Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) says the GOP-controlled House Select Committee on Benghazi is trying to undermine the Iran nuclear deal by scheduling a hearing at the same time Secretary of State Kerry is supposed to testify to the House. Kerry is scheduled to appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee next Tuesday morning to discuss the merits of the nuclear agreement. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who was involved in the negotiations, will also testify, as will Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. But the Benghazi panel wants Kerry's chief of staff, another major player in the talks, to testify before their panel on the same day.
The ostensible point of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, on track to oversee the longest investigation in congressional history, is to examine the 2012 attack in Libya that left four Americans dead. We've already had seven other committees do this, but House Republicans demanded an eighth.
Nearly three years after the deadly terrorism, however, the GOP-led panel is drifting, taking a keen interest in all kinds of other issues far from its mandate. The Associated Press reported last week that the GOP-led panel "has devolved from an investigation into the deaths of four Americans in Libya into a political fight over Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails and private computer server – a battle that is likely to stretch into the 2016 presidential election year."
And this week, the committee's focus has shifted once more, taking steps that Democrats believe are intended to undermine the debate over the international nuclear agreement with Iran [Update: see below].
"Next week -- on the same day Secretary Kerry will be testifying about the historic deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon -- Republicans are demanding that his chief of staff, who spent months working on these negotiations, drop everything and testify before the Benghazi Select Committee on the pace of document production," Cummings wrote this week. "This is either embarrassingly poor planning or a flimsy attempt by Republicans to scuttle the Iran deal. Either way, this is a preposterous abuse of authority."
The Maryland Democrat argued that Kerry's chief of staff, Jon Finer, has actual work to do and needs to be available to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The State Department made clear to Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), in writing, that it "will not be possible" for Finer to speak to the Benghazi panel on the same day.
Though reports indicated that the two meetings would coincide, I spoke this morning with a House GOP staffer who said the hearing is now scheduled for Wednesday, adding that the Democratic accusations were mistaken from the start.
So, which is it? Were Dems wrong? I think I can explain what happened.
Earlier this week, the State Department told Gowdy that Kerry's chief of staff would not be available for testimony on July 28. On Tuesday, Gowdy nevertheless told the State Department, "We have scheduled his appearance for July 28, 2015 at 10:00am."
Democrats promptly threw a fit, drawing the connection between the Benghazi committee hearing and the other hearing on the Iran deal. A day later, Republicans said Finer would actually be expected to testify a day later, on July 29.The tricky part is, GOP officials insist Democrats were wrong from the start -- Gowdy scheduled Finer's testimony for Tuesday, but he didn't issue a formal notice, so there wasn't a technical change in the calendar.National Journal, meanwhile, reports that the Benghazi committee is willing to delay the hearing if the State Department satisfies the committee with additional document production.
Update: Note, the above text has been edited to reflect additional details that became available after publishing.