WASHINGTON -- The Republican lawmaker leading a congressional probe into the 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday subpoenaed documents from 10 current and former State Department officials related to the preparation of discredited talking points on the genesis of the assault.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, gave Secretary of State John Kerry until June 7 to comply with “a legal requirement” to produce the “documents and communications.”
In a letter to Kerry, Issa wrote that he issued the subpoena because of the State Department’s “continuing refusal” to respond to “multiple requests” for the documents from Issa and other House of Representatives panels investigating the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attacks.
“The State Department has not lived up to the administration’s broad and unambiguous promises of cooperation with Congress,” Issa said in his letter to Kerry.
In response to the subpoena, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in an email that the department “remains committed to working cooperatively with Congress” but that it will have to “take stock of any new or outstanding requests for information” before determining “the appropriate next steps.”
Dozens of armed Islamists, some reportedly linked to al Qaida, stormed the temporary U.S. consulate on Sept. 11, 2012, killing U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and State Department computer specialist Sean Smith. Two CIA security contractors, former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, died in a mortar strike early the next morning on a nearby CIA annex.
Republicans say the talking points show that the Obama administration was trying to cover up a botched response to the attacks to protect President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. The administration denies the allegation and accuses the Republicans of trying to exploit the four Americans’ deaths for political purposes.
The talking points were prepared for members of Congress and used by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice in appearances on five Sunday television talk shows. They said that the attacks appeared to have been an outgrowth of a spontaneous protest triggered by a demonstration against a crude online anti-Islam video outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and not an organized terrorist attack. Three days later, the administration acknowledged that extremists launched the assaults.
The administration released 100 pages of documents on May 15 showing that the talking points on the protest were composed by the CIA and survived multiple revisions as the White House, the State Department and other agencies weighed in. But they also showed that the final version, edited by Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell, met State Department objections by eliminating references to growing threats from al Qaida-linked extremists in Libya, and a CIA notification to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo warning of a call for demonstrations over the video.
In his letter, Issa said that the State Department responded to the requests for the documents he subpoenaed on Tuesday by sending to his committee the same 100 pages released by the White House.
“The documents the White House released . . . did not answer outstanding questions about who at the State Department, other than spokesperson Victoria Nuland, expressed reservations about certain aspects of the talking points,” Issa wrote.
He referred to emails exchanged between Nuland and officials at the State Department, the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in which she wrote that she and “my building leadership” still had problems with some of the talking points after they underwent a revision.
The removal from the final version of the references to Islamist extremist threats, Issa wrote, was “notable” because some senior State Department officials believed by Sept. 12 that militants “did in fact play a prominent role in the attacks.”
“The documents the enclosed subpoena covers will help the committee understand why, although the day after the attacks senior State Department leadership believed that Islamic extremists were involved, there were reservations about publicly acknowledging any such involvement just three days later,” he wrote.