As House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R- Calif.) shifts his attention this week from the IRS "scandal" to Benghazi, the fight between Republicans and Obama's State Department appears to be heading back into full swing. Issa subpoenaed four prominent State Department officials on Tuesday, accusing the Department of "dragging its feet" by failing to bring a number of witnesses to hearings regarding the attack in Benghazi according to an initial timetable.
This recent development is a reminder of how politically divisive the issue remains as critics are pushing for higher-level heads to roll in Washington for the attacks in Benghazi, Libya last year.
Issa has already issued several subpoenas in the case (including a brief subpoena for retired Ambassador Pickering in May for resisting an interview, as well a request soon after for a collection of communications from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).
Now, Issa is shifting his attention to four specific former and acting State Department individuals. While this recent move focuses more directly on a few officials in particular, Issa and his supporters appear to remain motivated by more broad-based criticism of the administration's failures and cover-ups, rather than specifically on the actions of the four individuals targeted by these recent subpoenas.
In his letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Issa announced subpoenas for the records of four department officials in particular: Eric Boswell (former assistant secretary of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security), Scott Bultrowicz (former principal deputy assistant secretary and director of the Diplomatic Security Service), Elizabeth Dibble (former principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs), and Beth Jones (acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, claiming that it is "unfortunate" that "the Department, and not the individuals themselves," in fact, seem to be responsible for the recent delays.
The question remains: would exposed failings and the forced official punishment of any of these individuals, who have only recently come into increased scrutiny, suffice for Issa and his supporters?
In some respects, forced punishment of some higher level officials may be the significant blow Issa and his supporters desire. Critics supporters seem particularly unhappy with the punishment of several low-level officials including Raymond Maxwell, former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs and a subordinate who seems to lack direct involvement in Libya. Maxwell was put on forced administrative leave after initial investigations into the issue by the Accountability Review Board. Despite Boswell's own resignation earlier in the year, Issa and other critics seem particularly concerned that higher-level officials with more involvement in the case have escaped department-sanctioned punishment.
"I am concerned that waiting weeks or months while the Department prepares witnesses to be interviewed creates the risk that their testimony will have been rehearsed or coached," Issa wrote in his letter to Secretary Kerry.
Representative and Oversight Committee member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) continues to call these actions "politicized" and "unsubstantiated."
Ultimately, exposing any unflattering information regarding the officials newly in question would, it seems, be a significant blow to the administration — a type of blow the administration has thus far managed to avoid in the case. With only a few, lower-level officials taking the brunt of imposed "punishment" on the issue so far, Issa and his supporters seem to want to see a more significant dent in the administration's pride in the matter. Boswell, Bultrowicz, Dibble, and Jones may be the newest "scapegoats" in the case who could be poised to take a hit. But as this heightened, divisive battle continues to be drawn out, no one individual, it seems, will realistically be able to put a lid on the case continuing to drain energy and resources in Washington. Until a number of significant, higher-level officials in Washington face the heat (however symbolic it may be) recent rounds of subpoenas underline the fact that the political battle is poised to rage on in the months to come.