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WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee issued subpoenas on Tuesday for State Department documents related to the widely debunked talking points about the cause of the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is pressing for material from 10 current and former department officials, including several who had worked for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. He gave the department until June 7 to comply.
“The State Department has not lived up to the administration’s broad and unambiguous promises of cooperation with Congress. Therefore, I am left with no alternative but to compel the State Department to produce relevant documents through a subpoena,” Issa said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.
The intelligence community’s talking points compiled for members of Congress suggested the Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans stemmed from protests over an anti-Islamic video rather than an assault by extremists. Five days after the attack, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice relied on the talking points in a series of interviews on the Sunday talk shows.
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of trying to mislead the American people about an act of terrorism in the heat of the presidential campaign. The White House says Rice reflected the best information available while facts were still being gathered.
Rice described the attack as a “horrific incident where some mob was hijacked, ultimately, by a handful of extremists.”
In response to the subpoenas, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the department remains committed to working with Congress, will assess the latest request and decide its next steps. Ventrell said the department has “demonstrated an unprecedented degree of cooperation with the Congress on the issue of Benghazi, engaging in over 30 hearings and briefings for members and staff, and sharing over 25,000 pages of documents with committees.”
He strongly suggested that Congress and the media move on, focusing instead on security at diplomatic posts worldwide.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the top Democrat on the committee, said House Republicans “appear to be obsessed with Hillary Clinton and are distracting Congress from conducting responsible oversight to protect our diplomatic personnel serving overseas. This investigation has been politicized from the beginning as House Republicans accuse first and then scramble to find evidence to back up their unsubstantiated claims.”
Earlier this month, the White House released 100 pages of emails and other documents about the talking points in which former State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland sought removal of a reference to a CIA warning about the potential for anti-American demonstrations in Cairo and jihadists trying to break into that embassy. Nuland wrote that “could be abused” by lawmakers to criticize her department for failing to take heed.
Also deleted were references to the CIA’s past warnings about dangerous extremists linked to al-Qaida in Benghazi.
After several revisions, the gist of the talking points read: “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
Issa said the emails and documents failed to answer the question of who else at the department other than Nuland had concerns about the early versions of the talking points. The chairman is seeking all documents and communications related to the talking points from former officials such as Nuland; Cheryl Mills, counselor and chief of staff to Clinton; and Philippe Reines, a deputy assistant secretary to Clinton; as well as Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.