WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on the House Benghazi committee said Friday they are staying — for now — on the Republican-led panel, despite calling it a "fishing expedition to derail" Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid.
At the same time, they called on House Speaker John Boehner to immediately shut down what they called an "abusive, wasteful and obviously partisan effort."
If Boehner rejects the request, Democrats will continue to participate "in order to make sure the facts are known and the conspiracy theories are debunked," Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and four other Democrats said in a statement. Cummings is the panel's senior Democrat.
The five committee Democrats made the announcement after a meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who had said earlier Friday that Democrats could halt their participation in the committee.
Democrats have been pondering whether to remain on the panel, which has spent more than $4.5 million investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
Democrats have labeled the probe a partisan effort to undermine Clinton's White House bid and said Thursday's marathon hearing with Clinton only confirmed their views. Clinton, who was secretary of state during the attacks, endured a grueling interrogation by GOP lawmakers at the 11-hour hearing.
Pelosi said Republicans have distorted events in Benghazi to the point where there is a "disconnect with reality that exists on that committee."
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said it was "time to pull the plug on this partisan spectacle." The Benghazi panel "is not just a waste of taxpayer money, it is a waste of precious time in Congress to deal with urgent matters," McCaskill said Friday in a conference call in which she and other Democratic senators urged that the panel be shut down.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the committee a "political sham" that dishonors the victims.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he and other Democrats on the Benghazi panel "learned absolutely nothing" during Thursday's contentious hearing or the 17-month investigation that preceded it.
Clinton had confrontational exchanges with several GOP lawmakers on Thursday, but also heard supportive statements from Democrats. She defended her record while dodging any displays of anger that could be used later by the GOP to damage her White House prospects.
The most combative moments came when Republicans zeroed in on the Obama administration's shifting initial accounts of the September 2012 attack that cost the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Clinton said the chaotic events in Benghazi cause her anguish to this day.
"I would imagine I've thought more about what happened than all of you put together," she told the committee. "I've lost more sleep than all of you put together."
The panel's chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, said the committee was focused on facts, not politics. He sought to deflect recent comments by fellow Republicans describing the investigation as an effort to lower Clinton's poll standings.
Gowdy said important questions remain unanswered, including whether security requests were denied and why the military was not ready to respond quickly on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
He dismissed as ineffective the work of seven previous investigations, including several led by current and former Republican colleagues. Gowdy called Thursday's session with Clinton "a constructive interaction," but said he did not know whether the embattled panel gained credibility.
Cummings, who frequently guided Clinton through friendly questions, said he thought she "did an outstanding job," while Schumer said the hearing "completely boomeranged on the Republicans."
GOP lawmakers "badgered Hillary Clinton at every turn. They interrupted her and threw the kitchen sink at her," Schumer said. Despite the attacks, "Hillary was rock solid. The Republicans failed to lay one glove on her," he said.
Jamal Ware, a spokesman for the committee, said two closed-door interviews are scheduled in the next few weeks with individuals he refused to name. Other interviews are also likely, Ware said.
Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper and Deb Riechmann contributed to this story.
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