Washington: US Secretary of State John Kerry will be a no-show to a Congress hearing set for May 21 about the deadly assault on a US mission in Libya as he will be abroad, a spokeswoman has said.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf also urged Republican lawmakers yesterday, not "to play politics with Benghazi" as House Speaker John Boehner appointed the head of a new special committee to investigate the 2012 attacks.
President Barack Obama`s foes in Congress have long accused the White House of misleading the public about what happened in Benghazi, eastern Libya, and in the aftermath of the assault that killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
But the criticism snowballed last week when a conservative group published a White House email which critics said administration officials had withheld from congressional investigators.
Raising the stakes, the chief government watchdog in Congress slapped Kerry with a subpoena compelling him to testify on Benghazi on May 21.
Kerry "does still plan to be in Mexico on the 21st," Harf told reporters, on "critical diplomatic missions."
"So why would we take the secretary away from that to answer this subpoena?" she asked.
The State Department had also been surprised that instead of "offering first an invitation to testify" Republican representative Darrell Issa had "jumped immediately to subpoenaing the secretary."
But Harf offered assurances that "we are committed to working with the committee to find a resolution to this that is acceptable to both sides."
She angrily denounced the subpoena move though, saying that in 2007 when Democrats had wanted to compel then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to testify on the Iraq war Issa and Boehner had both opposed the move.
"This was a subpoena to get information about pre-war intelligence in Iraq. You will remember, I think, 4,500 Americans died in Iraq," Harf said.
"So what we would say is, you don`t get to have different rules for different administrations."
Boehner yesterday appointed Trey Gowdy to head the new select committee, saying he was "as dogged, focused, and serious-minded as they come."
"His background as a federal prosecutor and his zeal for the truth make him the ideal person to lead this panel," Boehner added.