WASHINGTON — House Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa accused the chairman of the board that investigated the failures at the State Department that led to Benghazi of having conflicts of interest that impeded him from doing an adequate job.
Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who chaired the Accountability Review Board (ARB), testified Thursday before the Oversight Committee alongside ARB vice chair Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Republicans have raised a variety of concerns over the ARB report, in part because it did not talk to a number of high-ranking state Department officials, including then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and in part because they felt the members of the ARB were biased.
Pickering testified that that was not at all the case.
“I had no sense anywhere that there was any conflict of interest,” he said. “I spent 42 years in the State Department. I knew many of the officers concerned. I have to tell you full, fair and free, this was not an exercise in any personal sense of debt or obligation to any of those people. I believe that the comments on the report that it was hard-hitting, that it called the shots the way it should have, in my view is the best summation of what we tried to do free of political influence, free of conflict, and I’m proud of the report, sir.”
Issa pushed back, saying that the committee membership contained “no true outsiders. No advocates for the family or people who served outside the government could have caused them to be skeptical,” he said.
“Ambassador, you said you had no conflict. At the same time you talk about 42 years in the organization you were overseeing. If we looked at the bank failures of 2007 and brought Jamie Dimon in to head the board, there would be a conflict,” he said.
“Mr. Chairman, with greatest respect, this was not, quote, a ‘gotcha’ investigative panel,” replied Pickering. “The responsibilities were to provide recommendations to see that we do our best never to let this happen again. Would you choose, put it this way, someone with no experience to come in and investigate and carry forward the work? We used to years ago elect military officers. we stopped that a long time ago. I suspect that brain surgery was one of the most early professionalized occupations in the world. 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.”
“Obviously, this was not a gotcha panel because nobody was gotcha’d,” shot back Issa.