Authors of Benghazi report grilled in Congress
The U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya following an attack on September 11, 2012
September 19th, 2013
08:46 PM ET

Authors of Benghazi report grilled in Congress

By Jamie Crawford

The leader of a review board that investigated the deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, lacked sufficient independence to reach an objective finding of fault, a congressional committee chairman said on Thursday.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa told retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering that he failed to see how the Accountability Review Board could have come to an objective conclusion about the September 2012 attack based on Pickering's long career as a State Department official.

"You talked about 42 years in the organization you were overseeing," Issa said to Pickering, who drew on his diplomatic experience to help him lead the panel.

"If we looked at the bank failures of 2007 and brought Jamie Dimon in to head the board, some might say that there was an inherent conflict because of his experience in life," Issa said of the JPMorgan Chase chairman.

"Mr. chairman, with greatest respect, this was not, quote, a 'gotcha' investigative panel," Pickering replied.

He asked why a group looking for answers would be empaneled without understanding the specific minutiae of how diplomacy is carried out.

"I appreciate that," Issa shot back. "Obviously, this was not a 'gotcha' panel, because nobody was 'gotcha-ed.'"

The exchange between Issa and Pickering illustrated the sharp political emotion that has defined many exchanges over the Benghazi attack by armed militants, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Issa's investigation has been a partisan flashpoint as he has pushed the Obama administration hard to get a better understanding of pre-attack security at the diplomatic outpost and why no one at the State Department lost their jobs after Pickering's investigation noted shortcomings.

Earlier this week, the Republican majority staff of the committee released a report that also raised new questions. It noted the relatively short time it took the review board to investigate the attack and issue its findings, and pointed out that those interviewed by the panel were not made available to members of Congress.

The Democratic minority staff, led by its ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, released its own report just as Thursday's hearing got underway. It questioned the findings of the Republican staff report.

"Based on all of the evidence obtained by this committee, this Benghazi review was one of the most comprehensive ARB reviews ever conducted," Cummings said. "I have seen no evidence, none whatsoever, to support these reckless Republican accusations. To the contrary, witness after witness told the committee that the ARB's work was 'penetrating,' 'specific,' 'critical,' 'very tough,' and the 'opposite of a whitewash.'"

But the fireworks were just getting started as a session that ran more than four hours got underway. It examined numerous areas around how and why certain facets of the review board investigation were undertaken.

Former Joint Chiefs Chairman retired Adm. Michael Mullen, who served as Pickering's co-chair, was effusive in his assertions that there were no orders for any military detachments to "stand down" that had already put in motion to try and arrest the assault on the diplomatic building and a nearby CIA annex.

"This is not something you can just wish to happen instantly. There's a lot of planning, preparation, as rapidly - to do it as rapidly as one can do it," Mullen said in reference to questions of how no U.S. military assets made it to Benghazi that night.

"We are not big enough in the military to be everywhere around the world to respond to where every embassy is that might be high-risk. We have to take risks and figure that out," he said.

Questions emerged from multiple members of the committee as to why the review board did not assign any culpability for management and other shortcomings to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as head of the department.

"We had very clear evidence, full and complete to our information, that the authority - responsibility, the accountability rested with the people we identified," Pickering said in explaining why failures in the State Department structure were centered at the assistant secretary level.

"If the secretary (Clinton) wasn't involved, I must be on another planet," Rep. John Mica said in response.

In interviews with media outlets prior to her stepping down earlier this year, Clinton said she took responsibility for the security of diplomats and diplomatic outposts around the world in her role as secretary.

There have been 18 such review boards since 1986 that have investigated attacks on U.S. facilities overseas.

Many members of the panel questioned Pickering and Mullen as to why certain recommendations from the report that looked into the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa were not carried forward.

"Secretary (Madeleine) Albright as a result of that recommendation, met daily with the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security first thing in the morning. And that established a nexus, a chain, which neither her - I think none of her three successors kept. I think that may have been an error," Pickering said.

"I think that in some ways her interest - and put it this way - in no more Nairobis and no more Dar es Salaams was an important instinct. I think that that was a rather good process, and in some ways I'm sorry it wasn't repeated," he said.

The review board led by Pickering and Mullen made 29 recommendations, one of which was to establish another independent review to identify "best practices" in the public and private sectors in security intelligence, risk management and accountability - all areas where problems were identified at the State Department.

That panel, led by former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, warned that the State Department did not pay enough attention to the bureau overseeing security for 275 diplomatic posts and called for it to be elevated in its importance to deal with a growing threat.

As a result of the Benghazi attack, the State Department created a new position of deputy assistant secretary of state for high threat posts and has begun to beef up security and improve training.

But Issa contended Thursday that it was the purview of his committee and that of Congress to interview many of the same witnesses who were on the ground in Benghazi that spoke to the review board in order to get an understanding of where accountability for the attack lay.

"I am in the process of issuing subpoenas because the State Department has not made those people available, has played hide and go seek, and is now hiding behind a thinly veiled statement that there's a criminal investigation," he said of the FBI probe.

And in the next sentence, Mr. Issa laid out the roadmap for his committee in the Benghazi investigation.

"That's part of the reason that this investigation cannot end until the State Department gives us at least the same access that they gave your board," he said.

CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Benghazi • Congress • Hillary Clinton • Issa • Libya • Security Brief • State Department
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. bodylanguagesuccess

    Nonverbal Communication Analysis No. 2529: Ambassador Thomas Pickering on Benghazi Probe and a Body Language Microexpression Tell

    September 22, 2013 at 12:02 am | Reply
  2. Michael Shawn Bracewell

    It was a US Embassy in a WAR ZONE. Where the hell was the US Marine Contingent that was supposed to be there ? Why has no one asked this ONE BASIC QUESTION ? Has everybody just gone completely brain fogged ?

    September 21, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Reply
    • Republican Budget Cuts

      'nuf said.

      September 21, 2013 at 10:47 pm | Reply
  3. Doc

    The plain truth is that issa doesn't trust anyone who does not come to the conclusions that he wants. This is because he himself is not trustworthy and he cant ratioalize that others don't compromise their integrity to get what they want.

    September 21, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Reply
  4. Joan

    How much money has been spent on these Benghazi hearings? How much precious time has been spent hashing and rehashing the same evidence? Issa seems to want to keep dragging it out until he can find some small fact to spin and exaggerate again. The real motive for these hearings is to try and discredit Hilary Clinton in case she runs in the next election. Plain and simple.

    September 21, 2013 at 9:11 am | Reply
  5. Truth

    Report: Towel Heads killed some people. In the mean time, a general banged a broad.

    September 20, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  6. orrball

    Just like CNN no story or anything said about the Democrats walking out as the families were about to testify That was disgraceful and no respect to the people who died. sad There are fallowing there leader as he did wall Bengasi was unfolding he went to Vegas also how often do you hear Obama talk about helping the Doctor who help us get Ben laden he is still in jail. How about all the people dead because of Fast & Furious the families are still waiting? NSA they keep building that place in Idaho no story. CNN how about IRS nothing happening ? When will you stop waiting on news and go get so thats reporting. How about putting some one on Obama care and find out if it is what we need or not ?

    September 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  7. Vince

    People are still discussing this?

    September 20, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Reply
    • orrball

      explain what happened or you just don't care about the dead and there families or are you just like Hillary what difference does it make you people are cold hearted!

      September 20, 2013 at 5:13 pm | Reply
    • ACSJ

      Every American SHOULD be discussing this. We are demanding the truth. This is not going away. That American were sacrificed to appease terrorist celebrating 9 11 must not be forgiven

      September 23, 2013 at 4:32 am | Reply
  8. RobK

    How about this narrative: The CIA was supplying Syrian rebels with air to ground missiles, word was leaked to Al Quaida who staged the raid and obtained the missiles, and will use them in the future to shoot down an airliner. Perhaps that is the reason the WH is threatening 30+ CIA agents with monthly lie detector interrogations and threats to their careers.

    September 20, 2013 at 9:06 am | Reply
  9. Phelix Unger

    Issa ends by saying that he wants the same access that was given to the previous boards investigation. So he wants to double down on the ethical nature of the investigation, with the same people who have already participated in a full investigation. Why not investigate the investigators of the last board, I mean he thinks somebody didn't do their job, so go after the panel that did the first investigation.

    What an idiot, elections are just months away and this spinning the same record thing is the republicans way of trying to make it their holy grail. I wonder if they realize how they are perceived by the rest of America.

    Issa your an Idiot!

    September 20, 2013 at 1:03 am | Reply
  10. StanCalif

    I am really getting sick and tired of all this "political" witch hunting going on about this Benghazi affair!
    Here are some real facts:
    Amb. Stevens was a highly respected and accomplished ambassador (a great loss, no doubts about this)
    Question unasked and unanswered is why was he in an unprotected outpost to begin with? What was he doing there?
    If he felt insecure and repeatedly got no additional security, why did he remain in Benghazi on the 9/11 anniversary?
    Why did he not return to our fully protected embassy in Tripoli? Get the security issues resolved, then go back.
    Stevens signed his own death warrant, no one else! Sure, we don't like to blame a dead man but facts are facts!
    Please, stop trying to blame his death on others! Stevens made a very poor judgement call and paid for it! Let this be a lesson to all our other ambassadors, "Don't be stupid"!

    September 19, 2013 at 11:04 pm | Reply
    • ACSJ

      StanCali You sound like the kind of troll who blames rape victims too

      September 23, 2013 at 4:34 am | Reply

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