Benghazi: Politics aside, what questions remain?

By: CBS
By: CBS

Washington, DC (CBS) - House Republicans have begun the process of assembling a select committee to continue investigating the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which they say is necessary after new emails surfaced last week about the way the White House attempted to frame the attack.

Democrats say the panel will be little more than a partisan witch hunt that is unnecessary given the seven different investigations into the attack that have already taken place. Republicans, on the other hand, say the White House has continued to mislead the public and the truth has still not been found.

During an investigation that has involved 13 congressional hearings, 50 member and staff briefings and more than 25,000 pages of documents, what could be left to learn?

"They're really going to start honing down on what was happening inside the White House that night because that's the one sort of area of the narrative...that really hasn't been as closely examined," said CBS News National Security Analyst Juan Zarate. Questions like where the president was the night of the attack, what he has been told, what decisions he made and what orders he gave have not been fully answered, Zarate said.

"The autopsy to date has largely been around what happened at the State Department, what happened at [the Defense Department], what happened with the military, what happened outside the confines of the West Wing. And I think what you're going to see from the select committee is an attempt to get inside to the West Wing, especially with the revelation of the emails trying to coordinate the communication post facto coming out of the White House," Zarate added.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., was appointed to lead the investigative committee due to his involvement in the other congressional investigations and his experience as a federal prosecutor. He insists that the investigation into Benghazi "transcends politics."

The special investigative committee, Gowdy said, will be looking for "every single solitary relevant material document" related to the attacks, and wants to re-evaluate interviews conducted as part of other investigations rather than rely on summaries or synopses.

"I'm interested in access to the documents and the witness and I'm not interested in whether the appropriate questions were asked in the past," he said Monday evening after his chairmanship was announced.

Still, the panel will be tinged by politics as Benghazi has become a highly polarizing issue. Much of the previous investigation has focused on whether the administration attempted to cover up the true source of the attacks rather than the security failures that led them to occur in the first place.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was dismissive of Republican efforts when he spoke to reporters Monday, saying the investigation seemed to be motivated by, "dissatisfaction, I guess, over the failure to prove anything."

He said the White House cooperates with all "legitimate oversight," but suggested that some Republican statements about the investigation, "casts doubt on the legitimacy."

"At some point you just have to assume that Republicans will continue this because it feeds a political objective of some sort," Carney said.

Although Democrats have suggested they will not support the formation of the panel, they are expected to participate. A senior leadership aide told CBS News there would be seven Republicans and five Democrats on the panel, which Gowdy said will be given extensive resources by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Zarate said an important question which may not be addressed by the panel is how the administration perceived the threats in Libya as well as other regional groups like al Qaeda.

It should also prompt the State Department and people on Capitol Hill to think about how it carries out diplomatic missions going forward, especially in dangerous places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"This isn't the diplomacy of the 19th century Vienna and London and Paris. We've got to think differently," Zarate said. "We have to have an honest debate about where is the threat moving forward. The old world framing of the al Qaeda core and the way we thought about al Qaeda in 2001 just doesn't work in 2014."

CBS News' Walt Cronkite contributed to this story.

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