- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The career diplomat who led the internal State Department probe into the Benghazi terrorist attacks has agreed to a private, transcribed interview with investigators from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which had issued a subpoena after his initial resistance.

Former Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, who was co-chairman of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) probe into the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate, said Wednesday that he will submit to the private interview session. His decision follows a week of increasingly testy correspondence with lawmakers on the House committee.

The committee had issued the subpoena for Mr. Pickering to appear for public testimony Thursday, after he had initially declined to sit voluntarily for a private, transcribed interview.

“Today, Ambassador Pickering reached an agreement with the Oversight Committee to voluntarily appear for a transcribed interview and answer all questions posed by Committee investigators,” Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and the committee’s chairman said in a statement on Wednesday.

“As such, I have lifted his legal obligation to appear tomorrow for a deposition. His appearance for a transcribed interview with committee investigators has been rescheduled for a date in the near future,” Mr. Issa said.

The findings of the ARB probe that Mr. Pickering oversaw have come under increased public scrutiny amid mounting criticism from House Republicans.

Some State Department officials who testified before Congress recently have criticized the ARB for not holding senior department officials more responsible for security failures that preceded the Sept. 11 attacks that cost the lives of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

House Republicans have argued that the board failed to clearly outline the role played by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in shaping the Obama administration’s response to the attacks.

In addition to receiving the most media coverage, hearings held by Mr. Issa and his oversight committee have been among the most dramatic in recent months in terms of showcasing House Republican criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the runup to, and aftermath of the attacks.

Mr. Pickering is expected to appear alongside retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his review board co-chairman.

Mr. Issa said the committee’s “investigation includes an examination of criticisms career State Department officials have made about the ARB report being ‘incomplete’ and letting senior officials ‘off the hook.’”

“Ambassador Pickering’s testimony will help the committee’s effort to learn about the board’s work,” he said. “To date, this effort has been limited by the State Department’s unwillingness to provide critical documents.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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