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Pickering defends Benghazi report, says criticisms not based in fact

Posted at 8:29 AM, May 13, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-13 08:29:54-04

By Kevin Liptak

(CNN) — The leader of a panel charged with reviewing September’s attack in Benghazi, Libya, said Sunday that criticism of his report was unfounded and did not accurately reflect how his review was carried out.

Thomas Pickering, a former ambassador and co-chair of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that critics at last week’s congressional hearing into the attack were wrong in their assertions his board failed to interview key witnesses.

“I’m waiting to see whether there’s any ‘there’ there yet. I’ve looked at it very carefully, I listened to the hearings. A number of criticisms were not based on the actual happenings,” Pickering told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Pickering’s report, released late last year, found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” at the State Department in the lead-up to the attack in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead.

As a result, four State Department officials were disciplined immediately after the report’s release. One resigned, while three others were placed on administrative leave and relieved of their duties.

But critics say the report did not go far enough, and did not include accounts from key witnesses to the attack who were on the ground as it happened.

Some of those potential witnesses testified Wednesday in front of the House oversight committee, including Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya at the time of the attack. He said he felt some high-level State Department officials were let off the hook by the report.

“I think that in our system of government, the decision-making authority is at the level of presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed individuals. That’s at the level of assistant secretary or higher,” Hicks said Wednesday.

Some Republicans have said the report was too easy on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but Pickering argued Sunday that his panel was charged specifically with investigating security decisions, which he said were not made at her level.

“She has already made clear the buck stopped with her,” Pickering said. “But we were interested in where the decisions were made. And she did not make the security decisions.”

Ultimately, the hearing Wednesday yielded no new information on September’s attack, Pickering argued.

“I wish I could say yes, because I’m always intrigued in seeing what’s new,” he said. “But I did not.”

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