House Democrats remained undecided Friday on whether they would join a select committee created by majority Republicans to investigate the Benghazi terror attack.
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said his side was waiting for a response from Republicans on what he called "due process," which translates to Democrats getting some say in committee proceedings regarding subpoenas and questioning of witnesses.
He indicated a final decision was unlikely on Friday, though the House Democratic caucus met to discuss the issue.
Options under consideration include participating as a minority bloc, which Republicans have proposed; having a lone member take part to register disapproval but maintain a presence, or rejecting the entire process as a partisan witch hunt.
"We are trying to find a way to make this work but the Republicans have shown no inclination to make it work," Rep. Steve Israel of New York told reporters outside the meeting. "If this is going to be a true bipartisan inquiry we will participate. If it is engineered to be a Republican campaign strategy, it is much harder for us to participate."
The September 2012 armed assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in eastern Libya killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Republicans have complained since that the Obama administration failed to properly secure the compound, neglected to send military assets to try to save the besieged Americans and then tried to cover up exactly what happened.
The administration and Democrats counter that multiple investigations have found security deficiencies, but not the kind of wrongdoing alleged by Republicans.
For Republicans, the issue presents an opportunity to attack then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 if she decides to run.
Clinton is polling well so far against all likely GOP challengers, and the emotional Benghazi issue offers Republicans a chance to exploit one of her few potential vulnerabilities.
A nearly party line vote of 232-186 on Thursday established the panel despite investigations by multiple House committees that have reviewed documents, interviewed witnesses and held numerous hearings.
GOP plans call for seven Republicans and five Democrats on the committee, which would have subpoena powers. Boehner already appointed South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor, to lead the effort.
Seven Democrats backed the formation of the committee. Most face tough reelection bids in "red" districts.
Democrats argued that creation of a special panel was a political ploy to keep the controversy in play during a midterm election year.
"If there is not equal representation of Democrats and Republicans, and that this is not a fair process, then not participating in a sham select committee after 13 investigations, 50 briefings, 25,000 pages of documents, for what is essentially a political ploy is something that should be considered," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairman, told CNN on Friday.
"It is also perfectly legitimate for us to participate and make sure that we can get our questions answered and help make sure that, to the best of our abilities, even though this process is clearly not going to be fair and the republicans have decided exactly where they are on it, that we make sure that we can at least try to balance the outcome," she said.
Republicans led by House Speaker John Boehner have kept up the pressure on Benghazi, with Boehner saying Thursday that new questions about the Obama administration's handling of the matter now required the House "to respond as one institution" to arrive at the truth.
Boehner said the committee would have robust authority and its investigation "will not be a partisan process."
New information released last week
In moving ahead with the committee, Boehner said that "a line was crossed in two places."
First, he said documents unearthed by a conservative watchdog that surfaced last week raised questions about the administration's explanation of events after the attack. He also said the administration defied a congressional subpoena to turn over information.
There has been intense controversy over early statements linking the attack to a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim film produced in the United States that had sparked demonstrations elsewhere at the time. But it was soon revealed that Benghazi was a coordinated terror attack
Republicans allege the administration politicized its response in a presidential election year.
The White House has said the new information cited by Boehner was broad-based and not specifically related to Benghazi.
House Republicans are unlikely
to bend to Democratic demands on the details of the committee, a GOP source familiar with the matter told CNN.
But when pressed about whether Republicans would make changes to give Democrats more power in the investigation, Boehner would only say that "there are further conversations continuing on that issue." Those talks were said to be intense.
One aide told CNN that Democrats recognized they were unlikely to get changes they outlined in a letter to Boehner. But the aide said that "the calculus on this is being weighed -- do we participate in a Darrell Issa-like committee or worse, or is it worth having someone in the room for it?"
Issa is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which has taken a leading role in the GOP-led investigation of Benghazi. His effort has been sharply criticized by Democrats.
Fundraising off Benghazi
Separately, the controversy grew more intense this week over revelations that Republicans were using it for political fundraising. Democrats contend that just underscores their belief that the select committee was politically driven.
Boehner avoided answering the fundraising question on Thursday, refusing to endorse or dismiss it.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, said she was appalled Republicans would "use these deaths for political gain and political money."
But Arkansas GOP Rep Tom Cotton, an Army veteran, called the criticism hypocritical.
"When I was leading troops in Iraq in 2006, men and women were being shot at, blown up by al Qaeda. Where was the outrage as they fundraised endlessly off the Iraq war?" he said.