By Julian Pecquet - 09/19/13 05:22 PM EDT
Lawmakers of both parties clashed Thursday over whether the State Department's independent audit on Benghazi was a “whitewash.”
Republicans accused Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Michael Mullen of trying to shield top officials — including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — from criticism.
“In my district — and the vast majority of Americans — feel that your report was a whitewash,” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) told Pickering and Mullen at a House Oversight Committee hearing. “That's what people feel.”
“We shouldn't be surprised [at the public reaction] because there's been misstatements plastered all over the place,” said Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.). “So there would be some confusion out there on that basis.”
Pickering and Mullen defended their audit as free of political interference and said they had “unfettered access” to State Department officials.
“I feel that this report is ... on the mark, free of cover-up and political tilt, and will personally welcome anything new which sheds light on what happened and that helps us to protect American lives and property in the future,” Pickering testified.
Republicans expressed particular outrage at the State Department's decision not to fire anyone after the terror attack on the U.S. annex in Benghazi, Libya, left four Americans dead on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Pickering said no one was found to have breached his or her duty and said the audit was not a “gotcha” effort.
Indeed, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) quipped, “nobody was gotcha'd.”
But Pickering said the four employees who were removed from their posts were effectively held accountable.
“If you're removed from a job — particularly under the circumstances that have to do with something like Benghazi — your future career is, in my view, finished,” he said.
Republicans also questioned Pickering and Mullen as to why the Accountability Review Board did not interview Clinton.
Pickering said the board concluded there was “no evidence she made any of the decisions” related to security at the Benghazi facility.
Mullen had to address repeated allegations that he warned Cheryl Mills, Clinton's lawyer at the State Department, that one of the witnesses would reflect poorly on the department.
“Mullen put Cheryl Mills on notice in advance of her interview that the Board’s questions could be ‘difficult’ for the State Department,” committee Republicans said in a report released Monday.
Mullen said he had been referring to the witness's upcoming appearance before Congress, not her testimony to the board, prompting Republicans to correct their report.
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