WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John Kerry will testify before Congress next month about the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, a one-and-done appearance that the State Department insists is enough to answer questions and means he could avoid the newly formed select committee.
In a letter to the House Oversight chairman, the department said Friday that Kerry could appear on June 12 or June 20 to discuss the Obama administration's cooperation with the panel in providing emails and other documents related to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The department said that appearance "would remove any need for the secretary to appear before the select committee to answer additional questions."
In response, Frederick Hill, a spokesman for the Oversight Committee, said Chairman Darrell Issa had accepted Kerry's offer to appear June 12.
The committee had issued two subpoenas for Kerry's testimony, an unusual step for a Cabinet member that had clearly annoyed the State Department.
The department said diplomatic responsibilities tied to Ukrainian elections, NATO meetings in Brussels and a presidential trip to Poland prevented Kerry from testifying on May 29, the date of a committee subpoena.
"This second subpoena was issued despite the department having expressed a desire to accommodate your committee's interests and, like the first, it arrived while the secretary was traveling overseas representing the United States on urgent national security issues and without confirming the secretary's availability on that date," the department said in the letter.
A copy of the department letter was also sent to Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who is heading the special, 12-member select committee and would decide on whether to seek testimony from Kerry, who was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts when the attack occurred.
Republicans assert that the Obama administration misled the American people about the nature of the terror attack weeks before the presidential election and has stonewalled congressional investigators.
President Barack Obama has accused Republicans of politicizing a national tragedy. The administration and Democrats assert that after 13 public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents and 50 separate briefings over 20 months, there is no new information.
In the 20 months since the attack, multiple independent, bipartisan and GOP-led probes have faulted the State Department for inadequate security in Benghazi, leading to four demotions. No attacker has been arrested.
The House voted largely along party lines earlier this month to establish a select committee to conduct what will be the eighth investigation into the attack, with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, saying it was critical to "getting to the truth." Seven Republicans, led by Gowdy, will serve on the panel.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced this week that Democrats would participate despite strong misgivings among some Democrats about giving legitimacy to the newest inquiry. Some Democrats have called the new inquiry a political sham designed to embarrass the Obama administration, motivate core GOP voters for the midterm elections and rough up former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Pelosi appointed five members with experience in current investigations, including Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight panel who will serve in a similar capacity on the new committee.
The special investigation means there will be high-profile hearings in the months leading up to the elections, with Republicans likely to target current and former administration officials. Almost certain to be called to testify is Clinton.