House committee issues subpoena for Benghazi documents

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of a congressional oversight committee ordered the U.S. State Department on Tuesday to provide documents related to "talking points" used to discuss September's Benghazi attacks during subsequent television appearances.

U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House of Representatives panel, issued a subpoena ordering 10 current and former State Department officials to hand over "documents and communications" related to the attacks in Libya last September 11, when four Americans were killed.

Republicans and Democrats have been waging a political battle over the attacks.

Republicans charge that President Barack Obama's administration covered up details of the assault on a U.S. diplomatic outpost out of concern that the incident could tarnish the Democrat's foreign policy credentials during his re-election campaign.

Democrats dismiss the Republicans' concerns as a politically motivated fishing expedition seeking to discredit Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, considered a top Democratic presidential contender in 2016.

Many of the cover-up accusations stem from unclassified "talking point" memos from intelligence agencies used to prepare Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, for television talk show appearances on September 16.

In those appearances, Rice suggested the attacks were a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islamic film rather than a premeditated assault.

The Obama administration insists the talking points were based on the best information available at the time. It has since acknowledged that militants linked to al Qaeda were behind the attacks and there was no demonstration in Benghazi.

It also released 100 pages of copied emails earlier this month documenting the genesis of the talking points.

Issa said the State Department had refused multiple requests to voluntarily provide the material he seeks.

The subpoenaed documents include communications to or from officials including William Burns, a deputy secretary of state; Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman whom Obama has nominated as assistant secretary of state for Europe; and Cheryl Mills, who was counselor and chief of staff for Clinton.

"The State Department has not lived up to the administration's broad and unambiguous promises of cooperation with Congress. Therefore, I am left with no alternative but to compel the State Department to produce relevant documents through a subpoena," he said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry accompanying the subpoena.

State Department officials had no immediate comment on the subpoena, which set a deadline of June 7 for Kerry to provide the material.

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Philip Barbara)