House Republicans’ chief investigator issued a subpoena Tuesday for State Department documents that he said would shed light on how the administration wrote the “talking points” that were used to give a wrong impression of the September terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa told Secretary of State John F. Kerry to provide all communications regarding the talking points from 10 department officials, including Victoria Nuland, who was chief spokeswoman at the time, and Deputy Secretary William Burns.
The White House released some emails two weeks ago that showed Ms. Nuland expressing reservations about some of the information in early versions of the talking points, which then were edited to delete references to al Qaeda. Mr. Issa said those emails only raise more questions about who else was involved in the editing process.
The final talking points used by Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, five days after the Sept. 11 assault, linked the attack to protests in Cairo, reportedly fueled by anger against an American-made video denigrating Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
The State Department said Tuesday that it “remains committed to working cooperatively with the Congress” and promised to “take stock of any new or outstanding requests for information, and determine the appropriate next steps.”
“All of us — in the administration, in the Congress, in the media — we should all be focused on the issue of protecting the American diplomats and development experts who are working every day to advance America’s national interest and global leadership,” department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
Republicans have charged that the administration altered the talking points to try to improve President Obama’s re-election chances by obfuscating al Qaeda links to the attack, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
“This is an evidence-based follow-up,” said committee spokesman Frederick R. Hill Jr., referring to the White House release May 15 of 100 pages of email printouts showing the voluminous interagency correspondence about what to say in the talking points.
The administration counters that the intelligence evaluation was fluid in the days immediately after the attack and that parts of the early draft of the talking points have been proved to be incorrect, justifying the editing.
Republicans say the emails already released show that officials at Foggy Bottom were trying to shield the State Department — and its leaders, principally Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — from criticism for having ignored warnings about deteriorating security in Benghazi.
In one email among those released, Ms. Nuland, a career department official who was serving as spokeswoman, said early edits didn’t go far enough to “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership.”
“It is very clear that there were broader discussions [about the talking points] within the State Department that have not yet been divulged,” Mr. Hill said.
In his letter, Mr. Issa said that despite Mr. Kerry’s pledges to be transparent with Congress, and the appointment of his chief of staff as the point man for document production, the committee’s requests have been “largely ignored.”
The subpoena gives the department until June 7 to comply.
The subpoena is the second Mr. Issa has issued during his investigation, which began more than eight months ago. Earlier this month, he issued one to the veteran career diplomat who led the State Department-chartered investigation into the assault, in which dozens of heavily armed extremists attacked first the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi and then a nearby CIA base known as the annex.
The subpoena to Thomas R. Pickering was withdrawn last week after the retired ambassador voluntarily agreed to be interviewed by House investigators behind closed doors.
The 10 officials whose communications were subpoenaed Tuesday are: Mr. Burns, Ms. Nuland, Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Dibble, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones, Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, Counselor and Chief of Staff to Mrs. Clinton Cheryl Mills, Deputy Secretary for Management Thomas Nides, Deputy Assistant Secretary Philippe Reines, Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan and Assistant Secretary for State for Legislative Affairs David Adams.