- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2014

After a furious push to establish and appoint members to the House select committee on Benghazi, the panel’s official proceedings have hit slow gear, and committee members say they don’t expect to begin talking with witnesses until the fall.

“I think it’s going to take that long to get everybody staffed up and briefed as to where we’re at, making everybody familiar,” Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland, Georgia Republican and one of seven GOP members on the panel, said of the tentative post-August schedule. “You’re probably going to have to go through security clearance kind of stuff, and that just takes a while.”

After some internal debate over whether Democrats should participate at all, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, appointed five members to the panel late last month.

She tapped Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to serve as the select panel’s ranking member.

“They call the shots — it’s their committee. We’re just staffing up right now,” said Mr. Cummings, Maryland Democrat.

The House, on a largely party line vote, established the select committee last month. Democrats have said the multiple congressional investigations into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack renders a new one unnecessary, while Republicans say recent “stonewalling” from the White House on information surrounding the response to the attack merits a fresh inquiry.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, chairs the committee and serves with Mr. Cummings on oversight as well. A spokeswoman for Mr. Gowdy said she doesn’t have an update on the schedule for the select committee, but Mr. Westmoreland said observers shouldn’t read much into the timetable.

“I think Mr. Cummings trusts Trey, and I think Trey trusts him, and so I think that’s good,” he said. “I think they’ve worked together, and they’ve been on oversight together, so I don’t think either one of em’s gonna try to bs the other one, and I think that Elijah’s working just as hard as he can to get his staff together and go [forward].”

The latest developments surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, actually came from overseas last Sunday, when U.S. Special Forces captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the suspected ringleader of the 2012 Benghazi attack.

Khatallah is being held on a Navy ship in the Mediterranean Sea, though the Obama administration is weighing expediting his movement to U.S. soil, where he will soon stand trial.

The Justice Department announced charges last week, accusing him of taking part in the fiery assault on U.S. facilities that killed former Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.

Mr. Westmoreland said he didn’t anticipate that development would affect the committee’s work much because any information from Khatallah is likely to be contained to the anticipated court case.

“Trey has been just as straightforward with every member on our side that [states], ‘Look, we’re going after the truth and we’re going after the facts, and wherever the facts lead us, that’s where we’re going,’” he said. “I feel real good that we’re going to come up with a result and, you know, whether everybody’s happy with it or not, you never know. But I think he’s going to do a very thorough job.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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