That was fast.
One week ago, the House of Representatives voted to establish a new select committee, designed to take over from the four House committees already investigating the 2012 Benghazi tragedy. Just literally 7 days later, one of the top Benghazi investigators has opted to ignore the new committee and continue his own investigation.
On Thursday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) — chair of the House Government and Oversight Committee — unexpectedly announced that he was issuing a new subpoena against Secretary of State John Kerry to compel him to testify. Kerry had previously been called before Oversight over a White House email released through a Freedom of Information Act request. That email was not in the documents sent to Congress as part of their investigation, leading many conservatives — falsely — to refer to it as the latest in a string of smoking guns proving Obama administration malfeasance. Due to a previously scheduled trip to Mexico, the committee had dropped the subpoena and in the time since its issuance, the new special committee was formed. But now Issa has determined he still wants Kerry in his committee’s hot seat.
Issa argued that since the first subpoena was issued, the State Department had refused to commit to making Kerry available, leading to today’s summons. “With this State Department’s slippery tactics, it’s no wonder our friends in the world are losing faith in us and our adversaries doubt our credibility,” Issa said through a statement announcing the new subpoena. “The State Department had discussed May 29 as a possible alternative date and that’s when Secretary Kerry will be obligated to appear — further accommodation will not be possible.”
Democrats were quick to point out the seeming clash between Issa and the new committee, even as they remain undecided on whether they will take the seats offered to them on the body. “I do not understand what the House Republicans are doing on Benghazi, and apparently they don’t either,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the Oversight committee, said in a statement. “I don’t know if this is Chairman Issa’s attempt to reinsert himself into this investigation after the Speaker removed him, but this looks more and more like the ‘sideshow’ and ‘circus’ Speaker Boehner said he would not tolerate.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was even more blunt in her assessment. “Chairman Issa’s subpoena of Secretary Kerry calls into question the Republicans’ stated purpose of the Select Committee on Benghazi,” she said in a statement. “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.” The former Speaker also lamented that House Republicans insist on keeping their focus on the Benghazi tragedy rather than other issues, echoing previous calls from Democrats to move forward with other areas of legislation.
Prior to last week, Issa had been leading the charge among Republicans to discover just what the Obama administration covered up the night of the attack over a year and a half ago. In Issa’s committee alone, at least four open hearings have been held with many more sessions conducted behind closed doors. But now the primary hub for investigations into the attack was to have been in the hands of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), head of the twelve person panel organized to cut across the at times bickering committee chairs who’d previously led their own investigations.
The decision of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) to name the special committee was long coming; for months the most right-wing members of his party pressed him, to the point that outside groups began questioning his commitment to the cause. But inside the fiefdoms that the committee chairs rule over, the decision was not as welcome.
Armed Services Committee chair Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) spurning one of Issa’s star witnesses and other infighting among the chairs helped lead to Boehner’s choice, but neither of them — nor Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers (R-MI) — are particularly happy that Gowdy now has the lead on Benghazi, according to a recent report from The Daily Beast. Whether either of them will join Issa’s lead in continuing to pursue their own agenda on Benghazi remains to be seen.