Secretary of State John Kerry will testify next month before a congressional committee investigating the terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi in September 2012, ending a standoff with House Republicans about his testimony.
In a letter sent Friday to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a top State Department official said that Kerry would not be able to meet the panel’s subpoena requesting his appearance May 29 but instead offered two days in June that fit into his diplomatic schedule.
“In the interest of accommodation and to resolve once and for all any outstanding relevant questions, the secretary is prepared to appear before the committee on June 12 or June 20,” wrote Julia Frifield, the department’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs.
Issa issued a statement accepting the June 12 offer. While Frifield suggested other State aides would make better witnesses – the attacks occurred while Kerry was still in the Senate – Issa agreed to drop his subpoena for the May 29 appearance and settle for Kerry’s testimony two weeks later instead.
Kerry’s move was part olive branch, part warning shot, however.
Kerry’s top aides made clear that this would be the only time he is willing to appear before a congressional committee investigating the attacks, which have been reviewed by Issa’s panel and many others, and this appearance would eliminate any need for him to appear before the new select committee that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) formed to investigate the Benghazi attacks.
State Department spokesman Marie Harf said that the letter had been sent around noon, and no reply had yet been received.
Harf made clear that Kerry is “willing to work with the committee,” but said that his appearance before Issa’s panel “will eliminate any need for the secretary appear for a second time before the Select Committee” that Republicans have established to re-investigate the entire Benghazi issue.
Since “oversight responsibilities seem to be consolidated,” with both Issa and the new select committee examining the issue, she said, the Republican caucus has to decide where it thinks Kerry’s testimony is most useful.
Issa’s subpoena called Kerry to talk about State Department cooperation in providing Benghazi documents, a subject on which Harf said Kerry, who did not take office until more than six months after the attack, was not the most appropriate witness.
Kerry rejected an initial Issa subpoena to testify on May 21, when he was visiting Mexico. A second subpoena demanded Kerry appear on May 29, a date on which Harf said Kerry “can’t appear,” because he will be immersed in the aftermath to Sunday’s elections in Ukraine and preparations for a NATO meeting in early June and travel to Poland.
“His time is very valuable and it’s very limited,” Harf said of Kerry.
“He has a whole world of pressing diplomatic issues on his plate. The time and energy it takes to prepare for these kinds of hearings” is extensive, she said. “He wants to testify…but this can’t be a situation that goes on forever and ever.”