McCain senses Benghazi ‘cover-up,’ wants more Clinton testimony

Sen. John McCain on Sunday said a special congressional committee is needed to investigate last year’s deadly attacks on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, and called on former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to testify again on Capitol Hill regarding her role in the matter.

Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican who was his party’s 2008 presidential nominee, said he is willing to give President Obama “the benefit of a doubt on some of these things” regarding the Sept. 11 assault, but “we need a select committee that interviews everybody.”


SPECIAL COVERAGE: Benghazi Attack Under Microscope


“I don’t know what level of scandal, quote-unquote, this rises to. But I know it rises to the level where it requires a full and complete ventilation of these facts,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”

“Here we are nine months later, and we’re still uncovering information which, frankly, contradicts the original line that the administration took. And so we need the select committee, and I hope we’ll get it. And the American people deserve it.”

Mr. McCain said the Obama administration isn’t being honest when it denies scrubbing the official talking points regarding the terrorist assault.

“I’d call it a cover-up,” he said. “I would call it a cover-up to the extent that it was willful removal of information, which was obvious.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Friday acknowledged an “interagency” and “iterative” editing process, but he maintained that the administration wasn’t heavily involved and changed only one word in the post-attack “talking points” memo — a change to the word “consulate” to “diplomatic post” for accuracy purposes.

Mr. McCain said Mrs. Clinton, who stepped down as State Department head earlier this year, “had to have been in the loop in some way” regarding what he and other Republicans say were significant redrafting of the talking points.


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“We don’t know for sure. But I do know that her response before the Foreign Relations Committee [when she] said, ‘Well, who cares how this happened?’” the senator said. “A lot of people care, I say, with respect to the secretary of state.”

Retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who co-authored a critical report on security at the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, said Mrs. Clinton wasn’t to blame.

“They’ve tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made,” Mr. Pickering said about Mrs. Clinton’s critics while appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The accountability review board that Mr. Pickering headed with retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concluded in December that the decisions about the Benghazi outposts were made well below the secretary’s level.

Mr. Pickering agreed with the administration’s contention that no military units could have responded to the attack in time to prevent the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the three other Americans.

But Gregory N. Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya on the night of the attack, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week that a show of U.S. military force might have prevented the second attack on the CIA annex that killed security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Mr. Hicks and two other State Department witnesses criticized Mr. Pickering and Mr. Mullen’s review, saying they failed to interview key individuals.

Republicans have been particularly upset that the reviewers didn’t question Mrs. Clinton at length. But Mr. Pickering said follow-up inquiries weren’t necessary because “we knew where the responsibility rested.”

Mrs. Clinton “had already stated on a number of occasions she had accepted, as a result of her job, the full responsibility,” he told “Face the Nation.”

“On the other hand, the legislation setting up our board made it very clear that [Congress] didn’t want a situation in which a department or agency had accepted responsibility and then nobody looked into where the decisions were made and how and in what way those decisions affected performance on security and whether people were, thus, responsible for failures of performance.

“That’s what we were asked to do, and what’s that we did.”

Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that she agrees it likely wasn’t possible to save Mr. Stevens and the outpost’s information officer, but “I do believe that help could have been sent in time to prevent the further deaths.”

Ms. Collins also rebutted critics who said no new information emerged from last week’s hearing on the Benghazi attack. She said congressional inquiry raised important questions about the military response.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House oversight panel, said Sunday that he will ask for sworn depositions from Mr. Pickering and Mr. Mullen regarding their report.

“We’re going to want to go through at length how the [review board] reached its conclusions, who it interviewed, and why we believe there are shortcomings,” Mr. Issa told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“This is a failure. It needs to be investigated. Our committee can investigate.”

Mr. Issa said Mr. Pickering refused to testify before his committee, an accusation the former ambassador denied.

David Eldridge contributed to this report.

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