WASHINGTON -- House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) argued on Sunday that even the CIA's statements on Benghazi are now suspect, because then-Director David Petraeus was likely just carrying the White House's water in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.
Since the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Republicans have argued that the Obama administration attempted to cover up what happened and let political considerations drive its response. In particular, Republicans have criticized top officials for not labeling the events as a "terrorist attack" quickly enough.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, host David Gregory said that his reporting had found that Petraeus "made it clear when he briefed top officials that there was a spontaneous element to this, that it was not completely known that this was a terrorist attack right away."
"You don't give any credence to the notion that there was some fog of war, that there were conflicting circumstances what about what went on here?" he asked Issa.
The congressman dismissed Petraeus' comments, as well as those of former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who led the State Department's independent investigation into what happened in Benghazi.
"David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say, is the indication. Ambassador Pickering heard what the administration wanted to hear," Issa replied.
It's a serious charge to say that the CIA director was playing politics rather than being truthful. Gregory pressed Issa on this accusation, asking, "You're saying that administration officials ... bullied the CIA into saying what the political advisers in the White House wanted him to say?"
Issa insisted that he wasn't "making charges."
Pickering was on "Meet the Press" with Issa on Sunday, and the congressman said he would be sending the ambassador a request for deposition on Monday. Pickering replied that he has said all along he would be willing to appear before the committee but was "excluded" by Republicans. Issa shot back that Democrats and the White House were the ones who chose not to have him appear.
Pickering, along with former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, led the Accountability Review Board (ARB) to examine the facts around Benghazi. They found that "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" within the State Department resulted in a "security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."
Issa said on Sunday that he believed the ARB report was still "insufficient" because the board did not interview enough people.
Pickering was incredulous at the accusation, responding, "Let me say that I hope the chairman has read our report. Our report has 29 recommendations. The bulk of them concern the insufficiency of the State Department's preparation of that post to deal with the security challenges. I don't think that there is any other explanation. And I can't believe that in fact, he still sits here and makes those charges."
On CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said that while she has "respect" for Pickering, the ARB report is "not a substitute for adequate congressional oversight." She also said the inquiry did not go far enough since it didn't, for example, interview then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Pickering addressed this criticism earlier on the show, saying they did not question her because they "knew where the responsibility rested."
"She had already stated on a number of occasions, she accepted as a result of her job, the full responsibility," he replied. "On the other hand, legislation setting up our board made it very clear that they didn’t want a situation in which a department or agency had accepted responsibility and then nobody looked at where the decisions were made."
"[U]nfortunately, this has been caught up in the 2016 presidential campaign -- this effort to go after Hillary Clinton," added Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). "The reason she wasn't interviewed was she didn't have any direct-line responsibility for the decisions that were made, but they want to bring her in because they think it's a good political show, and I think that's unfortunate."