Secretary of State John Kerry is taking advantage of an emerging turf war within the House GOP over the investigations of the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
The struggle is between House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has led multiple inquiries into Benghazi, and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who has been tapped by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to lead a special House committee tasked with investigating the attacks anew.
On Friday, Kerry leaked that he has agreed to testify before Issa’s committee on June 12 or 20. Issa, who is said to have opposed the creation of the select committee, issued a subpoena on May 2 for Kerry to testify — the same day Boehner announced the new probe. But there’s a catch: it means Kerry doesn’t intend to testify again before Gowdy’s committee.
“We believe the Secretary’s appearance before Oversight will eliminate any need to appear for a second time before the Select Committee,” a State Department official, who wasn’t authorized to disclose the secretary’s intentions on the record, told TPM.
There’s a clever, mischievous logic to Kerry’s move.
Kerry and Issa are, for very different reasons, invested in the failure of the new select committee. Kerry’s reasons are clear: he wants to protect the State Department’s credibility and shield his party’s leaders from unfair attacks. Issa’s reasons are more complicated: if the new committee uncovers damning evidence of a cover-up or succeeds at embarrassing the White House, it would cast doubt on Issa’s capabilities, given the numerous hearings he has conducted since the Sept. 2012 tragedy with little to show for it substantively or politically.
In another possible act of one-upmanship over Gowdy’s committee, Issa last week entered into the congressional record a still-classified State Department internal email written hours before the Benghazi attacks ended, revealing that the White House had reached out to YouTube with concerns about the controversial anti-Muslim video that administration officials initially said played a role in the killings of Americans. Issa called on the White House to declassify and release the email, according to ABC News.
Gowdy and his GOP committee members met for the first time on Thursday.
Boehner and Gowdy insist the new probe — made up of 7 Republicans and 5 Democrats — will be a sober, good faith effort to uncover the truth and bring the perpetrators to justice. Democrats don’t buy it; they roundly expect it to be a partisan witch-hunt aimed at boosting GOP fundraising and conservative voter turnout in the 2014 elections, as well as injuring both Obama and Clinton. Avoiding partisan overreach — or the appearance of it — will be a challenge for the GOP. Another challenge is to not take their eye off the ball by getting distracted by internal turf wars between members fighting to augment their standing within the party.
That’s the growing tension that Kerry’s move exploits.
(Photos by AP; split by TPM’s Brendan James)