- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is done asking nicely, and on Friday, issued a subpoena for retired Amb. Thomas Pickering, co-chair of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) on Benghazi, to appear for a deposition on last year’s attack.
"While I am very much committed to having you testify publicly and appreciate your newfound willingness to do so, I was disappointed that you are attempting to limit the Committee’s understanding of the Accountability Review Board by refusing to participate in a voluntary transcribed interview prior to testifying publicly," Issa wrote in a letter to Pickering. "In light of your continuing refusal to appear voluntarily for a transcribed interview, however, I have found it necessary to issue a subpoena to compel your appearance at a deposition."
All week, Issa’s office had been publishing open letters to Pickering requesting his participation in a private, transcribed interview, and all week Pickering declined, saying he was willing to testify publicly about his review of the State Department’s response to the attack, but insisting that a private deposition was inappropriate.
"Depositions are usually reserved for fact witnesses and people under investigation," he told The Cable. "We are not fact witnesses to Benghazi and we are not under investigation."
Shortly after Issa’s announcement, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MA), ranking member of the Oversight Committee, issued a press release condemning the subpoena as emblematic of "extreme Republican overreach."
"Today’s subpoena is a stark example of extreme Republican overreach and the shameful politicization of this tragedy," Cummings said. "Both Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering have made clear that they stand ready and willing to testify at a public hearing to respond directly to these reckless accusations, but Chairman Issa is now imposing new conditions to keep them behind closed doors. The Chairman should reverse his decision, conduct a responsible and bipartisan investigation, and allow the American people to hear directly from these officials."
Issa insists a private deposition is a necessary precursor to a public hearing.
"A fully informed hearing, in which the Committee begins with a factual understanding of how the Board reached its conclusions, is critical to engaging in a public discussion with you about criticisms career State Department officials levied at the ARB’s efforts and recommendations," Issa wrote.
As The Cable noted last week, the dispute can best be described as a battle over the American public’s perception of what happened in Benghazi. Issa knows that a transcribed interview with Pickering will better allow him to control the narrative of the next Benghazi hearing, and certainly, it helps for running a hearing more efficiently. Pickering thinks Issa is running a "political circus," and as he told The Cable on Wednesday, "now that the circus has been launched, we want to make our case in front of the public," not in a private setting.
Interestingly, Admiral Mullen, the other co-chair of the ARB, has been given a pass. When The Cable asked Issa’s office if he too had been served a subpoena, Issa spokeswoman Becca Watkins said "he was not."
The subpoena requires Pickering to show up for a deposition on Thursday, May 23, at 10 a.m. Pickering did not immediately respond to a request for comment.