By Alex Seitz-Wald
Two years, seven congressional committee investigations, 25,000 pages of documents, 50 briefings, nine reports, and at least eight subpoenas later, Congress is trying once again to get to the bottom of Benghazi.
On Wednesday, the House Select Committee on the 2012 terror attack in Libya will hold its first hearing, putting the incident front and center again just as Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state during the attack, is stepping out onto the 2016 stage with a visit to Iowa.
Republicans, led by Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, say they’re just after the truth, but Democrats view the revival of the issue as pure partisan politics, and criticize the GOP for spending millions of dollars on a new investigation they say isn’t needed.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are calling on Speaker John Boehner to do away with the Benghazi committee and “refocus its attention” on issues they say are more important to Americans.
“We urge you to establish a Select Committee on Income Inequality to focus on the issues that everyday people face instead of spending more than $3.3 million of taxpayer money on an investigation that will not help families put food on the table,” they wrote in a letter to Boehner obtained by msnbc.
“If House Republicans are serious about focusing on jobs and our economy,” the 25 progressive members of Congress continue, the GOP would create a committee to “investigate and develop common sense solutions to our country’s widening income gap.”
Of course, there’s almost zero chance that Boehner will heed the call, but the letter underscores Democrats’ lack of faith in Republicans’ ability to keep politics out of any Benghazi investigation.
On Thursday, the anti-Clinton Stop Hillary PAC will launch a $100,000 advertising campaign in the early presidential states of Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire demanding that Clinton testify under oath before the committee. The ad will run in key media markets, including Gowdy’s district.
“We still need to hear answers,” the commercial says. “But Hillary Clinton prefers silence.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic super PAC American Bridge and its pro-Clinton offshoot Correct the Record have created a website to defend Clinton and the White House from charges the group dismisses as “conspiracy” theory.
Gowdy faces tremendous pressure from the conservative base to subpoena Clinton and use the committee to try to stymie her presidential ambitions, but he has repeatedly promised that he won’t let politics get in the way of the committee’s work.
While the Democratic members of the select committee include the ranking members of relevant committees, such as the House Oversight and Armed Services committees, Republicans did not include the chairman of those committees on their roster, suggesting they wanted a start fresh. That means many of their members are less likely to be familiar with the work that has already been done on the Benghazi, Democrats fear.
Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement that he “sincerely hopes” the Select Committee will “make full use of the extensive investigations that have already been completed to define our scope, avoid duplication, and conserve taxpayer dollars.”
Gowdy has so far inspired some confidence among the Democratic members of his committee, in part by selecting an idea proposed by a Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff for the first hearing.
That first meeting will focus on the implementation of recommendations from the internal State Department report probing the Benghazi attack to determine whether the government is following through on its own ideas. Improving the security of American diplomatic outposts is an uncontroversial topic that even Democrats say is important.
And it’s a topic that gets to the heart the policy questions at the center of the controversy over the attack, says Mitchell Zuckoff, a journalism professor who co-wrote a new book on Benghazi with members of the team that defended the CIA complex in the Libyan city that night.
Even so, Zuckoff acknowledged, it will be difficult to divorce the policy questions from the politics. “I think it’d be naive for anyone at this point to not worry about politics when they talk about Benghazi. The story became political before it became factual. We’ve been playing catch up for the past two years,” he told msnbc.