WASHINGTON — State Department officials met Wednesday with a special House committee investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, a day after the panel's Republican chairman complained about resistance from the Obama administration and vowed to "ratchet up" his inquiry.
The meeting centered on a request by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the committee's chairman, to schedule interviews with up to 22 potential witnesses who work for the State Department or have knowledge of the attacks.
Since many of the potential witnesses work overseas, the State Department "will need flexibility" as to when the witnesses would appear, said Assistant Secretary of State Julia Frifield, but the department "can commit to dates."
The closed-door meeting at the Capitol marked progress for a committee that has appeared to stall since its creation last May to investigate the September 2012 attacks on a U.S. post in eastern Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Gowdy expressed frustration at the slow pace of the investigation at a hearing Tuesday.
"Letters haven't worked. Southern politeness hasn't worked. We're going to ratchet it up," he said.
Gowdy told reporters after Tuesday's hearing that he is likely to call former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as a witness, but not until he receives more emails and other documents from the State Department.
"What I am not going to do is ask my colleagues to question (Clinton) when they don't have all of the relevant documents and emails. We don't have the emails," Gowdy said, adding that it is up to the State Department and committee Democrats how quickly Clinton's testimony can be scheduled.
Cummings has said Clinton stands ready to testify if called. Cummings said he spoke to Clinton late last year and she "immediately" agreed to testify. "If the committee wants her to come, she's willing to come," he said.
Cummings has complained that the committee's investigation is moving at a "glacial" pace. He said Tuesday that he and other Democrats "have grave concerns about the partisan path this committee has taken over the past year."
The partisan rift continued Wednesday, after Gowdy announced that the committee will operate under rules that allow him to issue subpoenas on his own authority. Such actions were authorized under House rules approved earlier this month, Gowdy said, despite Democrats' refusal to accept a committee rules package proposed by Republicans.
"I am unwilling to let the minority party veto subpoenas when it is clear they have prejudged the outcome of the investigation," Gowdy said. "If subpoenas are necessary for the committee to talk to relevant witnesses or access relevant documents, they will be issued."
Cummings and other Democrats called that an abuse of power and urged Gowdy to allow a full committee vote on subpoenas before they are issued.
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