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House panel drops John Kerry testimony

Representative Darrell Issa said John Kerry sought to avoid testifying before the House panel led by Issa.

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Representative Darrell Issa said John Kerry sought to avoid testifying before the House panel led by Issa.

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Oversight committee on Friday released Secretary of State John Kerry from his obligation to testify next month about the deadly Benghazi attack, allowing a newly-formed select committee to move forward in questioning the top diplomat.

In a swipe at a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, Representative Darrell Issa accused Kerry of trying to use his June 12 appearance before the oversight panel as an excuse to avoid testifying before the select House committee investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the Libyan outpost.

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The State Department had said last week that the secretary would testify before Issa’s panel but that the appearance ‘‘would remove any need for the secretary to appear before the select committee to answer additional questions.’’

The California Republican said he had no choice but to reassess.

‘‘It’s been disappointing to watch a long-serving former senator, like Secretary Kerry, squirm his way to what I’m doing today — releasing him from the upcoming hearing commitment he made only after we issued him a subpoena,’’ Issa said in a statement.

Issa had twice subpoenaed Kerry to testify about e-mails and documents that the Obama administration has provided Congress about the attack. Four Americans, including US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed. After weeks of back and forth, Kerry had told the panel he could testify next month, and Issa agreed.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that officials were ‘‘mystified’’ by Issa’s decision as well as his criticism that Kerry has obstructed the inquiry. It’s ‘‘hard to see how that’s accurate when we were prepared to appear,’’ Psaki said.

Republicans have accused the administration of misleading the American people about the attack, playing down a terror attack in the weeks before the 2012 presidential election, and then stonewalling congressional investigators.

Multiple independent, bipartisan, and Republican-led inquiries have been conducted in the nearly 20 months since the attack. Investigators have faulted the State Department for lax security at the diplomatic facility.

The House voted along party lines May 8 to establish a select committee to conduct an eighth inquiry led by Representative Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republian. In creating the panel, the House also required the committees involved in Benghazi investigations, including Armed Services, Intelligence, and Oversight, to turn over all their documents within 14 days to the select committee.

That leaves that panel as the main congressional investigator, essentially ending the other inquiries, including Issa’s.

In her upcoming book, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — a potential 2016 presidential candidate — defended her response to the attack and criticized those who politicized the assault, saying she ‘‘will not be part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans.’’

At a Capitol Hill news conference, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, was asked about Clinton’s complaints.

‘‘This is about one issue and one issue only, and that is getting the truth for the American people and the truth about what happened in Benghazi for the four families that lost their loved ones there. That’s why we created a select committee,’’ he said.

Boehner said it would be up to the select committee on whether it calls Clinton to testify.

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said Friday that his panel’s investigation focused on several statements about Benghazi that proved wrong, and he was satisfied with the military’s response that chaotic night.

‘‘Given what the posture of the military was at the time, yes,’’ Representative Howard ‘‘Buck’’ McKeon, a California Republican and the panel chairman, said in an interview taped for C-SPAN’s ‘‘Newsmakers’’ that will air Sunday.

‘‘We are not a 7/24 rotation. We don’t have pilots sitting on the runway in their plane with the plane fully fueled and equipped with ammunition to run many different kinds of missions. We can’t afford to do that.’’

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