When it comes to settling disputes, there’s nothing like subpoena power. On Wednesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) claimed victory in his two-week standoff with retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering over how to proceed with the GOP-led investigation into last year’s assault in Benghazi, Libya.
"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," Issa said in a release. "As such, I have lifted his legal obligation to appear tomorrow for a deposition."
Pickering and retired Admiral Mike Mullen co-chaired the Accountability Review Board, an investigation into the United States government’s response to the attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans. The report found "systematic failures and leadership management deficiencies" at the State Department prior to the attack. But Issa wants to know why the ARB didn’t hold higher-ranking State Department officials accountable.
Pickering had resisted Issa’s efforts to question him in a private interview setting, preferring a public hearing. "Depositions are usually reserved for fact witnesses and people under investigation," he told The Cable last week. "We are not fact witnesses to Benghazi and we are not under investigation."
But on Friday, Issa rejected Pickering’s offer for a one-off public hearing and issued a subpoena in a move that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the committee, called a "stark example of extreme Republican overreach."
Issa defended the decision, calling a transcribed interview between Pickering and House investigators 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 said.
Pickering’s attendance at a pre-hearing interview will allow Issa to better control the narrative of the public hearing and run it more efficiently. Pickering says Issa is running a "political circus," and the time for closed-door interviews is over. "Now that the circus has been launched, we want to make our case in front of the public," Pickering told The Cable. Now it appears Pickering will have to wait. The date of the pre-hearing interview has not yet been scheduled.