WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A probe of the 2012 Benghazi attacks may have violated congressional ethics rules, House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday after a top Republican indicated it aimed to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy.
Angry Democrats called for the Benghazi panel to be disbanded following the remarks Tuesday evening by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is campaigning to be the next Speaker of the House.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy told Fox News. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping."
Democrats said McCarthy's comments revealed the truth about the committee and countered longstanding Republican claims that the panel was set up to find out what happened in the attacks on American facilities in Benghazi, Libya that left four people dead.
Pelosi told reporters Thursday that political efforts by the Benghazi committee, set up last year, could violate ethics laws that ban using taxpayers' dollars for political purposes.
"The question is, is this an ethics violation of the rules of the House," she said at a weekly press conference. "I think he (McCarthy) clearly, gleefully claimed that this had a political purpose and had a political success.”
But retiring House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, said the committee would continue its work, which he said its members were carrying on "diligently and professionally."
"This investigation has never been about former Secretary of State Clinton and never will be," Boehner said in a statement. "The fact remains that Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration have done everything they can to delay, derail, and stop this investigation."
McCarthy's words were widely considered a major gaffe, among some of the first public remarks he made after jumping in the race to replace Boehner as speaker. McCarthy is the leading candidate for the post, with his only declared opposition a little-known Republican lawmaker from Florida, Representative Daniel Webster.
Boehner last Friday announced he was leaving effective Oct. 30 after struggling with repeated rebellions by conservatives during a tumultuous five-year reign as the chamber's top Republican.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; Editing by Christian Plumb)