(USA TODAY) -- The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead has issued a subpoena to Secretary of State John Kerry to explain why his State Department withheld the contents of emails that may have shown a White House hand in shaping a false narrative about the attack.
The new emails "appears to offer conclusive evidence that your agency attempted to illegally withhold subpoenaed material," which is illegal and "may constitute a criminal offense," according the subpoena letter to Kerry from Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The previously unreleased emails were given to the committee April 17, only after a federal court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch.
The emails showed Ben Rhodes, then-strategic communications adviser at the White House, "attempted to orchestrate a campaign to 'reinforce' President Obama and to portray the Benghazi consulate terrorist attack as being 'rooted in an internet video, and not a failure of policy,'" Issa wrote, citing the Rhodes' email and the Judicial Watch press release.
Committee member Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., said Issa's subpoena was "not a responsible approach to congressional oversight," calling it an "unnecessary conflict for the sake of publicity" and "shockingly disrespectful" to Kerry.
Issa's subpoena comes a day after House Speaker John Boehner said Kerry should explain why the documents were not sent to Congress under its original Benghazi subpoena order.
Someone needs to answer why this administration hid these documents — and tell the American people what else is being concealed," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "The House used its subpoena power to obtain documents, including emails, last year, but these emails didn't show up until now, after a court ordered their release to an outside watchdog group."
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in the terror attack that happened seven weeks before the 1012 U.S. presidential election.