The 42-year veteran of the U.S. State Department who wrote a report chiding it for “grossly inadequate” security measures at the consulate building in Benghazi, Libya leading up to a September 2012 attack defended former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Sunday from repeated Republican criticism.
Ambassador Thomas Pickering told MSNBC host Alex Witt that GOP lawmakers’ insistence that Clinton was part of a cover-up after the attack “seems to me to have drifted now very much into the realm of political partisanship.”
Pickering co-chaired the department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) concerning the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, which resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. He also pushed back on accusations from House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-CA) that the board’s report focused on low-level staffers.
“We did, of course, see Secretary Clinton. We saw her two deputies. We saw the undersecretary,” Pickering told Witt. “The assistant secretary, who was among those who we felt failed in the performance of duty, is not a low-level official.”
According to the Associated Press, Pickering also said in an appearance on Meet The Press Sunday that he was willing to be part of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s May 8 hearing on the attack but was blocked from participating. Committee member Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said he would request private testimony from both Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullin, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pickering’s ARB co-chair.
The report, (PDF) released in December 2012, concluded that security at the facility was not equipped to handle the attack due to “systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” by senior State Department staff members. Pickering said it constituted “the most thorough account of the events leading up to Benghazi and what actually happened the night of the attacks.”
However, he did not offer an opinion on the much-criticized talking points issued by the White House after the attack, later found to be edited multiple times.
“I did not study in detail the question of the talking points,” he told Witt. “Therefore, I have to tell you I reserve judgement on that particular issue. Had I been asked to study that in detail — it was not part of our report — I would certainly have an opinion for you.”
Watch Pickering’s interview with Witt, aired on MSNBC on Sunday, below.