By Mike Lillis - 05/15/14 03:04 PM EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry has been subpoenaed for the second time this month by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) over the Benghazi, Libya, attack.
Issa issued a new subpoena on Thursday after he and the State Department failed to reach a deal on documents related to the attack that have been demanded by Republicans on Issa’s committee.
On Friday, Issa accused the State Department of “slippery tactics” and said he’d been unable to reach a deal with the department.
“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 back tracked — stating publicly that we should accept ‘a more appropriate witness’ and refusing to commit to making Secretary Kerry available,” Issa said in a statement.
“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,” the statement continued. “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.”
The State Department on Thursday denounced Issa's methods, characterizing a tweet that accompanied the subpoena as "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."
House Republicans have launched a special probe into Benghazi; Issa is not a member of that panel. House Democrats say Issa’s subpoena conflicts with the goal of GOP leaders to merge the multiple Benghazi probes under standing committees into one panel
“Chairman Issa’s subpoena of Secretary Kerry calls into question the Republicans’ stated purpose of the Select Committee on Benghazi,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a quickly sent statement.
Pelosi and the Democrats have said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) created the select committee largely to take the reins away from Issa, whose monthslong probe into the tragedy has come under scrutiny, even by some top Republicans.
“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,” Pelosi said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, delivered a similar condemnation.
“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.
Issa's Oversight Committee, along with several other House panels, has been investing the Benghazi attack for more than a year. But Boehner this month said the time had come to consolidate the separate probes into one investigation.
“It was time for us to bring this together into one place and to focus our efforts,” Boehner said on May 7.
Still, Boehner's office said Thursday that the Speaker supports Issa's subpoena effort.
On Thursday, House Republicans voted to create the select committee, with just seven Democrats crossing the aisle in support. Afterward, Boehner named the seven Republicans who will sit on the panel, which will be headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).
Issa last week defended Boehner's move, suggesting it was necessary to focus the probe on the White House's actions in the wake of the tragedy.
“Five committees brought together information from throughout various parts of government, but now the investigation primarily, I believe, will move to the cover-up, which included direct White House involvement,” Issa said.
His latest subpoena is clear evidence, however, that he thinks there's more to be learned under his committee's jurisdiction.
Pelosi and the Democrats, meanwhile, have not decided whether they will participate on the select committee at all. Many in the caucus want to boycott the probe, arguing that it's simply a political ploy to embarrass President Obama ahead of November's elections.
Pelosi on Thursday suggested Issa's latest subpoena only reinforces that suspicion.
“Rather than focus on the priorities of the American people — creating jobs, strengthening the middle class, and passing immigration reform — House Republicans continue to try to exploit the tragic events in Benghazi with one grossly partisan investigation after another," she said.