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Boehner announces special committee on Benghazi, Kerry subpoenaed

 

House Republicans moved on two fronts Friday to dig for answers on Benghazi, with Speaker John Boehner announcing a special committee to investigate and a key panel subpoenaing Secretary of State John Kerry to testify.

In a significant shift, Boehner announced that the House will vote on establishing a select committee to investigate, on the heels of newly released emails that raised additional questions about the White House's response. 

Top Republicans claimed those emails should have been released to Congress months ago, and Boehner signaled those concerns prompted him to rethink the need for a select committee. 

"Americans learned this week that the Obama Administration is so intent on obstructing the truth about Benghazi that it is even willing to defy subpoenas issued by the standing committees of the People's House. These revelations compel the House to take every possible action to ensure the American people have the truth about the terrorist attack on our consulate that killed four of our countrymen," he said in a statement. 

"In light of these new developments, the House will vote to establish a new select committee to investigate the attack, provide the necessary accountability, and ensure justice is finally served." 

Boehner has long faced pressure from rank-and-file members to form such a panel to probe the attacks which killed four Americans including a U.S. ambassador, and until now had resisted. Fox News is told the speaker made the decision Thursday to go forward with a vote. 

The committee is expected to be bipartisan, and Fox News is told Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., is among those being considered to lead it. 

House GOP Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the "continued obstruction" made clear that a select committee is needed. Many of the details are still being worked out but Boehner claimed the panel, if approved in a vote by the full House, would have "robust authority." 

He called the alleged "withholding" of documents a "flagrant violation of trust." 

"This dismissiveness and evasion requires us to elevate the investigation to a new level," Boehner said. 

But Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid blasted the decision as an election-year stunt. "There have already been multiple investigations into this issue and an independent Accountability Review Board is mandated under current law," Reid said in a statement. "For Republicans to waste the American people's time and money staging a partisan political circus instead of focusing on the middle class is simply a bad decision." 

The movement comes after newly released emails raised questions about the White House role in pushing faulty claims about the attacks. 

The emails in question were obtained and published by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, following a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. One email showed White House adviser Ben Rhodes discussing a "prep call" with then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, before she went on several Sunday shows and made controversial and flawed statements linking the attack to an anti-Islam Internet video. 

The email from Rhodes emphasized the role of the Internet video -- leading to GOP charges that this "smoking gun" shows the White House politicized the tragedy. 

The White House maintains the "prep call" was in reference to protests elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. 

On the heels of those documents, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also announced Friday that it has issued the subpoena for Kerry to testify at a May 21 hearing. The chairman of that committee has accused the administration of hiding records following an earlier subpoena. 

"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," Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wrote in a letter to Kerry.   

He added: "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." 

Before the subpoena was announced, Boehner also called on Kerry to testify before Congress in light of these revelations. 

A State Department official voiced surprise at the announcement, telling Fox News that the department has been cooperating with the committee all along. 

White House officials have pushed back hard on Republican claims that the Rhodes email was a "smoking gun" that proves the administration politicized the attack.

Former White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told Fox News on Thursday that he wished the documents had been released earlier. 

"I bet you every single person in that White House wished that email has been released earlier. I wish it too because it tells us nothing new, It tells us what we said privately was what we said publicly, because that is what we thought had occurred," Vietor said. 

As for the special committee, one of the biggest backers of such a panel, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., commended Boehner for the decision. 

He also cited Fox News' reporting. "In the case of Benghazi, much credit goes to FOX News' Catherine Herridge and Bret Baier for their tenacious commitment to this story and investigation," he said in a statement. 

Fox News' Ed Henry, Chad Pergram, Catherine Herridge and Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.