had seen a series of attacks against Western diplomatic targets over the summer, and the British and the Red Cross had closed their facilities there.
“We were the last flag flying,” said Army National Guard Col. Andrew Woods, who commanded a detachment of special forces troops protecting the U.S. Embassy and staff in Tripoli, Libya, told a congressional hearing in October.
The detachment was with withdrawn over the summer, despite the protests of local diplomatic security officials.
The issue of security was given renewed life last week by the revelation that the mission compound did not have special physical security barriers State Department policy required, despite widespread intelligence reporting about the growing strength and boldness of Islamic extremist militias, some affiliated with al Qaeda, in the town.
Several former military and diplomatic officials have told The Times that one or two additional security personnel at the mission likely would not have been able to fend off the first wave of the attack by dozens of extremists armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
“It is our responsibility as a Congress to legislate and educate the American people on the circumstances surrounding the attack,” said Mr. Wolf, who chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Justice Department. “We owe it to the families of the victims to fully investigate this tragedy in full and open hearings to have a clearer understanding of what happened.”