- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Republican chairman of the House committee investigating last year’s terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, has subpoenaed four State Department officials, contending that the department is blocking his efforts to interview them.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell E. Issa said the four officials led offices whose poor performance contributed to the lack of security before the deadly attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry released Monday, Mr. Issa detailed his efforts since April 29 to arrange interviews with the four mid-level officials identified as having failed to show leadership.

The California Republican said in the letter that his committee’s investigators “have only been able to interview one of the 13 individuals with whom they requested interviews and the meeting was arranged without the State Department’s help.”

“These persistent delays create the appearance that the department is dragging its feet to slow down the committee’s investigation,” Mr. Issa wrote. “It does not require weeks of preparation to answer questions truthfully.”

The State Department dismissed Mr. Issa’s assertion. Deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said department officials have “been in regular contact” with Mr. Issa’s staff.

“It’s unfortunate that Chairman Issa, without warning, disregarded those discussions and issued subpoenas for witnesses who were willing to testify,” he said, describing Mr. Issa’s behavior as part of a “pattern” in the often-contentious Benghazi probe.

“This is a tactic he’s used before,” Mr. Ventrell said, suggesting that Mr. Issa had previously invented a controversy over whether retired career diplomat Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering — who headed the State Department-led probe into the attack — would willingly testify before the oversight committee.

The investigation — officially called an Accountability Review Board — found that department leaders in Washington had allowed U.S. diplomats to occupy a facility in Benghazi even though it did not meet official security standards and then ignored pleas for additional security made by the diplomats.

A report by the Accountability Review Board specifically identified four mid-level officials as having failed to show leadership in the run-up to the attack.

Republicans, however, say the report let too many senior officials off the hook — particularly former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was overseeing the department at the time of the attack.

In his letter to Mr. Kerry, Mr. Issa also said the committee wants to hold a public hearing to examine the findings of the Accountability Review Board “as soon as possible.”

After issuing subpoenas last month, investigators arranged voluntary interviews with the review board’s co-chairmen — Mr. Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Writing about Monday’s subpoenas, Mr. Issa said they were not the fault of the witnesses he was trying to interview

“By its very nature,” Mr. Issa wrote, “a subpoena can carry the implication that the witness is being uncooperative. In this case, that is an unfortunate and misleading consequence since it is the department, and not the individuals themselves, that appears to be dictating the timetable.”

The four officials, according to Mr. Issa, are Eric Boswell, who was assistant secretary at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security; Scott Bultrowicz, former principal deputy assistant secretary in that bureau and director of the Diplomatic Security Service; Elizabeth Dibble, former principal deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; and her boss, Elizabeth Jones, the bureau’s acting assistant secretary.

Separately on Monday, Mr. Ventrell told reporters that the State Department was satisfied with the lead role taken by the FBI in conducting an international criminal investigation into the culprits behind the Benghazi attacks. The FBI has been largely unwilling to comment on the investigation, which has yet to apprehend any of major participants in the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. dodged the issue when asked about progress at a congressional hearing May 15.

Guy Taylor contributed to this report.