This story has been updated.
In the latest twist in congressional overseers’ campaign to investigate the 2012 Benghazi tragedy, a key House chairman on Thursday issued a new subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry, the fourth in a series and one that would require his appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on May 29.
The State Department objected to a previous subpoena specifying a date of May 21, saying the secretary was scheduled to be in Mexico that day. State Spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday added that State was working with Issa to “explore whether there are better means of addressing the committee’s interests, including through a more appropriate witness.”
Issa rejected that response, saying he only lifted the earlier subpoena because State “made reasonable arguments for an accommodation” to find a new date for voluntary testimony. “But soon after I lifted the subpoena, the State Department back tracked” and refused to make Kerry available.
“With this State Department’s slippery tactics, it’s no wonder our friends in the world are losing faith in us and our adversaries doubt our credibility,” Issa said in a statement. “The State Department had discussed May 29 as a possible alternative date and that’s when Secretary Kerry will be obligated to appear – further accommodation will not be possible. Absent an assertion of executive privilege, the State Department has a legal obligation to fully and completely comply.”
Late Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in an email to Government Executive, “This is now the second time in 14 days that the Secretary of State has been subpoenaed while traveling overseas representing the United States on urgent national security issues. This time the subpoena was accompanied by a headline-grabbing, highly political tweet attacking the integrity of the State Department itself. This is not the way legitimate and responsible oversight is conducted, and it’s a departure from the days when Rep. Issa himself once lamented that a Secretary of State should not be distracted from the work of national security to testify at the barrel of a subpoena. As we have said, and we reiterate today, we will continue to work with the Committee to resolve their request, but we have not made arrangements for a hearing date, and we hope to explore with them whether there are witnesses better suited to answer their questions and meet their needs for oversight.”
Issa’s confrontation with Kerry comes days after the House voted to set up a special committee to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya in which four Americans, including an ambassador, perished. That probe will be led by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and as of Thursday, Democratic leaders had not decided whether to name their own members to join the seven Republicans on the committee that some critics view as partisan.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member on the Oversight panel, said in a statement, “I do not understand what the House Republicans are doing on Benghazi, and apparently they don’t either. Just one week after Speaker [John] Boehner [R-Ohio] said he wanted a single select committee conducting this investigation, Chairman Issa issued a new subpoena today for Secretary Kerry to testify before the Oversight Committee. I don’t know if this is Chairman Issa’s attempt to reinsert himself into this investigation after the speaker removed him, but this looks more and more like the ‘sideshow’ and ‘circus’ Speaker Boehner said he would not tolerate."
Cummings also faulted the Republicans for using the Benghazi issue as a fund-raising tool for this fall’s mid-term elections.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi added, “Chairman Issa’s subpoena of Secretary Kerry calls into question the Republicans’ stated purpose of the Select Committee on Benghazi. The Select Committee is a sign of no confidence in Issa just as Issa’s action today is a sign of a lack of confidence in the Select Committee.”