Despite not getting the Republican concessions she was seeking, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appointed a full slate of Democrats to the House’s new Benghazi investigative committee, giving the effort a bipartisan boost.
Mrs. Pelosi said she was appointing members in order to honor the families of the Americans who died in the 2012 terrorist attack, and that Democrats will try to make sure the committee steers clear of partisan attacks. But she acknowledged her decision has added legitimacy to the investigation.
“I could have argued this either way: ‘Why give any validity to this effort?’ But I do think it is important for the American people to have the pursuit of these questions done in as fair and open and balanced way as possible,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat. “That simply would not be possible leaving it to the Republicans.”
She tapped Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to serve as the investigation’s top Democrat.
With the White House in the cross hairs, President Obama’s press secretary said it had deferred to Mrs. Pelosi on whether to join the investigation. But spokesman Jay Carney still took a shot at the panel Wednesday.
“It is certainly legitimate to suspect at least that this new pursuit, this new investigation, by House Republicans into this matter might not be divorced from politics,” he said.
Mrs. Pelosi tried to wring concessions from House Speaker John A. Boehner, including equal membership and a say in what subpoenas are issued, but he refused her requests.
“We offered assurances on committee procedures, but no substantive changes that could hurt the investigation,” a House GOP leadership aide said.
Still, Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said repeatedly that he doesn’t want the committee to become a sideshow or a circus. Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who will serve as chairman, has pledged to conduct an impartial probe.
Mr. Gowdy welcomed the Democratic members Wednesday.
“I respect Mr. Cummings and his work in Congress,” said Mr. Gowdy, who also serves on the oversight committee. “I look forward to working with him and the members of the committee toward an investigation and a process worthy of the American people and the four brave Americans who lost their lives in service to our country.”
Mr. Cummings said he spoke with Mr. Gowdy on Tuesday and that Mr. Gowdy relayed a similar message: that he is hopeful they can be in a position where there can be fairness. The two were seen talking just off the House floor late Wednesday afternoon.
Mr. Cummings has frequently sparred with Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, regarding that panel’s probe into the attack.
The other Democratic members of the investigative committee are Reps. Adam Smith of Washington, Adam B. Schiff and Linda T. Sanchez of California, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
Mr. Smith is the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee and Mr. Schiff is a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Ms. Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, serves on the Armed Services and oversight committees, and Mrs. Sanchez, a senior Democratic whip, is the ranking member on the Ethics Committee and sits on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
“With their leadership and persistence, we will do right by the families of the victims,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Mr. Cummings said Republicans and Mr. Issa were “abusive” in their previous Benghazi probes and that he is taking part in the latest investigation because the family members of those killed in the attack have asked that the issue not be politicized.
The attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, claimed the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
“So I feel I owe it to the families of Ambassador Stevens and the other brave Americans who lost their precious lives to bring some minimal level of balance to this process and to check false claims wherever they may arise,” Mr. Cummings said.
Mr. Smith, though, citing the numerous investigations into the matter and a report from the State Department, said the committee never should have been formed.
“It is going to happen, so it is better that we participate to at least try to bring some transparency, fairness and openness to the process,” he said. “It is, however, regrettable that the Republican majority has insisted on continuing this political witch hunt.”
Mr. Boehner was reluctant to form the committee as well but said the White House’s repeated stonewalling of Congress on the matter forced his own hand. Last month, the White House released an email from a top national security aide in which the aide appears to coach staff on associating the attack with an anti-Islam video, even though intelligence sources at the time dismissed the video’s connection with the attack.
Three dozen Republican senators also have pressed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to form a similar panel in the Senate. They say they want to know why National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, emphasized the video’s role when she talked about the attack days on Sunday news shows, among other things.
• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.