By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of a congressional oversight committee ordered the State Department on Tuesday to provide documents related to "talking points" prepared for television interviews about the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 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, in which four Americans were killed.
The subpoena gives Secretary of State John Kerry a June 7 deadline to provide the material. A State Department spokesman said the department would look at the request and decide how to respond.
Republicans and Democrats have been waging a political battle over the attacks.
Republicans have accused President Barack Obama's administration of covering up details of the assault on the mission out of concern that it could tarnish the Democrat's foreign policy credentials during his re-election campaign.
Democrats dismiss the Republican charges as a politically motivated fishing expedition seeking to discredit Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is 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 that there was no demonstration in Benghazi.
The administration 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 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," Issa said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry accompanying the subpoena.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the department had cooperated with Congress on Benghazi to "an unprecedented degree," including by participating in more than 30 hearings and briefings and sharing more than 25,000 pages of documents.
Ventrell said Kerry and Obama were focused primarily on implementing the recommendations of the board that reviewed the Benghazi attacks and going further to improve security for U.S. diplomats and development workers overseas.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Philip Barbara and David Brunnstrom)