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Meet the Press   |  May 12, 2013

Amb. Pickering: I offered to testify and was rejected

Ambassador Thomas Pickering responds to Congressman Darrell Issa’s claim that the diplomat should testify on the Benghazi incident.

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

>> we'll have republicans and democratic.

>> ambassador, you're willing to appear?

>> , of course. i've said the day before the hearings, i was willing to appear to come to the very hearings that he excluded me from. the white house --

>> please don't tell me i excluded you.

>> the majority, we were told the majority said i was not welcome at that hearing. i could come at some other time.

>> well, as the ambassador just said, the day before the hearing, if the white house said we'd like to have him, there's a procedure. he could have been the democratic witness. and we would have allowed him. the democrats requested no witness. the fact is, we don't want to have a some sort of a stage show. we had fact witnesses. they testified. we have the ambassador and admiral mullen who conducted and oversaw the -- we're inciting them on monday. 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. i'm delighted to have a long-serving career diplomat willing to come before us. i don't think it was his decision to say no. but we were told no until just before the hearing

>> let me do this. chairman, stick around for a minute. i want to ask you about this irs story. ambassador pickering, you led this investigation along with admiral mullen . and the criticism about this investigation is, it didn't go far enough. you didn't specifically interview secretary of state clinton. you didn't probe into what she did or did not do in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. you focused on lower level officials and didn't sufficiently address the very point the chairman brings up, which is why wasn't there the sufficient address to the fact that there was a deteriorating security situation if benghazi ?

>> 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. the second issue he raised was the seven hours. we looked into this extensively with the military. admiral mullen .

>> talking about the night of the attack?

>> the night of the attack in benghazi . and admiral mullen and i and all the other members of the board concluded, after the testimony in which we interviewed many people, that there was no way that any military activity could have been put in place to deal with that will particular question.

>> chairman of the joint chiefs and others have said nobody could have gotten there in time.

>> dempsey said so, admiral mullen said so.

>> there was no contingency planning of a chaotic situation in north africa .

>> there was planning and that contingency planning helped. it involved the annex coming to help the people who were under attack at the mission. and it was fairly clear that that particular set of activities helped a great deal. we may have had more people killed if that hadn't happened. we've been told that the only witnesses that are of any value are people in tripoli. we interviewed everybody still alive on the ground who was at the u.s. mission that night.

>> and that -- ambassador, that's an important point. we've been denied even the names of those individuals. the fact is, our committee wanted to speak to the individuals from benghazi . they were neither encouraged nor produced nor even their names made available to us. look, two of the most respected career people i know , the ambassador and admiral mullen who i've worked with much more closely than the ambassador, i respect them. we have an obligation to look for any of the inconsistencies, and yes, i understand that in seven hours, they look back and say we couldn't have saved those men. the question, one of the questions is, in hour one, who orders were given 0 begin the process? who was put on alert? who was asked? this could have gone on like tehran. this could have gone on for weeks or months. so there's a lot of those questions. all we're really asking is, why is it that the ambassador and the admiral reached a conclusion. we have their output.

>> let's have the ambassador respond to that.

>> you also have access to the classified testimony.

>> actually.

>> but let's, ambassador, we've got the classified report. but we don't have any of the interviews you did. we don't have even -- we don't even have the list of everyone you interviewed.

>> the list of interviewed?

>> i want to get to a larger picture though. excuse me, ambassador. i want to come back to this fundamental question.

>> please.

>> did you not pay sufficient attentioning to and time with the secretary of state.

>> i believe we did. we had a session with the secretary. it took place very near the end of the report. it took place when we had preliminary judgments about who made the decisions, where they were made, and by whom they were reviewed. we felt that that was more than sufficient for the preponderance of evidence that we had collected to make our decisions and you know that our decisions was two of those people should be separated from their jobs. two others failed in their performance.

>> the press secretary to the president jay carney said back in november, he talked about how changes were made, who made changes to these talking points prepared for congress and for ambassador rice. this is what he said back on november 28th .

>> the white house and state department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of these two institutions were changing the word consulate to the diplomatic facility because consulate was inaccurate. those talking points originated from the intelligence community . they reflected the ic's best an assessments of what they thought had happened.

>> we know that's not accurate. we know that in fact, the state department , victoria knew land was involved in removing from the talking points previous warnings about security and references to a terrorist group , an extremist group being involved in the attack based on what was being reported on the ground and by intelligence. is the administration guilty of playing politics with terrorism?

>> with full respect, the accountability review board was there to look at the question of security. we did not examine talking points after the fact. it was not in our