House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa announced Friday that he has subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before Congress to discuss the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack on Benghazi.
Issa’s subpoena orders Kerry to appear before the House Oversight Committee on May 21.
“The State Department’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack has shown a disturbing disregard for the Department’s legal obligations to Congress,” Issa wrote in a letter to Kerry accompanying the subpoena. “Compliance with a subpoena for documents is not a game. Because your Department is failing to meet its legal obligations, I am issuing a new subpoena to compel you to appear before the Committee to answer questions about your agency’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack.”
The subpoena comes a day after the House Committee’s latest hearing focused on the Benghazi attack, during which Issa blasted the administration over newly released documents detailing how White House adviser Ben Rhodes urged then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice to discuss the attack during subsequent appearances on Sunday morning talk shows. Issa accused the White House of violating “any reasonable transparency or historic precedent at least since Richard Milhous Nixon.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, quickly issued a statement rebuking Issa’s subpoena.
“These actions are not a responsible approach to congressional oversight, they continue a trend of generating unnecessary conflict for the sake of publicity, and they are shockingly disrespectful to the Secretary of State,” Cummings said.
Cummings’ office called the subpoena an “unprecedented step” and rebuked Issa for “accusing [Kerry] of a crime.” His office also called out Issa’s primary witness from Thursday’s hearing, Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, who testified that the State Department failed to ask military forces to intervene during the attack. Republican Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon called Lovell an unreliable witness during his testimony in a rare intra-party rebuke.
A spokesperson for the State Department responded to Issa’s subpoena during a briefing Friday, revealing that Kerry will be in Mexico on the date he has been subpoenaed to appear before the Oversight Committee. Spokesperson Marie Harf also forcefully disagreed with the assertion that the department has not complied with the investigation so far. ”We’ve produced tens of thousands of documents. We’ve done nine hearings, 46 briefings,” Harf said.
Harf reiterated the department’s willingness to work with Congress on the matter, but argued that the goal of the GOP’s investigation had turned political. “We’re committed to continuing to work with Congress, but what we’re focused on and what we think Congress should be focused on is how to do this better in the future and how to bring those responsible for justice, not playing politics with Benghazi, as they continue to try to do,” she said.
“So the notion that there’s something out there, that if Darrell Issa just keeps digging, he can use politically, is just not borne out by the statistical facts of what we’ve done to look into what happened in Benghazi,” she continued.
“I am confident that what the Republican allege, that there was some attempt by this administration to cover up or spin what happened, is 100% false,” she said.
The news comes at the House Republicans announced they will form a special select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack that took four American lives. The committee will be led by South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, according to NBC News.
Gowdy has been a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack before, blasting Rice over her comments in the immediate wake of the attack.
“So she was fabulously wrong when she said it the first time,” he said during a February appearance on Fox News, “and stunningly arrogant in her refusal to express any regret for lying to our fellow citizens.”
House Speaker John Boehner released a statement announcing the committee Friday.
“The administration’s withholding of documents - emails showing greater White House involvement in misleading the American people - is a flagrant violation of trust and undermines the basic principles of oversight upon which our system of government is built,” he said in the statement. “And it forces us to ask the question, what else about Benghazi is the Obama administration still hiding from the American people?”
“This dismissiveness and evasion requires us to elevate the investigation to a new level,” he continued in his statement. “I intend for this select committee to have robust authority, and I will expect it to work quickly to get answers for the American people and the families of the victims.”
Senate Republicans Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, and John McCain responded to the news of the new committee, calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to team up with Speaker Boehner to jointly investigate the matter in the Senate as well as the House.
“We have called for a select committee since November 2012 and we are pleased that one will finally be established,” the three said in a joint statement released Friday. “The committees in both the Senate and the House that have held hearings have made an important contribution, but in light of the many remaining unanswered questions and the recent evidence that the administration has withheld critical information, it is clear that we need a Select Committee that can bring sustained focus across jurisdictions.”
“We owe it to the families that lost their loved ones in the Benghazi attack to finally get to the truth,” they added.