WASHINGTON - House Democrats will participate in the special, Republican-led select committee investigating the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, despite serious concerns within the party that the inquiry is an election-year ploy to energize core GOP voters.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced on Wednesday that she will appoint the full complement of five Democrats on the 12-member panel, tapping lawmakers who have been deeply involved in previous congressional investigations of the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the U.S. diplomatic outpost.
Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, died in the attack when militants stormed the mission. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of misleading Americans about a terror attack weeks before the election.
"I believe we need someone in that room to simply defend the truth," Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Cummings will serve as the ranking member on the select committee. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had selected Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a seasoned prosecutor, to be the panel's chairman along with six other Republicans.
Democrats who also will participate are Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the Armed Services panel; Adam Schiff of California, a member of the Intelligence Committee; Linda Sanchez, also of California, who is on Ways and Means' oversight subcommittee, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who serves on Armed Services.
Democrats have been divided over whether to boycott the investigation, the eighth probe. Some Democrats have called the new inquiry a political sham designed to embarrass the Obama administration and rough up former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Among Democratic leaders, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina reiterated his reservations on Tuesday. Clyburn had said, "If you're going to have a hanging, don't ask me to bring the noose."
Pelosi said she "could have argued this either way. Why give any validity to this effort?"
Other Democrats have maintained that they must participate in the select committee to ensure they have a role in questioning witnesses.
"We can't simply let the Republicans run the show," Smith said. Cummings said the select committee is unnecessary "because many of the so-called unanswered questions" have been answered in previous reports.
In a statement, Gowdy said he looked forward to working with committee members "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."
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said there was reason to suspect the House GOP's investigation "might not be divorced from politics."
"Our view has always been - and it has been not just our view, but our practice - that it is appropriate to have legitimate congressional oversight," Carney added, without elaborating on whether the Gowdy-led investigation constitutes legitimate oversight.
The Benghazi attack has become a conservative rallying cry, with Republicans accusing the Obama administration of intentionally misleading the public about the nature of the attack and stonewalling congressional investigators.
The special investigation means high-profile hearings in the months leading up to the elections, with Republicans likely to target current and former administration officials. Almost certain to be called to testify is Clinton.
The panel is authorized to work through the end of the year, past November's midterm elections, when the GOP hopes to win control of the Senate and tighten its majority grip on the House.
In the 20 months since the attack, multiple independent, bipartisan and GOP-led probes have faulted the State Department for inadequate security in Benghazi, leading to four demotions. No attacker has been arrested.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki maintained that the newly-formed investigation was unnecessary.
Separately, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify on May 29 about the administration's cooperation with Congress in providing emails and other documents related to Benghazi.
That panel is moving ahead with its ongoing investigation.
Psaki said Wednesday the department and committee are still discussing whether Kerry will appear before the panel.