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House Votes To Launch New Benghazi Investigative Committee

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WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives voted largely on party lines Thursday to launch a select committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attacks, arguing that previous hearings and investigations were good, but not good enough.

Republicans contend that the White House has stonewalled previous probes into the attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. They cited recently revealed emails on administration talking points as proof that Congress needs a new committee to dig deeper.

"We are here specifically today because in the last few weeks an outside group, Judicial Watch, through the Freedom of Information Act, obtained information," said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas). "They received emails that were not redacted, that were not doctored or altered, and that came to them that did not match up with the information that had been provided to official committees of the United States House of Representatives."

The newly public emails, from three days after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, included talking points that said protests in Libya and elsewhere stemmed from anger over a YouTube video, but this was not accurate in the case of Benghazi. Although the YouTube issue is now well-known, Republicans said that White House reluctance to talk about its talking points demands further action.

"A line was crossed," said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). "The White House did more to obscure what happened -- and why -- than what we were led to believe."

Others said that no answers would ever be provided and the Benghazi attackers would never be apprehended if the House didn't act.

"The darn thing has nearly become a cold case because of the refusal of the White House to prioritize anything related to the investigation except for their own bizarre political spin about what happened," said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas).

The measure to create a Benghazi committee passed 232 to 186.

But Democrats pointed out that the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee has already finished a full investigation that found plenty of problems -- just not any that suggested deliberate obfuscation or the hiding of anything that might have changed the situation in Benghazi. As recently as last week, a general testified that although he felt there should have been more that could have been done, the committee's findings were accurate.

The State Department's accountability review board also did an extensive investigation of the events and recommended numerous steps to prevent future incidents.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) suggested that if Republicans were really interested in figuring out what went wrong with foreign policy, they would have shown a greater interest in pursuing the misrepresentations that led to war in Iraq.

"When I heard of this terrible idea to create this special committee, I could not help but think of Iraq, when not four but 4,000 Americans died," said Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "But my Republican colleagues conducted virtually no investigations into that tragedy based on a lie. They set up no committees uncover the truth behind the phony intelligence, the torture, the secret prisons or the spin that Iraqis would greet us with flowers. Nothing.

"So I have to ask a final time," Engel said. "What is it my colleagues on the other side are after? I think the answer is pretty clear. They're after a political win."

Several Democrats pointed out that GOP candidates and committees were already raising money off the probe.

"They have been using the deaths of these four Americans for political campaign fundraising," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). "I call on the speaker of the House to end that process right now."

Republicans responded that Democrats are hypocrites and disparaged them for criticizing the GOP's buck-raking.

"Some folks have mentioned the fundraising aspect of this Benghazi investigation. That's rather sad and pathetic to bring that up," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). "If we're going to get blamed for something, I think that there's enough blame to go around. To sensationalize this, to fundraise off it -- this is something some groups are trying to do. But I believe that that's like the pot calling the kettle black."

The Benghazi select committee will have broad authority to investigate, including issuing subpoenas. Some Democrats are arguing that their party should boycott it because they will not have power to call their own witnesses and will be outnumbered seven to five on the panel.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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