Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, reiterated his opposition to forming a select committee to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Libya in a sharply-worded letter to Republican senators, writing Nov. 16 that “I refuse to allow the Senate to be used as a venue for baseless partisan attacks.”
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire pressed this week for the establishment of a Watergate-style select committee to investigate the circumstances behind the attacks, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens.
According to Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, former CIA Director David Petraeus testified during a closed-door congressional hearing Friday that the attack “was a terrorist attack and there were terrorists involved from the start.”
The three Republicans have argued that congressional hearings taking place among different committees would preclude all of the information surrounding the attacks from being shared. But Mr. Reid wrote to the three senators, as well as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, that he’s concerned a select committee would undermine those investigations already under way.
“The elections are over; it is time to put an end to the partisan politicization of national security and begin working together to strengthen our efforts to dismantle and destroy the terrorist networks that threaten us,” Mr. Reid wrote. “The intentional politicization of this national tragedy over the last several weeks risks undermining the proud tradition of nonpartisanship that the Senate’s national security committees have sustained over many decades.”
Mr. McCain responded to the letter Saturday at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada.
“I’m concerned about four Americans who died,” Mr. McCain said. “Their families need to know the circumstances, why it happened, how it happened, and where responsibility lies. That’s all. That’s all that we’re seeking. We’re not seeing a confrontation with anyone. We’re not trying to quote ‘take on anyone.’ “
Despite the push from the GOP senators and some within his own caucus for either a select committee or a special prosecutor, House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, seemed cool to those ideas.
“At this point, I think the standing committees of the House — whether they be the Oversight Committee or the Intelligence Committee — are working diligently on these issues, and at this point, I think that’s appropriate,” Mr. Boehner said Wednesday.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said suggestions that the administration’s initial talking points for Benghazi had been changed are “completely wrong.”
Mr. Smith, who attended another briefing Friday with intelligence officials that included Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said the attack on the consulate building was “somewhat spontaneous.”
“Nobody has ever denied that it was a terrorist attack. What we’ve questioned is how far planned was it,” Mr. Smith said. “It was both a terrorist attack and spontaneous, and why that has to be mutually exclusive is completely beyond me.”