By Molly K. Hooper - 05/28/13 05:23 PM EDT
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Tuesday subpoenaed State Department documents related to the Obama administration’s talking points that were used after the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
In a letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry that was first obtained by The Hill., Issa claimed that the department’s official release of 100 emails to the committee earlier this month was “incomplete” while noting that the press had copies of the documents five days prior.
Issa wrote that the subpoena “covers documents and the communications related to talking points prepared for members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and used by Ambassador Susan Rice during her September 16th, 2012, appearances on CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and CNN.”
Issa said that the documents released earlier this month do not answer “critical” questions posed by his panel as it investigates what happened during the attack that killed former U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stephens and three other Americans.
Nearly a week after the Sept. 11, 2012, assault, Rice took to the airwaves to blame the attack on a protest over an anti-Islam video.
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Issa wants details of emails between key State Department officials, including then-Secretary of State chief of staff Cheryl Mills, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Deputy Assistant Secretary Philippe Reines and then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, among others.
The subpoena compels the State Department to produce the documents by June 7.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell shot back late Tuesday at the Issa subpoena, highlighting the department’s cooperation with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“We have demonstrated an unprecedented degree of cooperation with the Congress on the issue of Benghazi, engaging in over 30 hearings and briefings for members and staff, and sharing over 25,000 pages of documents with committees,” Ventrell stated. “The State Department remains committed to working cooperatively with the Congress and we will take stock of any new or outstanding requests for information, and determine the appropriate next steps.”
The Oversight chairman wrote that he wants answers to “outstanding questions about who at the State Department, other than spokesperson Victoria Nuland, expressed reservations about certain aspects of the talking points, including language that made clear the State Department had received prior warnings of threats in the region and was aware of previous attacks on foreign interests in eastern Libya, and that extremists linked to al Qa’ida may have participated in the attacks.”
A key GOP lawmaker who has helped lead the charge of investigating the Benghazi attacks, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), told The Hill that the Oversight Committee’s investigation will heat up in the weeks ahead.
The National Security Oversight subcommittee chairman pointed to Issa’s recent request to Kerry to make available to the committee 13 State Department officials with knowledge of the administration’s decision-making regarding security at the Libyan Embassy and consulate.
Chaffetz said the Oversight committee is working with an undisclosed number of possible whistle-blowers, who could come forward in the near future.
The panel is also set to hold a closed-door interview early next week with the head of the official State Department review of the Benghazi attack, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering.
That meeting was rescheduled after Pickering agreed to appear voluntarily, instead of under subpoena.
Chaffetz would not confirm the date, but said he had questions for Pickering about the independent Accountability Review Board (ARB) investigation that failed to transcribe interviews with witnesses or interview key individuals at the State Department, most notably Clinton.
“I want to understand the scope of what they did and didn’t do. Ultimately, I’d like to see the same documents they saw and talk to the same people they spoke with,” Chaffetz said.
He added, “I just don’t understand how you think you can have done a thorough job and not talk to the senior decision makers during the attack.”
Pickering has defended his decision not to interview Clinton, telling CBS’s Bob Schieffer, “The decisions were made and reviewed at the level that we fixed responsibility for failures of performance.”
Last week, Issa indicated that members of the House Oversight Committee are getting closer to asking Clinton to testify on the attacks. Issa told The Hill that there are “a number of steps” that the panel “will take first” before calling the former secretary of State to the hearing room, but he left the door open to compelling her appearance.
“We have a number of steps that we are taking to get full and complete discovery,” Issa said.
Chaffetz reiterated on Tuesday that it was a “definite possibility” that Clinton could be asked to appear at the Oversight Committee during the course of the investigation.
The State Department’s Ventrell added, “Secretary Kerry and the president are focused first and foremost on implementing the ARB’s recommendations … All of us — in the administration, in the Congress, in the media — we should all be focused on the issue of protecting the American diplomats and development experts who are working every day to advance America’s national interest and global leadership.”
--This report was updated at 8:17 p.m.