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 campaign.
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 said they will continue to participate "in order to make sure the facts are known and the conspiracy theories are debunked."
The five committee Democrats made the announcement after a meeting Friday 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 presidential campaign and said that Thursday's marathon hearing with Clinton only confirmed their views. Clinton, who secretary of state during the attacks, endured a grueling interrogation by GOP lawmakers at the 11-hour hearing.
Earlier Friday, Pelosi said that Democrats "may decide that now, defending the truth, their job is done, they're going to move on." She said the GOP-led panel has distorted the events in Benghazi to the point where there is a "disconnect with reality that exists on that committee."
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said he and other Democrats on the Benghazi panel "learned absolutely nothing" during Thursday's contentious 11-hour hearing or the 17-month investigation that preceded it.
During the Thursday questioning, Clinton had confrontational exchanges with several GOP lawmakers, 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 and causes 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: Why was the U.S. in Libya? Why were security requests denied? Why was the military not ready to respond quickly on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks? And why did the administration change its story about the nature of the attacks in the weeks afterward?
He dismissed as ineffective the work of seven previous investigations, including several led by current and former Republican colleagues. Gowdy said Thursday's session with Clinton was "a constructive interaction." But said he did not know whether the embattled panel gained credibility.
Democrats noted that the probe has now cost taxpayers more than $4.5 million and has lasted longer than the 1970s Watergate era investigation.
"The reality is that after 17 months, we have nothing new to tell the families. We have nothing new to tell the American people," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who has called for the committee to be disbanded.
Cummings, who frequently guided Clinton though friendly questions, said he thought she "did an outstanding job."