WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans pushed ahead Monday with their investigation of the deadly assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year.
The latest Republican focus is the independent review that slammed the State Department for inadequate security at the installation before the twin nighttime attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked the two authors of the investigation — veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — to meet privately with committee staff to answer questions about their review. Democrats countered that if Congress wants to talk to them, Issa should hold a full open hearing.
Republicans insist that the Obama administration misled Congress and the American people in the immediate aftermath of the attack, trying to play down an act of terrorism that would reflect poorly on Obama weeks before the 2012 presidential campaign.
Emails disclosed Friday showed that State Department and other senior administration officials pushed for references to prior warnings and al-Qaida to be deleted from the talking points used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice five days after the attack. One email suggested that Congress could use those issues as ammunition against the State Department.
Issa wants to hear from Pickering and Mullen about their investigation and he asked that they turn documents, communications, lists of witnesses, notes and other material by Friday.
He pointed to the testimony of three State Department witnesses last week who criticized the Accountability Review Board's work as incomplete and flawed.
"The White House and the State Department have touted the ARB's report as the definitive account of how and why the Benghazi attacks occurred," Issa said in separate letters to Pickering and Mullen. "It is necessary for the committee to understand whether the criticisms of the ARB's work that we heard from witnesses on May 8, 2013 are valid."
But the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, told Issa that he should bypass private depositions from the two men and go directly to an open hearing on May 22. Issa said to Pickering and Mullen that they would work out a hearing for their public testimony at a later date.
Their blistering report found that "systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" of the State Department meant that security was "inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place." They absolved former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, faulting lower level State Department officials.
Four State Department officials were reassigned or resigned in the wake of the Pickering-Mullen report.
"We knew where the responsibility rested," Pickering, a career Foreign Service officer who has worked for Republican and Democratic administrations, said Sunday.