By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A House panel investigating the deadly 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, plans to interview at least 20 officials including National Security Adviser Susan Rice, former Pentagon chief Leon Panetta and ex-CIA head David Petraeus, the committee said Friday.
The list of interviewees - a veritable "who's who" of U.S. foreign policy and national security officials - emerged as Democrats complained about the "unlimited" budget of the Select Committee on Benghazi and its open-ended schedule, as it covers similar ground to earlier investigations.
Democrats say the committee's efforts are politically motivated and aimed at undermining the possible presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton. She was Secretary of State when the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Republicans say Clinton's State Department failed to protect diplomatic personnel.
Previous investigations have said that the compound where Stevens died was not well protected, but that the CIA and the U.S. military responded properly.
A letter to Democrats dated Thursday from the panel's Republican chairman, Representative Trey Gowdy, detailed whom it plans to interview after April 1.
Targets include Rice, who rankled many Republicans soon after the attacks with comments that they were related to protests against a U.S.-made video, rather than being premeditated. This was two months before President Barack Obama was to face voters seeking re-election; Rice was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time.
Others on Gowdy's list include Rice's current deputy, Ben Rhodes; White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former White House press secretary Jay Carney.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz, traveling with Obama to Indiana on Friday, would not say whether administration officials would consent to Benghazi committee interviews, saying he had not seen the committee request.
Gowdy wants Clinton to testify to the panel in public, but wants more documents first. By Gowdy's own description, the State Department has already handed over the equivalent of "40 copies of Dr. Zhivago."
Democrats this week asked the House Administration Committee for a hearing on the Benghazi panel's spending, saying it could cost over $3 million in 2015 - about $8,000 per day.
The Administration Committee rejected the request as "remarkably odd," saying Democrats should have spoken out when the House reauthorized the panel in January. It was created last May and spent $1.8 million last year.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Christian Plumb)