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Kerry Subpoened to Testify on Benghazi Attacks

FILE - An exterior view shows the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a day after it was attacked and set on fire September 11, 2012.
FILE - An exterior view shows the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a day after it was attacked and set on fire September 11, 2012.
Cindy Saine
The Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, says the chamber will vote to create a new select committee to investigate the September 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans.  The announcement Friday came just hours after a House committee investigating the attack issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry to testify.

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Darrell Issa, has held four hearings on the 2012 attack in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans dead.  At a hearing Thursday, Issa rejected calls from Democratic lawmakers to end the Benghazi investigations.  

"The American people, more than anyone else in this body, have the absolute right to know why four men are dead in an attack that could have been prevented," said Issa.

On Friday, Issa issued a subpoena for Secretary of State John Kerry to appear before the House Oversight Committee to answer questions at a public hearing May 21.  Issa says he wants Kerry to explain why the State Department initially withheld emails that show White House official Ben Rhodes coordinated talking points for then-Ambassador Susan Rice to emphasize that the events at the Benghazi consulate were rooted in an Internet video and not a broader failure of policy.  The attacks came weeks before the November 2012 presidential election, and some Republicans say the Obama administration obstructed the truth about the attacks to protect the president's image.

Speaking for the State Department, Marie Harf pointed out that Issa issued a subpoena before even inviting Secretary Kerry to testify.  Kerry is on a trip to Africa.

"It's highly unusual for a subpoena to be issued before there is even an official invitation for testimony. I think everyone can make their own judgments about that. I'm not sure the secretary is even aware of the request, again, given his travel," said Harf.

American University professor Stephen Vladeck says congressional panels do have a constitutional right to conduct oversight:

"You know, as a matter of law there is no question Congress has the power to subpoena cabinet officials like Secretary Kerry.  As a matter of policy I think one can wonder if this is going to the well once or 16 times too often," said Vladeck.

Republican Speaker Boehner also announced Friday that the House will vote on creating a special committee to probe the Benghazi attack.  Such select committees in the past have held major investigations like the Watergate break-ins and wire-tapping under President Richard Nixon.

Professor Vladeck said he does not believe the probe will yield any important new information.

"It certainly smacks of politics in a way that suggests that the real focus of the investigation is on attempts  to discredit former [Secretary of State] Clinton and her staff.  I think if there was a "smoking gun" that really highlighted gross misconduct and gross negligence on the part of the Obama administration, we would have seen it by now," he said.

Hillary Clinton was secretary of state at the time of the attacks, and is considered the likely Democratic frontrunner if she decides to run for president in 2016.

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