WASHINGTON, May 2 (UPI) -- Republicans in the House began an all-out Benghazi-themed offensive on the Obama administration this week, escalating the investigation into what they claim were cover-ups by the administration in the wake of the terrorist attack that left four Americans dead.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced on Friday the formation of a select committee, to be chaired by South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks. Also Friday, the House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry to force him to appear at a hearing later this month.
"The administration's withholding of documents -- emails showing greater White House involvement in misleading the American people -- is a flagrant violation of trust and undermines the basic principles of oversight upon which our system of government is built," Boehner said in a statement. "And it forces us to ask the question, what else about Benghazi is the Obama administration still hiding from the American people?"
The moves come two days after new State Department communications were declassified and released, including an email from then-White House aide Ben Rhodes, now a deputy national security advisor, outlining a communication strategy for then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's television appearances for the Sunday after the attack.
“The fact that these documents were withheld from Congress for more than 19 months is alarming,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa, R-Calif. “The Department is not entitled to delay responsive materials because it is embarrassing or implicates the roles and actions of senior officials.”
Republicans pointed to testimony at an Oversight hearing Thursday from retired USAF Brig. Gen. Rovert Lovell that appeared to accuse the State Department of withholding military aid from Libya in the hours of the attack. But House Armed Services Committee Chair Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., quickly undercut their conclusion.
"BG Lovell did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken," McKeon said in a statement Thursday. "We have no evidence that Department of State officials delayed the decision to deploy what few resourced DoD had available to respond."
House conservatives have been clamoring for leadership to ramp up the investigation for months, sensing a political opening that they believe will energize their base heading into November's midterm elections.
They also hope to hang the issue on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has maintained her edge as a clear frontrunner in polling of potential 2016 match-ups.
Since the immediate aftermath of the attack that left Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, the Republican investigation has turned up numerous "smoking guns," particularly related to the creation of Rice's talking points. At the time, Rice said the attack spontaneously occurred during a protest over a YouTube video that had generated outrage across the Middle East that week.
While it later became clear the attack was perpetrated by extremists -- Republicans accuse the White House of trying to stick to its election-year message that al Qaeda was critically weakened -- the CIA has maintained they could not rule out the protest as a cause for several days.