WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, said Thursday that he can't set a date for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to testify before his panel because the State Department has been slow in producing needed documents.
In a letter Thursday to Secretary of State John Kerry, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., complained that the department has delayed providing emails and other documents involving Clinton, a former secretary of state.
"Simply put, the committee must have the records of communication requested more than six months ago before the secretary's appearance can be scheduled," Gowdy wrote.
The State Department pushed back, saying the department has provided 300 emails from Clinton, 19 witnesses and more than 40,000 pages of documents from the initial State Department investigation.
The Benghazi committee "doesn't know how to take 'yes' for an answer," said State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach.
Gowdy had initially called for Clinton to testify next week on the attacks that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, but he told Kerry that no longer appears possible.
Democrats have complained that Gowdy and other Republicans are drawing out the Benghazi hearings in order to disrupt Clinton's presidential campaign, but Gowdy said the State Department is to blame for any delays. The committee must have a complete record before lawmakers can effectively question Clinton, Gowdy said.
"The only thing standing between the committee and the former secretary being able to discuss her tenure as secretary of state as it relates to Libya and Benghazi is the Department of State's failure, in more than half a year, to produce a single, solitary email responsive to our request and subpoena," Gowdy wrote.
Gerlach called that claim inaccurate, citing the 300 Clinton emails and at least 40,000 pages of documents at the committee's disposal.
To underline the seriousness of his complaint, Gowdy told Kerry the committee has "shared its concerns" with lawmakers responsible for the agency's budget "in the event reprogramming" of some department spending is needed to ensure compliance with the committee's request.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, senior Democrat on the Benghazi panel, said Republicans were on "a fishing expedition for anything they can use against Secretary Clinton in her presidential campaign," adding that "every time they come back empty-handed, they extend their trip at taxpayer expense."
Cummings said the Benghazi committee has had Clinton's emails for months.
"This new claim that the department has not produced a single responsive document is completely baseless and appears to be yet another excuse to drag out Secretary Clinton's testimony until closer to the (2016) election," Cummings said.
Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.
Follow Matthew Daly: http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC