The leaders of the State Department’s Benghazi probe defended their inquiry into the 2012 attack, but they acknowledged to Congress on Thursday that their mission was limited in scope and faced questions over why they gave Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton an advance look at their findings.
Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, vice chairman of the accountability review board, also acknowledged that he had warned Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff not to send a particular official to Congress because he thought “she would be a weak witness” who might have hurt the State Department’s stance.
Republicans said those moves called into question the motives of the review, which was supposed to be an independent look at what went wrong in the attack and how to prevent others.
“If this is so independent, why are you giving the State Department a heads-up about a witness coming in front of this committee?” said Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican. He said the warning came just days after Adm. Mullen had been appointed to the review board.
Also appearing before the committee were the parents of two of the Americans who died in the attacks. They said the government failed them and has not been truthful about the events surrounding the assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission, falsely blaming the attack on reaction to a YouTube video critical of Islam.
“I was told a few things, and they were all lies,” said Pat Smith, mother of State Department officer Sean Smith. She said President Obama and his top aides came up to her at the casket ceremony when her son’s body was returned to the U.S.
“Every one of them came up to me, gave me a big hug, and I asked them what happened. Please tell me. And every one of them said it was the video. And we all know that it wasn’t the video. Even at that time they knew it wasn’t the video. So they all lied to me,” she said.
Also Thursday, Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the oversight committee, said he has signed subpoenas to demand testimony from two witnesses who he said talked to the review board but whom the State Department has refused to allow to talk to Congress.
“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 is a criminal investigation,” Mr. Issa said.
The attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi and follow-up attack on an annex building left four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, dead.
The incident became a major controversy for Mr. Obama and his team, who first blamed a mob responding to the anti-Islam video before later acknowledging that the attack was a coordinated terrorist assault.
The review board was created to investigate the security lapses that led to the attack and the lack of response from the government during the two assaults, which spanned eight hours.
Mr. Pickering defended the conclusions, which identified a handful of department employees who failed at their jobs, and made recommendations about security precautions.
“I am aware that no report will ever be perfect, but I am proud of this one, which has been seen by many as clear, cogent and very hard-hitting, as it should be,” Mr. Pickering said. “New information is always welcome. I feel that this report is still on the mark, free of cover-up and political tilt, and will personally welcome anything new which sheds light on what happened and that helps us to protect American lives and property in the future.”