The House Oversight Committee met Thursday morning to discuss the findings of Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's latest report that accuses the Benghazi review board of conducting a flawed investigation into last year's attack.
Admiral Michael Mullen and former ambassador Thomas Pickering, the authors of the Accountability Review Board investigation in question, were among a panel that answered hours of questions from committee members—primarily in the form of sharp criticism from the right about the lack of accountability that resulted in the ARB's review. The ARB report, released last December, had concluded that a systemic failure in leadership and management at the State Department had led to inadequate security at the temporary facility in Benghazi. As a result, four State Department officials were relieved of their duties.
Pickering pushed back on the accusations that the committee assembled to testify before the review board about Benghazi did not contain any "true outsiders," and that the report was biased.
"With greatest respect, this was not a 'gotcha' investigative panel," Pickering said. "Why would you choose a panel of people who knew nothing about the responsibilities, nothing about how and in what way they were carried out? The value of this panel was three were from outside and only two of us were from inside, hopefully to give precisely the cross current of controversy, discussion, questioning, and examination that you just expressed the hope we had. We, sir, had that."
But Issa dismissed Pickering's defense, firing back, "Obviously this was not a 'gotcha' panel, because nobody was 'gotcha-ed.'"
Republicans also discussed former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's role in the security failures that led to the attack, suggesting that the review board was part of a cover-up to protect senior officials.
"The vast majority of Americans feel your report was a whitewash," Florida Congressman John Mica said. "It looks like an inside job of [an] investigation—the Department of State looking at the Department of State."
Mica concluded, "If the secretary wasn't involved, I must be on another planet."
Throughout Thursday's hearing, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee remained present and vocal about what they viewed as an unnecessary continuation to "badger" both Mullen and Pickering, and their review of the State Department.
"As one of the newer folks around here, I know when I signed up for this...I knew it wasn't exactly going to be Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but I also didn't expect Groundhogs Day," freshman Congressman Mark Pocan said. He criticized Congress for failing to do its job serving the country, and instead has focused on "poking and poking" at the same investigation, hoping to corner individuals who Republicans feel are responsible.
Virginia Congressman Gerald Connolly, who just lost three constituents at the Navy Yard, expressed disappointment at House Republicans' persistence to find fault in the review board's report. "I don't remember any investigation [after the 1983 Lebanon embassy bombing], I don't remember any charges, I don't remember the Democrats exploiting Ronald Reagan's management of that incident. We understood it was a national tragedy, and we tried to come together," Connolly said.
He added about the continuing Benghazi investigation, "The agenda isn't getting at the truth, it's getting at somebody."
The Oversight Committee's hearing was one of two House committee hearings scheduled on Thursday to discuss Benghazi.