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​State Dept lashes out over second Kerry subpoena to testify on Benghazi

Published time: May 16, 2014 08:22
US Secretary of State John Kerry.(AFP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin)

US Secretary of State John Kerry.(AFP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin)

The chair of House Oversight Committee has subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry for the second time this month over the 2012 Benghazi consulate attack, prompting an angry rebuke from the US State Department and Democrat representatives.

Darrell Issa issued the second subpoena on Thursday for Kerry to appear on May 29 before his committee and testify on the Benghazi attack, in which four members of the US diplomatic mission, including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, were killed. It came days after he revoked the first subpoena for May 21, which the State Department said was in conflict with the secretary’s schedule.

“I lifted the subpoena requiring Secretary Kerry to testify on May 21 because the State Department made reasonable arguments for an accommodation and told our committee they were seeking a suitable alternative date for his testimony on a voluntary basis. But soon after I lifted the subpoena, the State Department backtracked – stating publicly that we should accept ‘a more appropriate witness’ and refusing to commit to making Secretary Kerry available,” Issa said in a statement.

The State Department replied angrily to Issa’s move, branding his tweet announcing the second subpoena "a headline-grabbing, highly political" attack on "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," spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement.

"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."

The Oversight Committee is one of five bodies in the House currently probing the Benghazi attack. Republican representatives voted Thursday on forming a Select Committee with an intention to merge the multiple probes into a single panel. Issa, a Republican, is not part of the select committee, and Democrats believe his second subpoena works against the Republican effort.

“Chairman Issa’s subpoena of Secretary Kerry calls into question the Republicans’ stated purpose of the Select Committee on Benghazi,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

She said “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.”

A similar assessment came from Elijah Cummings, senior Democrat on the House 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 said in a statement.

But Boehner's office said the speaker supports Issa’s subpoena, while Issa last week defended the Select Committee idea, saying it would help focus the investigation on the White House actions in the wake of the attack.

Republicans believe that President Barack Obama administration hushed up details of the Benghazi tragedy to protect his re-election campaign. Democrats accuse the Republicans of spinning the investigation to score political points ahead of the November mid-term elections.