Kerry to testify on Benghazi

Secretary of State John Kerry will testify before the House Oversight Committee about the terror attack in Benghazi following a subpoena from Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

Issa’s office said the chairman had accepted Kerry’s offer to testify on June 12, instead of the requested date of May 29, because of conflicts with the secretary’s diplomatic schedule.

“Today, the State Department informed the Oversight Committee that Secretary of State Kerry will testify in person but asked for a postponement,” said Issa spokesman Frederick Hill. 

“As the State Department has moved away from pushing the Committee to accept an alternative witness, Chairman Issa accepted the Secretary’s offer to testify on June 12,” he added. “The Committee looks forward to his appearance.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Kerry had sent a letter to Issa informing him that he would appear before the panel. The letter also indicated that the State Department believes that, if Kerry appears before the Oversight panel, he would not need to testify before a recently created select House committee also investigating the Benghazi attacks.

"We have been clear that we're willing to work with the committee, despite the fact that the Benghazi oversight has been consolidated under the select committee," Harf said Friday.

"We believe the secretary's appearance before HOGR [House Oversight and Government Reform] will eliminate any need for the secretary to appear a second time before the select committee," she added.

Issa had demanded that Kerry appear before the Oversight panel to discuss recently released emails highlighting the role the White House had a in preparing then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to appear in TV interviews in the days after the attack.

In one of the emails, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes recommended Rice should “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”

Republicans have seized on the note as evidence the White House was responsible for pushing the narrative that the violence grew from anger over an anti-Islam YouTube video, in order to protect the president's bid for reelection.

The administration has subsequently acknowledged the violence in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, was a preplanned attack.

The administration has maintained that Rhodes was merely prepping Rice to discuss protests across the Middle East and not the Benghazi incident specifically. 

Kerry's decision to appear only before Issa, but not the select committee, also leaves open the question of whether the Obama administration will cooperate with the select probe, empanelled by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this month after the release of the Rhodes email.

Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration believes "it is appropriate to have legitimate congressional oversight."

But, Carney said, "it is certainly legitimate to suspect, at least, that this new pursuit, this new investigation by House Republicans into this matter might not be divorced from politics."

"You might reach that conclusion when you hear, as you all have reported, that the NRCC [National Republican Campaign Committee] is telling its candidates to campaign on this issue and is raising funds off of it," he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday named five members of her caucus to the panel, which includes seven Republicans led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

Kerry's decision also suggests that Issa will continue to play a prominent role in the Benghazi debate, despite Boehner's move to tap Gowdy, a fellow member of the Oversight Committee, to lead the new review.

Earlier this week, Issa released a portion of a State Department email indicating the White House contacted YouTube as violence in Benghazi was ongoing to warn them of a possible link to the video.

Issa said the email was further evidence the White House was playing up the link to the video.

Democrats blasted the leak as an irresponsible ploy to win back attention — while noting that the administration's outreach to YouTube had already been reported, and the leak bolstered the White House's case that it sincerely initially believed a link between the violence and the video.

"In what has become an irresponsible pattern, Chairman Issa unilaterally released a cherry-picked document excerpt — claiming it means one thing when in fact it means the opposite — and he disregarded the fact that his ‘new evidence’ was reported publicly two years ago," said Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

"He did this without consulting Democrats, and it is unclear whether he even consulted Rep. Gowdy, who also sits on the Oversight Committee,” he added. “These actions undermine the credibility of both the Oversight Committee and the new Select Committee, and Speaker Boehner should uphold his promise to end this circus.”

— This story was updated at 2:43 p.m.