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Republicans say the accountability review board was constrained by its organizing rules and didn’t have the authority to take its investigation that high up the chain of command.

The board’s report identified but did not name four officials at the assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary level who “failed to show leadership” and did not follow through on complex questions about where to lay responsibility for making decisions about security at the temporary diplomatic post in Benghazi, which was quickly overrun and set ablaze by extremists in the Sept. 11 attack while the ambassador was visiting.

As career staff, the four cannot be fired summarily because they were not found to be negligent or reckless. They are on administrative leave, officials confirmed Monday.

Mandate in question

Mr. Pickering has said repeatedly that the law that mandated the board’s creation after the attack also set its terms — five questions that the investigation must answer.

“According to the law, we had five questions to answer, all related to security and intelligence aspects of the attack. Anything beyond that was not in our mandate,” he said Monday.

Mr. Pickering said the board spoke with Mrs. Clinton and her deputy William Burns during its investigation, but did not question them because the investigators by then “had determined to our satisfaction where the responsibility lay. We knew where the decisions were made and where they had been reviewed and that was the level where we identified the individuals that had failed.”

State Department officials defended the board’s work Monday. Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said the investigation was “a thorough process. We are certainly satisfied with the work they did.”

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called for Mr. Pickering to testify.

Democrats said he can publicly refute criticisms of his work, and Republicans said they want to question him about the extent and limits of his inquiry.

Republicans say many of their concerns center around the development of unclassified “talking points” that Obama administration officials used to explain the attack afterward. The board did not examine that, Mr. Pickering said.