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Pickering agrees to be questioned over State Department’s Benghazi probe

The retired U.S. diplomat who co-chaired an internal State Department review of the 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on Wednesday ended his refusal to submit to a closed-door interview with a Republican-led House committee that is investigating the assault.

No date was set for the private deposition of retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering by staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"Today, Ambassador Pickering reached an agreement with the oversight committee to voluntarily appear for a transcribed interview and answer all questions posed by committee investigators,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a statement.

As a result of Pickering’s decision, Issa said he lifted a subpoena that had ordered Pickering to appear for the deposition on Thursday.

A spokeswoman said the State Department had no immediate comment.

Issa issued the subpoena last week after Pickering refused to appear for a closed-door deposition, saying that he and his co-chairman of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wanted to testify in an open hearing.

In a letter to Issa, they called a private deposition “an inappropriate precondition” for a public hearing because they were not witnesses to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi by Islamist extremists that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and a State Department information specialist. An assault the next morning on a nearby CIA annex killed two former Navy SEALs, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, who were working as security contractors.

Issa said that his committee, which is spearheading an investigation into the attacks by five Republican-run House of Representatives panels, wants to question Pickering about charges by three State Department officials that the department review was incomplete and failed to hold senior officials accountable for insufficient security at the Benghazi compound.

“Ambassador Pickering’s testimony will help the committee’s effort to learn about the board’s work. To date, this effort has been limited by the State Department’s unwillingness to provide critical documents,” said Issa. “This transcribed interview will help the committee prepare for a public hearing with the ambassador and . . . Mullen."

The review panel issued a scathing report that held the State Department’s leadership responsible for the inadequate security of the U.S. mission, but the unclassified version failed to hold any specific officials accountable.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of mishandling the response to the attacks and then covering up the missteps through misleading statements aimed at protecting President Barack Obama’s re-election bid.

The administration denies the charge and accuses the Republicans of exploiting the deaths of the four Americans for political purposes.

Dozens of documents released by the administration last week appeared to strengthen its case. They showed that it was the CIA – and not the White House – that wrote talking points that said the attack grew out of a spontaneous protest outside the U.S. mission ignited by a demonstration at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo over an anti-Islamic online video. No such protest took place in Benghazi.