- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2013

House Republicans on Monday asked to interview retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering, the veteran diplomat who headed the State Department’s probe into last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya, and Mr. Pickering said he would be happy to cooperate.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, wrote Mr. Pickering to ask him to submit to a transcribed interview with committee staff and to appear before the panel later for a public hearing.

His committee has been investigating the chain of events surrounding the terrorist assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last year that left four Americans dead. Mr. Issa and Mr. Pickering sparred on the Sunday talk shows over whether the diplomat had been asked to testify at the panel’s hearings last week.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Benghazi Attack Under Microscope

Mr. Pickering, who led the State Department’s internal accountability review board, insisted in an interview that he is ready to help.

“I am anxious and indeed pleased to appear before the committee to answer any questions they might have about the report,” he said.

Having a transcribed interview with committee investigators happens regularly “in very important or complex testimony,” committee spokesman Frederick R. Hill said.

The review board’s work has come under renewed scrutiny since the dramatic hearings last week at which Gregory N. Hicks, the man who became the most senior U.S. diplomat in Libya when Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed in the September attack, charged that the board had let senior officials “off the hook.”

Three other Americans also perished in the attack: foreign service officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

Mr. Pickering said he was working with State Department officials to find the best way to answer lawmakers’ questions.

“I am happy to do whatever I can to explain our work to the committee,” the diplomat said.

In separate letter to Mr. Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, co-chairman of the accountability review board and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mr. Issa noted that “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.”

“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,” he added.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, is pressing Mr. Issa to forgo private depositions of the two men and instead hold an open hearing May 22. Mr. Issa’s letter to Mr. Pickering and Adm. Mullen said they would work out a hearing for their public testimony at a later date.

Clinton’s role

Republicans argue that the accountability review board failed to hold those at the highest levels of the State Department responsible, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack. An interim report issued by the chairmen of five House committees that are looking into the attacks cleared the Defense Department and the intelligence community of wrongdoing but said Mrs. Clinton and the White House deserve blame.

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