Dems press Issa to grant Benghazi report authors public hearing

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, is demanding that Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) allow the authors of an internal State Department review of Benghazi to testify at a public hearing instead of a private deposition.

Cummings said the co-authors of last year's Accountability Review Board (ARB) report should have a chance to defend themselves in public from allegations they sought to shield top administration officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE, from criticism.

“If our Committee is truly interested in improving the security of American diplomatic personnel overseas, Members of our Committee and the American public should hear first-hand from the individuals who have done the most exhaustive review of these attacks,” Cummings wrote in a letter to Issa.

“It is important for ARB members to testify publicly before the Committee so they have an opportunity to respond in person to the serious charges you have leveled against them over the past week,” he continued.

Cummings said that retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, who co-authored the review, are willing to testify.

Republicans have questioned the review board’s independence and its decision to not interview Clinton or recommend that any State Department employees be fired in the aftermath of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which claimed the lives of four Americans.

Issa said Sunday on NBC's “Meet the Press” that he would seek sworn depositions from the two instead of having them testify publicly.

“We don't want to have some sort of a stage show,” Issa said. “We'll go through — not in front of the public, but in a nonpartisan way — questions and answers, and then obviously a hearing to follow at an appropriate time.”

Cummings, though, scoffed at Issa’s proposal, especially after a hearing last week that Democrats say was carefully set up ahead of time through leaks to the media and television appearances by committee Republicans to paint the administration in a negative light.

“I strongly believe the Committee owes Ambassador Pickering, Admiral Mullen, and all members of the ARB the right to appear in the same venue as other witnesses — a public hearing before Members of Congress — in order to respond to your charges directly and in person,” Cummings wrote.

He called for a hearing on May 22, before Congress leaves for recess.

Cummings said the panel should also eventually hear from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, former U.S. Africa Command Commander Carter Ham, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director David Petraeus.

GOP lawmakers are probing allegations that the Pentagon failed to deploy all security resources in the region to save lives and that intelligence talking points were changed to avoid mention of terrorism.