By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats on Tuesday accused a Republican lawmaker of hiding witnesses from members of a special panel investigating the deadly 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
The panel chairman, Representative Trey Gowdy, countered that Democrats were looking for excuses to leave the committee, which many Democrats say is aimed at undermining the possible presidential bid of Hillary Clinton, who was U.S. Secretary of State at the time of the attacks.
Gowdy also announced that he would subpoena documents from the Obama administration about the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Republicans accused Clinton of failing to put in place security measures to protect U.S. personnel in Libya.
Obama administration officials said during a hearing that they had already handed over 40,000 pages of documents to the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the panel, said he could no longer be silent about the committee's "partisan path."
"We have a situation where witnesses have been hidden from us," Cummings told reporters after a hearing Tuesday. Cummings said Democrats had learned that Gowdy and his staff interviewed five people without telling Democrats, then "buried" extracted information that did not fit Republican allegations.
Gowdy responded that he had the right to interview witnesses separately, arguing in a letter to Cummings that people who work for the Obama administration might not be so frank if Democrats were present.
"Look, they (Democrats) are looking for a reason to leave," Gowdy told reporters. He said the panel would interview Clinton at some point, but he first wanted to be sure he had all the relevant documents.
The State Department has already handed over the equivalent of "forty copies of Dr. Zhivago," Gowdy said. He will now subpoena more documents because officials were unwilling to assure him that they had sent him everything relevant.
There have been numerous other congressional investigations of the Benghazi attacks, including a House Intelligence Committee report that found last year that the CIA and the U.S. military acted properly in their responses.
(Editing by Grant McCool)