The State Department is doubling down on its opposition to Secretary of State John Kerry testifying on the deadly Benghazi attack, saying in a statement overnight that a congressional committee should find "a more appropriate witness."
Kerry will be on a previously scheduled official trip to Mexico on May 21, the day the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed him to testify, State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in the statement.
Psaki said State Department officials had been in touch with the committee to "determine how to resolve their subpoena," but she stopped short of confirming that Kerry would ever appear at a hearing related to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, which predated his time in office.
The militant attack on a U.S. consulate and nearby CIA annex killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel. An independent review panel found that the State Department had ignored requests for more guards and security upgrades and had become too reliant on local militias for security. The State Department has since participated in several congressional hearings and released thousands of documents in response to queries about its response that night.
"Given the pressing foreign affairs issues that the secretary is actively engaged on and the committee's focus on document production issues, we would like to explore whether there are better means of addressing the committee's interests, including through a more appropriate witness," Psaki's statement said.
That's diplomatic speak for: Enough already. Find somebody else to testify.
That message isn't likely to go down well with some House Republicans who've seized on the State Department's handling of the attack in Libya to criticize the Obama administration and, especially, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a likely presidential contender for 2016.
The State Department points out that it already has participated in several congressional hearings and has produced thousands of documents to shed light on its conduct that night. Department officials say it's absurd for Kerry to testify because he was still in the Senate at the time of the attack and wasn't privy to the State Department response. They accuse Republicans of searching for an elusive "smoking gun" that would show that the bungled response to the attack was followed by a cover-up.
Here's some political context of the Kerry subpoena, via Fox News, which has given extensive coverage to the Republican effort to search for proof that the Obama administration staged a cover-up to hide its poor handling of the attack and its aftermath:
The Oversight Committee is pressing ahead with its investigation even as the House established a new select committee to conduct an inquiry into the assault that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Republicans insist that the Obama administration has misled the American people about the attack, downplaying the terrorist assault weeks before the presidential election. Democrats point to multiple investigations, bipartisan as well as independent, and maintain that an eighth inquiry is unnecessary.
In the Senate on Monday, Democrats blocked a Republican push for a joint House-Senate investigation.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sought support for the Senate to participate in the inquiry. Cruz argued that questions still remain, including whether Obama slept the night of the attack.
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey objected, saying the probe is politically motivated and without merit.
Speaker John Boehner appointed seven Republicans to the special panel last week. Democrats are weighing whether to participate and appoint their five members.