ST. PETERSBURG — The congressional investigation of Benghazi “is just in the early stages,” California Rep. Darrell Issa told a group of Republicans at a fundraising reception Thursday night.
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also said it’s not inappropriate that eight different congressional committees have investigated the 2012 incident involving deaths of four Americans in the Libyan city, and that the Republican Party’s use of the investigation to raise money is “fair game.”
“Benghazi is just in the early stages,” he told the enthusiastic crowd of Republican donors, elected officials and party activists. “The president can come clean and we can have this done in a few weeks.”
Democrats contend the party is using the investigation to rouse its voter base.
Issa, who was described by Pinellas County Republican Party Chairman Michael Guju as “the tip of the spear” against President Barack Obama in Congress, spoke to a crowd Guju estimated at about 175, who had paid $50 each, or donated more, to attend the event.
In a brief interview after his appearance, Issa compared the various Benghazi investigations to the investigation of the Watergate scandal.
“It takes very little time and very little committees if the administration wants to tell the truth. If the administration wants to continue delaying, denying and lying and covering up, it takes a long time,’’ he said.
“There was a lot of time and a lot of money spent on Watergate to eventually get to the truth about the wrongdoing of Richard Milhous Nixon,” Issa said.
Republicans have contended since the attack that initial statements by administration officials saying it appeared to be spontaneous, rather than a planned terrorist attack, were an attempt to insulate Obama from political fallout just before the election.
The administration says the statements reflected initial intelligence assessments.
Last week, after long resisting the idea, Congress voted along mostly partisan lines to form a select committee after emails surfaced showing White House officials immediately after the attack discussing public relations “goals” for administration statements.
Republicans say that proved the Obama administration was intent on deceiving the nation. Democrats say the continuing investigation is a political circus, noting that Issa still appears to be pursuing the matter through his own committee, and that different GOP-led investigations have pursued different goals, some criticizing the others’ approaches. On Thursday, despite the formation of the new committee, Issa renewed a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that “calls into question the Republicans’ stated purpose ... The Select Committee is a sign of no confidence in Issa just as Issa’s action today is a sign of a lack of confidence in the Select Committee.”
But Issa said in an interview that his committee will leave investigation of the attack to the select committee, and that he intends to investigate only what he called Kerry’s failure to respond to previous subpoenas for documents.
Immediately after the vote to create the select committee, the Republican Party’s U.S. House fundraising arm sent out emails blasting Democrats in contested districts who voted against it, including three in Florida, plus Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who’s also national Democratic Party chairman.
Wasserman Schultz said the Thursday reception with Issa and the fundraising emails “show you they’re raising money off Benghazi -- their sole purpose for creating this committee is to fire their base up again and take up an issue again that has been exhaustively examined.”
But Issa said it’s normal for parties to raise money based on activities by members of Congress, but members of Congress themselves refrain from it.
He said the reason for the select committee was that “the new revelations came out and most of our investigations had sort of reached a point of merger.”