House panel subpoenas State Department over Benghazi

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 2:00am

A congressional committee on Tuesday subpoenaed current and former top State Department officials related to the development of "talking points" by the Obama administration to publicly explain the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, last year.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sought documents and communications from 10 people, including the agency's No. 2 official, the top aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the department's former spokeswoman, the panel's chairman, Darrell Issa, said in a statement.

The State Department has refused multiple requests to provide the communications and documents voluntarily, according to the committee, which has been investigating the administration's handling of the attack last September 11.

The probe has centered partly on the evolution of unclassified CIA talking points requested by a member of Congress in the days following the attack for use in media interviews.

A senior administration official, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, wound up relying on them when discussing the attack on television news programs.

"The State Department has not lived up to the administration's broad and unambiguous promises of cooperation with Congress. Therefore, I am left with no alternative but to compel the State Department to produce relevant documents through a subpoena," Issa, a California Republican, said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

But the State Department said it has responded in great detail to congressional inquiries about Benghazi, providing documents and other information since the attack by armed militants on the diplomatic outpost that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

"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," said Patrick Ventrell, a department spokesman.

The talking points have become a political flashpoint in a long-running battle between the administration and Republicans, who accuse it of not bolstering security before the attack, of botching the response to it and of misleading the public for political gain less than two months before the November election.

The GOP suggests that the administration removed specific terror references and stuck to an explanation -- later proved untrue -- that the attack was result of a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim film that was produced in the United States.

The White House and its allies in Congress have made the case that any confusion and conflicting information in the early hours and days after the assault stemmed from the "fog of war," not any deliberate effort to mislead the public.

Obama has called Republican concentration on the talking points a political "side show."

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, suggested Republicans continue to aggressively pursue the Benghazi investigation partly to tarnish Clinton, who is viewed as a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.

"This investigation has been politicized from the beginning as House Republicans accuse first and then scramble to find evidence to back up their unsubstantiated claims," Cummings said.

The White House earlier this month released 100 pages of e-mails around the development of the Benghazi talking points in an effort to defuse the controversy by showing that officials working on them were focused on events, not politics.

The e-mails indicate the CIA was likely the lead organization in developing the talking points with the State Department suggesting significant changes.

But Issa said the e-mails released by the White House failed to answer the committee's "outstanding questions."

He specifically cited reservations expressed by then State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland about key points in the early draft of the document.

The draft was revised.

Nuland, Deputy Secretary William Burns, Elizabeth Dibble, principle deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs; Beth Jones, acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs; Patrick Kennedy, under secretary for management; and Cheryl Mills, counselor and chief of staff to Clinton, were among those named in the subpoena.

Issa has given the State Department until June 7 to comply. 

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