Democrats push back on Benghazi
By: Ginger Gibson
September 19, 2013 09:30 AM EDT
As a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about the attack last year on the consulate in Benghazi began Thursday morning, Democratic members released a report pushing back at Republican claims of misconduct by the administration.
The hearing is set to feature former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, who oversaw the Accountability Review Board that investigated the attacks and response. The ARB report has come under fire from Republicans for failing to fully probe the response by the administration and for not citing high-ranking officials for mishandling it.
Thursday morning’s hearing is the first by the oversight panel since an explosive and emotional May hearing during which Gregory Hicks, who was working at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, detailed his account of the night of Sept. 11, 2012, when four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in an attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The newest report is the minority party’s own take on the breadth and accuracy of the ARB review, which Democrats say exhausted all avenues and made reasonable recommendations for expanding security at embassies. It offers a preview of Democrats’ likely questions during a hearing that is expected to last for hours.
The Democratic report calls the Mullen-Pickering review “the most comprehensive ARB review ever undertaken.”
“During his deposition with the Committee, Ambassador Pickering explained that, because of his own personal and professional bond with Ambassador Christopher Stevens, he viewed his service on the ARB as ‘a debt of honor,’” the report states.
The report goes on to quote Pickering’s closed-door testimony from earlier this year.
“Chris gave me two wonderful years of his life in supporting me in very difficult circumstances,” Pickering told the committee in June. “I owed him, his family, and the families of the other people who died the best possible report we could put together.”
Democrats have been pushing for Pickering and Mullen to testify in public. The ARB report came under fire from Republicans in May, when members of the committee accused the men of conducting a shoddy review and failing to investigate high-ranking officials in the State Department, particularly former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Pickering and Mullen volunteered in May to testifying publicly before the committee, but Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) insisted that they first sit for closed-door interviews. Months later, they are now being allowed to give public testimony.
The report released by Democrats tries to shoot down several assertions by Republicans, including the notion that military assets were withheld in the immediate response to the attacks and that the consulate lacked adequate security because it was a temporary post.
The report highlights testimony from Mullen during the closed-door interview that disputes Republican claims that F-16s could have been sent to Benghazi but were not.
The report quotes his testimony:
“There’s no one I’ve ever met in the military that wouldn’t want to get help there instantly,” Mullen said, but the “physics of it, the reality of it, it just wasn’t going to happen for 12 to 20 hours.”