Accusing the State Department of bad faith, the House’s top investigator issued a subpoena Thursday demanding that Secretary of State John F. Kerry appear before Congress at the end of this month to answer questions about whether he stonewalled a Benghazi investigation.
Across the Capitol, Senate Republicans pushed for their own investigation. They said too many questions remain unanswered, including what President Obama was doing the night of the assault.
Democrats have rejected a Senate investigation and dismissed the need for Mr. Kerry to testify. They say Republicans are trying to tarnish Mr. Obama and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state on Sept. 11, 2012, the night terrorists killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, the California Republican who issued the subpoena to call the top U.S. diplomat to testify, said the administration continues to stonewall efforts to get to the truth.
It’s the second time Mr. Issa has subpoenaed Mr. Kerry. An earlier subpoena ordered the secretary to appear next week, but the State Department said he was unavailable. Mr. Issa canceled that subpoena and said he would schedule another date.
“But soon after I lifted the subpoena, the State Department back tracked — stating publicly that we should accept ‘a more appropriate witness’ and refusing to commit to making Secretary Kerry available,” Mr. Issa said in a statement.
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Democrats questioned whether the latest subpoena exposed rifts within the Republican Party over how to pursue the Benghazi investigation. A week earlier, the House voted to establish a special investigative committee that would transfer information from Mr. Issa’s inquiry.
“The Select Committee is a sign of no confidence in Issa just as Issa’s action today is a sign of a lack of confidence in the Select Committee,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. “Why are House Republicans putting the American people through this ongoing saga to nowhere?”
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf criticized Mr. Issa for issuing the subpoena while Mr. Kerry was out of the country, traveling in Britain.
“This is not the way legitimate and responsible oversight is conducted, and it’s a departure from the days when Rep. Issa himself once lamented that a Secretary of State should not be distracted from the work of national security to testify at the barrel of a subpoena,” Ms. Harf said.
She also said Mr. Kerry is not the right person to answer the committee’s questions.
Mr. Issa has asked Mr. Kerry to testify about why the State Department failed to turn over a memo written by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. In the email, Mr. Rhodes appears to coach White House staff on associating the attack with regional protests of an anti-Islam video, though intelligence sources at the time dismissed the video as motivation for the attack.
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In the Senate, three dozen Republicans signed a letter calling for their own investigation.
They said some Senate committees have conducted investigations that have explored only parts of the deadly attack. The Republicans said a select committee could produce a broad narrative that compiles answers to all of the questions.
That was one reason House Republicans gave for a single investigative committee.
The special committee will be led by Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican. On Thursday, Mr. Gowdy named Capitol Hill veteran Phil Kiko as chief of staff.
Democrats say they are wary of a “witch hunt” and unhappy that Mr. Boehner allotted them five slots to seven for Republicans. They have not decided whether to join the panel.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, Kansas Republican and committee member, said organizational issues will be tackled “in earnest” in the coming weeks and that he hopes the public gives the process a fair shake.
“Facts matter. We’ll get to the bottom of the facts wherever they take us,” Mr. Pompeo told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “Whatever inferences ultimately are drawn from them will be for the American people to decide.”