Adm. Mullen said board members interviewed everyone they thought was necessary, more than 100 people, to draw their conclusions.
He said the list of those they interviewed didn’t include Mrs. Clinton, who appointed four out of the review board’s five members, nor did they interview Tom Donilon, national security adviser at the time, because they saw no evidence that either of them made key decisions related to the attack.
“We followed the precepts that Adm. Mullen has just outlined for you, not to go for the people who didn’t make the decisions, but to go, following the will of Congress, to the people who made the decisions,” Mr. Pickering said. “And indeed, we went to the people who reviewed those decisions.”
Republicans weren’t satisfied.
“If the secretary wasn’t involved, I must be on another planet,” said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican.
At another point Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, questioned why no military rescue mission had been mounted, saying the U.S. didn’t even ask for assistance from NATO allies who were close to the scene.
“I actually commanded NATO forces, and the likelihood that NATO could respond in a situation like that was absolutely zero,” Adm. Mullen fired back.
Democrats said Republican accusations of a whitewash were out of bounds.
“Based on all of the evidence obtained by this committee, this Benghazi review was one of the most comprehensive ARB reviews ever conducted,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “I’ve seen no evidence, none whatsoever, to support these reckless accusations.”
Ahead of the hearing, committee Democrats released a report concluding that there was never a “stand-down” order issued to Americans at the main embassy in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, who might have mounted a rescue mission. That contradicts a claim many Republicans have made.
But Charles Woods, father of Tyrone Woods, one of the former SEALs who was killed in the attack, was not convinced.
“We need to ask the people that were there, not rely upon hearsay evidence as to whether or not there was an order to stand down,” he told the committee. “Ambassador Stevens was alive for a substantial period of time after he made that initial distress call. It’s very possible that there would have been no loss of life if that first order to stand down had not been given. We need to find that out.”