WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Oversight committee on Friday released Secretary of State John Kerry from his obligation to testify next month about the deadly Benghazi attack, allowing a newly formed select committee to move forward in questioning the top diplomat.
In a swipe at a member of President Barack Obama's Cabinet, Rep. Darrell Issa accused Kerry of trying to use his June 12 appearance before the oversight panel as an excuse to avoid testifying before the select House committee investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the Libyan outpost.
The State Department had said last week that the secretary would testify before Issa's panel but that the appearance "would remove any need for the secretary to appear before the select committee to answer additional questions."
The California Republican said he had no choice but to reassess.
"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," Issa said in a statement.
Issa had twice subpoenaed Kerry to testify about emails and other documents that the Obama administration has provided Congress about the attack. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed. After weeks of back and forth, Kerry had told the panel he could testify next month, and Issa agreed.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday that officials were "mystified" by Issa's decision as well as his criticism that Kerry has obstructed the probe. It's "hard to see how that's accurate when we were prepared to appear," Psaki said.
Republicans have accused the administration of misleading the American people about the attack, playing down a terror attack in the weeks before the 2012 presidential election, and then stonewalling congressional investigators.
Multiple independent, bipartisan and Republican-led investigations have been conducted in the nearly 20 months since the attack. Investigators have faulted the State Department for lax security at the diplomatic facility.