(CNSNews.com) – A State Department spokeswoman criticized a congressional panel for issuing a subpoena Friday for Secretary of State John Kerry to testify on the Benghazi affair on May 21, saying if the committee had “reached out” instead it would have known that Kerry would be out of the country on that day.
“It’s highly unusual for a subpoena to be issued before there’s even an official invitation for testimony. I think everyone can make their own judgments about that,” Marie Harf said of the move by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Harf said Kerry was scheduled to be in Mexico on the day Issa has subpoenaed him to testify on the department’s compliance with earlier requests for information relating to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
She said the Oversight Committee would have been aware of Kerry’s schedule, “if they reached out to us instead of issuing a subpoena – I think by tweet, possibly. I guess that’s how they’re doing it now.”
Issa issued a statement on Friday about the subpoena, and also posted on his Twitter feed a number of tweets highlighting points made in an accompanying letter to Kerry.
In that letter, Issa accused the State Department of withholding relevant material that had earlier been subpoenaed, and said its response to the congressional inquiries into the attack had “shown a disturbing disregard for the department’s legal obligations to Congress.”
“Compliance with a subpoena for documents is not a game,” he wrote. “Because your department is failing to meet its legal obligations, I am issuing a new subpoena to compel you to appear before the committee to answer questions about your agency’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack.”
Kerry, who wraps up a visit to four African countries on Monday, has not commented publicly on the development. Harf did not say whether he would comply with the subpoena: “We’ll have to take a look at his schedule.”
The controversy returned to the headlines after conservative watchdog Judicial Watch released emails, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, which critics see as reinforcing suspicions that the administration deliberately tried to mislead American voters – during President Obama’s re-election campaign – about the nature of the attack on the consulate.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed in the assault.
Five days later, then-Ambassador to the U.N. – now National Security Adviser – Susan Rice appeared on Sunday talk shows and suggested the attack arose from spontaneous protests over an anti-Muslim online video.
Subsequent Republican anger over that may have cost Rice the opportunity to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. In December 2012 Rice asked Obama to withdraw her name from consideration, and the post went to Kerry.
When a previous Oversight Committee hearing on Benghazi, one year ago, uncovered documents appearing to challenge the administration’s position, Kerry promised to get to the bottom of it.
“I am absolutely determined that this issue will be answered, will be put to bed, and if there’s any culpability in any area that is appropriate to be handled in some way with some discipline, it will be appropriately handled,” he said at the time. “The State Department will leave no stone unturned.”
‘Trying to prove a political point’
Harf left reporters in little doubt Friday about the department’s view on the ongoing congressional probing, which includes the new Oversight Committee hearing and a select committee announced by House Speaker John Boehner.
“We’re committed to continuing to work with Congress, but what we’re focused on and what we think Congress should be focused on is how to do this better in the future, and how to bring those responsible for justice – not playing politics with Benghazi, as they continue to try to do,” she said.
“There has been a House Armed Services investigation, a Senate select committee investigation, an ARB [Accountability Review Board] report. How many more taxpayer dollars are we going to spend trying to prove a political point that in 18 months they haven’t been able to prove?” she asked.
Harf said there was “not one shred of evidence” to support the claim that the administration was trying to cover up. Anyone who disagreed with that was “not reasonable.”
“I am confident that what the Republicans allege, that there was some attempt by this administration to cover up or spin what happened, is 100 percent false,” she declared.