(CNN) — House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa announced Friday he has subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify about the terror attack in Benghazi.
The California Republican called on Kerry to appear at a May 21 hearing.
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of withholding documents from Congress that were previously subpoenaed.
The terror attack on the American diplomatic compound in eastern Libya in September 2012 killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“The State Department’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack has shown a disturbing disregard for the department’s legal obligations to Congress,” Issa wrote in a letter to Kerry.
“Compliance with a subpoena for documents is not a game. Because your department is failing to meet its legal obligations, I am issuing a new subpoena to compel you to appear before the committee to answer questions about your agency’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack.”
The State Department said Kerry was traveling in Africa and it was not clear if he was aware of the subpoena.
Spokeswoman Marie Harf called the move “highly unusual,” considering an invitation for testimony is usually extended before a subpoena.
“We are surprised that in the first instance they resorted to a subpoena, given we’ve been cooperating all along with the committee, and did not reach out before they did so,” she said.
On Tuesday, the conservative group Judicial Watch made public documents it received in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
One of the documents was a previously undisclosed email on September 14, 2012, from Ben Rhodes, a national security official specializing in communications, that listed talking points about protests that had erupted at U.S. embassies and compounds in the Muslim world.
Among the goals listed in the Rhodes email was to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” The intelligence community later said the assault was a result of a coordinated terrorist attack and not the protests.
The existence of the Rhodes email is new, and that provides Republicans with a fresh front in their attacks on the administration over Benghazi. However, the messaging of the Rhodes email is the same as previously released documents.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, blasted the call to compel Kerry’s testimony.
“These actions are not a responsible approach to congressional oversight, they continue a trend of generating unnecessary conflict for the sake of publicity, and they are shockingly disrespectful to the secretary of state,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement.
Disclosure of the Rhodes email prompted House Speaker John Boehner on Friday to announce that he will form a select committee to investigate Benghazi. Key Republican senators appealed to Majority Leader Harry Reid to work with Boehner on forming a joint panel.
CNN’s Deirdre Walsh, Ashley Killough and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.
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