John Kerry, the first Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, failed to answer basic questions about his staff when questioned by Republican Florida Rep. Brian Mast in a Thursday hearing with the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability.
Mast, chair of the Oversight and Accountability subcommittee, told Kerry that he had several questions regarding the “hierarchy” at Kerry’s office, noting that the envoy’s office had not yet responded to a 2021 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the identities of Kerry’s staff and had said it would not respond until 2024. Kerry’s office has been criticized by GOP lawmakers over a lack of transparency, and Rep. James Comer of Kentucky in April threatened to subpoena the envoy’s office for information related to staffers’ identities, budgets and the office’s internal activities.
“I would love to know the names of the individuals that actually answer to you, who are the ones that directly answer to you, so we can know a little bit about … your office,” said Mast, before offering to give Kerry an organizational chart for one of his staffers to fill out during the hearing. “Who is your deputy envoy for climate?”
Kerry identified two deputies — Rick Duke and Sue Biniaz — but declined to name other members of his office, arguing that it was a “violation of our process within the State Department” to answer such questions.
“You’re not going to tell us who’s working at your office?” Mast asked.
“I’m not going to go through them by name because that is not the required process of the State Department,” Kerry replied. The two went back and forth, with Mast asking for the identity of Kerry’s chief of staff and Kerry deferring to the “normal” process of answering such questions.
“I am going to go through the normal process, now, an algorithm kicked out that date, the one you’re referring to, ” Kerry said before he was interrupted by Mast.
“I’m not going to argue about it, you said you’re not gonna answer, you’re not gonna answer, it’s par for the course,” Mast said. “Like I said there was a FOIA request, 2021, [you] said it wasn’t gonna be answered until 2024, I’m not gonna spend my time arguing about it. You said you’re not gonna answer now. I’ll accept it.”
“Mr. Chairman don’t just cut me off,” Kerry said. “What I’m trying to do is tell you I’m gonna follow the process of the State Department which is normally followed.”
The two then spoke over one another, with Kerry saying his office would comply following State Department requirements and Mast arguing that “every office” in the Department had identified their hierarchy.
After Mast concluded his questions, then recognized the subcomittee’s ranking member, Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, who criticized Mast for engaging in “good theatre” but not “good legislating” nor “necessary oversight.”
Crow then gave Kerry some additional time to respond to Mast’s questions, which prompted Kerry to say he believed his office had given roughly 600 pages of documents to Congress “yesterday or the day before yesterday.”
“Look, there are a lot of requests that come in,” said Kerry, who went on to say that his oversight team was small and needed more funding.
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