WASHINGTON - The seasoned diplomat who penned a highly critical report on security at a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, defended his scathing assessment but absolved then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. "We knew where the responsibility rested," Thomas Pickering said Sunday.
"They've tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made," Pickering, whose career spans four decades, said of Clinton's critics.
The Accountability Review Board, which Pickering headed with retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not question Clinton at length about the attacks but concluded last December that the decisions about the consulate were made well below the secretary's level.
In this Sept. 14, 2012 file photo, Libyan military guards check one of the U.S. Consulate's burnt out buildings during a visit by Libyan President Mohammed el-Megarif, not shown, to the U.S. Consulate to express sympathy for the death of the American ambassador, Chris Stevens and his colleagues in the deadly attack on the Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Pickering and Mullen's 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."
Pickering's defense of his panel's conclusions, however, failed to placate Republicans who have called for creation of a special select congressional committee to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said he wants sworn depositions from Pickering and Mullen, and promised to make that request on Monday.
"This is a failure, it needs to be investigated. Our committee can investigate. Now, Ambassador Pickering, his people and he refused to come before our committee," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the panel's chairman.
Pickering, sitting next to Issa during an appearance on one Sunday show, said the chairman was lying and that he was willing to testify before the committee.
"That is not true," said the former top diplomat who has served in Republican as well as Democratic administrations.
In a separate interview, Pickering said he asked, via the White House, to appear at Wednesday's session. He said he could have answered many of the questions lawmakers raised, such as whether U.S. military forces could have saved Americans had they dispatched F-16 jet fighters to the consulate, some 1,600 miles away from the nearest likely launching point.