Alex Witt   |  May 12, 2013

Ambassador clarifies role in Benghazi investigation

Chairman of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board on Benghazi, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, talks to MSNBC’s Alex Witt about the Benghazi intelligence controversy. He refutes Rep. Mike Pompeo who asserted yesterday that the Ambassador’s report was incorrect. Ambassador Pickering offers further clarification over his role in the Benghazi investigation and notes that the conversation has drifted into the realm of political partisanship.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> well, joining me with more is thomas pickering , chairman of the state's department accountability on benghazi . thank you very much for joining me.

>> thank you.

>> yes i spoke with congressman pompempeii pompeiio, he set your interview got it wrong. how do you respond to that?

>> well, we did, of course, see secretary clinton, her two deputies, the undersecretary, the assistant secretary, who we felt failed the performance of duty is not a low-level official. even gregory hicks mentioned the assistant secretary level. i've been in the state department 42 years, and i wouldn't consider it low level .

>> so representative pompeiio is flat-out wrong? if that's the case how much does misinformation contribute to the gray area around all of this mess?

>> well, quite a bit. i made it a point as chairman of the review board to read every press report that the state department could find for me, beginning from the first day until the 19th of december. i wanted to know what questions were being asked. i found a great of though in the realm of fiction, unfortunately. people just seem to think that if they knew a bit about this kind of thing, they could make conjecture. that quickly turned into fact and that turned into repetition. that repetition turned into being a kind of holy writ , but we looked at each of these in detail. we produced a report that had 29 recommendations, a series of findings, and still i think the most thorough account of the events leading up to benghazi and what actually happened the night of the attacks. it doesn't mean we're perfect, it doesn't mean that other things can't come in, but up until now, i've listened very carefully, and i don't see there's anything there i would change, nothing there we haven't covered.

>> the record found that the security at the benghazi compound was grossly inadequate, to use the words of admiral mike mullen . whose fault was that?

>> first, those were the words of the written report, which admiral mullen reported at the press conference. we made it clear that we found that four individuals made some decisions or participated in the decision-making process, that they failed in the performance of their duties. we recommended that two should leave their posts, and that has happened.

>> all right. you mentioned gregory hicks. certainly one of the big moments was when he talked about the frustration of the special forces in tripoli , when they were told to stand down. tripoli about two to three hours from benghazi , but your report said the attack ebbed and flowed over about eight hours. what a military response really not possible?

>> it was unfortunately not. it was very clear from both our review in which admiral mullen participated, and from general dempsey's testimony, that they do not believe there was the kind of relief or the sort of relief that would have made a difference the night of the attack. within 24 hours of the attack or much less, 55 marines from rota in spain were this tripoli . all of our people were out of benghazi at roughly 6:30 in the morning of the 12th, following the night of the attacks. and we believe in fact that the conclusions that were made about the military relief and what could be done were exact and clear. you have to know that within an hour of the attack on the state department facility, a group of people were sent to benghazi from tripoli . people with experience in security, and in weapons. they were held at the airport for three hours, and then allowed to go to the annex facility, which just after their arrival was attacked by mortars the.

>> you have made it very clear, sir, you do not believe there was a cover-up, but in your opinion in the aftermath, did the white house act in the best interests of the american people or in the best interests of the administration?

>> i did not study in detail the question of the talking points, and therefore, i have to tell you i reserve my judgment on that particular issue. had i been asked to study it in detail. it was not part of our report. i would certainly have an opinion for you.

>> how about at the end of the day , overall we have four americans who died serving their country. has anything come out of they hearings that may prevent more deaths like that?

>> we made 29 recommendation, including some substantial changes, including a significant addition to the building program to protect our people overseas. it was the one things that we focused the most on. secretary clinton, when she was secretary, said she would carry out our recommendations. secretary kerry has said he would do so. i believe that progress is being made. obviously we look forward to hearing when they're ready to report about where they stand on these particular questions. i understand the inspector general of the foreign service is also looking into the implementation of our recommendations as well as the appropriate recommendations of all the 18 previous reports like ours.

>> ambassador, how long do you expect the issue of benghazi to be an active one. how long do you think capitol hill will stay consumed with this?

>> i actually have no idea. it seems to me to have during this period of timed now very much into the realm of political partisanship.

>> ambassador thomas pickering , thank you very much for your time.

>> thank you very much, alex. a pleasure to be with you.