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South Carolina congressman tapped to lead House panel on Benghazi

Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee session at Capitol Hill in Washington June
Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee session at Capitol Hill in Washington June

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former prosecutor and critic of the Obama administration's handling of the 2012 Benghazi attacks was picked on Monday to head a Republican-led congressional investigation of the assault that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy, a member of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, will lead a new panel investigating the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

"I know he shares my commitment to get to the bottom of this tragedy and will not tolerate any stonewalling from the Obama administration," House Speaker John Boehner said in announcing Gowdy as his pick as chairman of the select committee.

Asked by Fox News interviewer Greta Van Susteren how the panel would differ from all the other congressional hearings on Benghazi, Gowdy said the investigations so far had been fragmented.

"You can't draw conclusions if you don't have all the facts, and what this committee is going to do is once and for all lay out all the facts," Gowdy said.

Boehner had announced he was forming the panel on Friday, the same day the Oversight Committee announced a rare subpoena of a Cabinet official, Secretary of State John Kerry, to testify about Benghazi.

The State Department said on Monday it was still looking into whether Kerry would appear on May 21 as demanded. He is scheduled to be in Mexico on that date.

Republicans accuse President Barack Obama's administration of doing too little to repulse the attack and then misleading Americans out of fear Benghazi would tarnish his record as he ran for re-election in November 2012.

A White House spokesman declined to answer directly whether it would cooperate with the Gowdy panel. While saying the White House had in the past cooperated with "legitimate" probes, spokesman Jay Carney told a news briefing it was highly questionable whether the most recent inquiry was legitimate.

Democrats accuse Republicans of using the incident for political purposes, with an eye toward discrediting then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, considered a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.

Eight different congressional committees have investigated the events in Benghazi, holding more than a dozen hearings and 50 briefings, and examining 25,000 pages of documents.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said on Monday that Democrats had not yet decided whether they would participate in the special committee because they had not received details of the Republicans' plans.

He said, however, that his party's leaders would vote against the resolution to form the committee and urge members to vote no.

"We're going to spend taxpayer money for something that they've already spent taxpayer money to do, and that is investigate the circumstances surrounding the tragic loss of life of four Americans, including a very respected ambassador. That was appropriate to do," he said.

"Our view is that we've done that. We don't believe the administration covered up and we believe that this is political only," Hoyer added.

Gowdy urged Democrats: "At least, let us have a hearing before you judge it. At least, let the committee be constituted and the rules be adopted before you declare it to be a political exercise."

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Mark Felsenthal and Peter Cooney; Editing by G Crosse, Bernadette Baum and Mohammad Zargham)

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