Issa backs off on Benghazi

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Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is no longer calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before his panel on Benghazi.

Issa announced Friday that he was releasing Kerry from a commitment to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in mid-June.

He also said he was reassessing how his panel would proceed on investigating the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

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Issa cast the decision to release Kerry from his commitment as a way to ensure that Kerry and others cooperate with the new House Select Committee on Benghazi. He charged that Kerry and others were using the Oversight hearing as an argument against testifying before the Select Committee.

“Seeing Secretary Kerry and others, who have worked to obstruct critical oversight of Congress’ investigations into Benghazi, attempt to use the upcoming June 12 hearing as a shield against the Select Committee tells me it’s time to reassess,” Issa said in a statement. 

“It’s been disappointing to watch a long serving former Senator, like Secretary Kerry, squirm his way to what I’m doing today – releasing him from the upcoming hearing commitment he made only after we issued him a subpoena.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday they were confused by Issa’s decision.

 “We were mystified by the decision to cancel the briefing and also mystified by the language in the press release that was just issued,” she told reporters of Issa's reference that Kerry squirmed his way out of testifying. Psaki said it’s “hard to see how that’s accurate when we were prepared to testify.”

Asked if Kerry is prepared to appear before the Select Committee instead, Psaki said “This just happened. We remain committed to being cooperative with this process. We haven’t received a specific request.”

Just a week ago, the State Department said Kerry was prepared to testify about Benghazi on June 12 and said that would exempt him from participating in the select committee’s activities.

Issa is not a member of the new select committee, and it had been unclear how oversight of Benghazi would mix with the work of the new committee. 

Just two weeks ago, Issa had subpoenaed Kerry for a second time to testify before his panel.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), chief deputy whip and a member of the Benghazi committee, called Issa’s Kerry subpoena “a procedural snafu" in comments on Bloomberg News’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” according to excerpts released on Friday.

Issa said he hopes the Benghazi panel will have better access to information about the attack compared to its investigative predecessors. 

Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Friday insisted Republicans were not politicizing Benghazi. Boehner spoke in response to charges in Hillary Clinton's new book.

“This is about one issue and one issue only, and that is getting the truth for the American people, and the truth about what happened in Benghazi for the four families who lost their loved ones there," Boehner said. "That’s why we’ve created a select committee. It’s about getting to the truth.

"You have to remember, we’ve been asking for documents now for 18 months. Why does the administration refuse to turn over the documents? Why do they refuse to tell the American people the truth about what happened?"

Democrats have charged that Republicans have found nothing after repeated attempts to investigate Benghazi by Issa and others. They argue the new committee is about hurting a prospective White House bid by Clinton, who was secretary of State at the time of the Benghazi attack. 

— Russell Berman contributed. 

This story was updated at 2:39 p.m.