When the House held its much-anticipated hearing on Benghazi Wednesday, one major figure not at the witness table was Thomas Pickering, the former ambassador and co-chair of the Accountability Review Board that reported on last September’s attacks.
Why wasn’t he there?
That’s somewhat in dispute. California Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Pickering and report co-author Admiral Mike Mullen.
“We asked them to testify about their investigation and findings. They refused,” Issa said. “When we asked Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen to speak with us and our committee informally, they again refused.”
In an interview with NPR Friday, Pickering took great exception to that.
“It was mentioned and it’s frequently repeated that I refused to testify to the hearing. That is not true,” Pickering said in an interview with All Things Considered. “I made every effort the day before the hearing, including through the White House and their legislative people, to seek an opportunity to join the team testifying before the committee. I was told through the White House that that had been rejected. I was offered a kind of consolation prize of ‘some other time.'”
On Friday, committee spokesman Frederick Hill insisted that Issa’s version is correct. “That’s completely false,” Hill said of Pickering’s account.
There is, however, one area of agreement.
“The committee would certainly welcome the opportunity for the ambassador to come testify,” Hill said – which meshes well with Pickering’s thoughts on a possible invitation: “I would certainly go.”
S.V. Dáte is the congressional editor on NPR’s Washington Desk.