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House plans special committee to probe Benghazi

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Juba May 2, 2014. REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Juba May 2, 2014. REUTERS/Saul Loeb/Pool

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Speaker of the House of Representatives said on Friday the House will vote to create a special committee - the same type of panel that investigated the Watergate scandal - to probe the deadly September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Ohio Republican John Boehner made his announcement days after a conservative watchdog group released previously undisclosed emails that it said showed the White House was concerned primarily with protecting President Barack Obama's image in the wake of the attack that killed four Americans.

"The administration's withholding of documents - emails showing greater White House involvement in misleading the American people - is a flagrant violation of trust and undermines the basic principle of oversight upon which our system of government is built," Boehner said in a statement.

Also on Friday, the House Oversight Committee said it issued a subpoena for Secretary of State John Kerry to testify at a May 21 public hearing about the attack.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said the panel wanted Kerry to answer questions about the State Department's response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack.

Kerry did not become Secretary of State until 2013, but Issa said the State Department had shown "a disturbing disregard" for its obligations to Congress.

State spokeswoman Marie Harf said the department was surprised by the subpoena and found it unusual that it was issued before an official invitation to Kerry, who is due to be in Mexico on May 21.

"We have our suspicions that this is just another attempt to use this politically," she said at a news briefing.

CLINTON 2016

Benghazi has become a favored political issue for Republicans, who say Obama's administration did too little to help during the attack and then misled the public to protect Obama's image as he ran for re-election in November 2012.

It also is a way to attack Hillary Clinton, a likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, who enjoyed high approval ratings as secretary of state during Obama's first term.

Chris Arterton, a professor of political management at George Washington University, said Benghazi would come up if Clinton runs but voters were more likely to focus on the economy than an attack that took place four years earlier.

"We're a long way up from a very deep and troubling deficit, and if that continues... that will be much more important than something like Benghazi," he said, explaining that an improving economy would benefit Clinton, or any 2016 candidate from the party controlling the White House.

The U.S. unemployment report released earlier on Friday showed that employers hired workers in April at the fastest clip in more than two years.

Select committees include members of both parties and are appointed to perform a specific function or investigate a certain event. In the past, they were created to investigate the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

A senior House leadership aide said one of the members being considered to chair the new panel is South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Thomas Ferraro, editing by Bill Trott, G Crosse and David Gregorio)

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