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Witnesses added for Benghazi hearing

| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:27 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The special House committee investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi will hold its first public hearing in September about changes the State Department has made to better protect diplomats, Rep. Trey Gowdy said on Wednesday.

Gowdy, the committee's Republican chairman, said the panel is gaining access to witnesses who didn't participate in previous congressional investigations into the attacks.

“I know I'm biased, but one of the good parts about running an investigation in a way that appears to be serious-minded is that witnesses who were previously unavailable or not interested in cooperating are now interested in cooperating,” Gowdy said. “The universe of witnesses is expanding.”

House lawmakers formed the committee in May to review the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed four Americans in eastern Libya, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Several previous congressional investigations have looked at security lapses and intelligence failures related to the attacks, along with the military's response and whether President Obama's administration initially downplayed the incident for political reasons.

Gowdy said the panel is not scheduled to meet during the August congressional recess, but committee lawyers and investigators will be working.

On Tuesday, the 12 committee members — seven Republicans and five Democrats — met behind closed doors with family members of the four men killed in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Gowdy said the families were invited by him and the committee's Democratic vice chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

“One of the issues in homicide cases is that the jury knows more about the defendant and virtually nothing about the victim,” said Gowdy, a former prosecutor. “We wanted to give the family members a chance to tell us whatever was on their heart and mind.”

Gowdy said the GOP side of the committee has finished hiring staff. He said the staffers' professional backgrounds made them helpful in identifying new witnesses. The committee is expected to release information about the staffers soon.

“Once you convince people this is serious and fact-centric, and not an exercise in whatever pejorative you want to fill in, they are infinitely more likely to want to participate,” he said.

Democrats are also in the process of hiring committee staff. Although Democrats initially resisted the idea of a new Benghazi investigation — 13 congressional hearings and 50 briefings have been held — they agreed to participate.

House GOP leadership gave the panel a budget of $3.3 million.

Cummings on Tuesday referred questions about the panel's schedule to Gowdy.

The Spartanburg Republican, running for a third term, has said since May that the committee's investigation would be an objective search for facts, not a partisan attempt to smear Democrats ahead of the 2014 mid-term elections and the 2016 presidential race.

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