Kerry: I’ll testify on Benghazi, but only to one House committee

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
Secretary of State John Kerry responds to a question during a joint press conference with Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Antonio Meade, in Mexico City, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Kerry was visiting Mexico Wednesday to reinforce bilateral relations with its neighbor to the South. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Secretary of State John Kerry offered Friday to testify on Benghazi before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — but cautioned that doing so would “remove any need” to appear before the new House Select Committee formed to investigate the tragedy.

Kerry’s message came in a letter from Assistant Secretary of State Julia Frifield to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. A copy of the letter can be read below.

“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,” Frifield wrote.

“In doing so, we believe this would remove any need for the Secretary to appear before the Select Committee to answer additional questions,” she said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News.

House Republicans are unlikely to agree to Kerry’s either/or condition.

But Issa “accepted the Secretary’s offer to testify on June 12. The Committee looks forward to his appearance,” spokesman Frederick Hill said.

Frifield’s letter also informed Issa that Kerry cannot comply with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s subpoena demanding he appear on May 29. Kerry “will be fully occupied with critical diplomatic engagements” in the wake of Ukraine’s May 25 elections, she said. Issa’s panel had previous tried to compel Kerry to testify on May 14, then withdrew that subpoena, only to issue a second one.

The letter came two days after Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced her party’s members on the select committee, which is headed by Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. Pelosi’s decision ended a robust internal Democratic debate over whether to shun the committee. Declining to participate might have starved it of bipartisan legitimacy but left Republicans in sole control of subpoenas, questioning of witnesses and access to documents.

Kerry’s message landed as congressional officials of both parties closely watched Issa’s reaction to the formation of the select committee — essentially a rival to his monthslong investigation into Benghazi. Issa’s high-profile probe never uncovered a smoking gun proving charges that the White House deliberately misled the public about the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

Some Republican congressional aides privately express worries about potential tensions between Gowdy’s committee and others that have looked into the attack and the administration’s response, notably Issa’s. Democrats, invested in portraying any new Benghazi investigation as a partisan circus ahead of November’s midterm elections, say Gowdy’s appointment amounts to a rebuke to Issa and others who have looked into the tragedy for a year and a half.