Fire burns in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi after the attack there on September 11, 2012.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The top Democrat on a House panel says the authors of the independent investigation into the deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya, should testify at a hearing, not in a private deposition.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland sent a letter Monday arguing that former diplomat Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen should respond to Republican criticism of their report at a hearing next week.
Pickering and Mullen issued a scathing report last December critical of the State Department's handling of security at the diplomatic mission. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in the Sept. 11 attack.
Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said Sunday he would seek depositions from Pickering and Mullen. Issa, who is leading Republicans' investigations into the attacks on a State Department consulate last September, said he wants to know with whom the pair spoke to reach their conclusion that then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did not direct the response to the pair of nighttime attacks in Libya.
"This is a failure, it needs to be investigated. Our committee can investigate. Now, Ambassador Pickering, his people and he refused to come before our committee," Issa said Sunday.
Pickering, sitting next to Issa during an appearance on one Sunday show, disputed the chairman's account and said that he was willing to testify before the committee.
"That is not true," said the former top diplomat, referring to Issa's claim that he refused to appear before the committee.
Issa said he would like to speak with Pickering and Mullen privately and under oath.
Pickering, a career diplomat who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, penned a highly critical report on security at a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya. He defended his scathing assessment but absolved Clinton. "We knew where the responsibility rested," said Pickering, whose career spans four decades.
"They've tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made," Pickering said of Clinton's critics.
In a separate interview, Pickering said he asked, via the White House, to appear at Wednesday's session. He said he could have answered many of the questions lawmakers raised, such as whether U.S. military forces could have saved Americans had they dispatched F-16 jet fighters to the consulate, some 1,600 miles away from the nearest likely launching point.
"Mike Mullen, who was part of this report and indeed worked very closely with all of us and shared many of the responsibilities directly with me, made it very clear that his view as a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that there were nothing within range that could have made a difference," Pickering said.
Republicans and Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, have questioned why the military couldn't move faster to stop the two nighttime attacks over several hours. Hicks, who testified before the House Oversight panel this past week, said a show of U.S. military force might have prevented the second attack on the CIA annex that killed security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
Robert Gates, a former Defense secretary, defended the decisions made at the time, saying: "I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were," adding "getting somebody there in a timely way -- would have been very difficult, if not impossible."
The Accountability Review Board, which Pickering headed with Mullen, did not question Clinton at length about the attacks but concluded last December that the decisions about the consulate were made well below the secretary's level.
In her last formal testimony as secretary of State, Clinton appeared before two congressional committees investigating the Benghazi attacks. She took responsibility for the department's missteps and failures leading up to the assault, but said that requests for more security at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi didn't reach her desk.
Pickering and Mullen's blistering report found that "systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" of the State Department meant that security was "inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."
Issa spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press." Pickering spoke on CNN's "State of the Union," CBS' "Face the Nation" and NBC. Gates appeared on CBS.
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