As President Obama faces renewed criticism over his administration's handling of the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., is demanding that the authors of a report about the attacks have the opportunity to talk at a public hearing before Congress.
Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter Monday to committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asking that former ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, who co-authored the independent Accountability Review Board (ARB) report investigating last year's terrorist attacks, be invited to share their stories with the public.
"I believe it is important for ARB members to testify publicly for two reasons," Cummings wrote. First, he argued, if the committee is serious about improving security for American diplomatic personnel overseas, lawmakers and the public alike "should hear first-hand from the individuals who have done the most exhaustive review of these attacks."
Second, he said, it's important that ARB members have the chance to respond to "the serious charges you have leveled against them over the past week."
"You have suggested that the ARB was not independent, failed to adequately review the actions of senior State Department officials, and is part of a cover-up to deny full accountability for the Department's failures," Cummings wrote.
Republicans have questioned the authors' decision not to interview some top State Department officials like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their report, though Pickering defended the report Sunday, telling CBS' "Face the Nation" that questioning Clinton wasn't "necessary."
"They've tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made," Pickering said, citing specifically Clinton and undersecretary for management Patrick Kennedy. Mark Thompson, the deputy coordinator for operations in the State Department's counterterrorism bureau, told the House committee last week that Clinton attempted to cut out the bureau from communications about the attack.
In his letter to Issa, Cummings also asked for an additional hearing with top military and intelligence officials charged with coordinating security in Benghazi who have been accused by Republicans of withholding critical military assistance, misleading the American people about the attacks, and engaging in a cover-up.
Last week, a hearing with three so-called "whistleblowers" - all of whom were stationed in Libya during the attacks and took issue with elements of the administration's response - drew criticism from Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, who complained that only Republicans were able to meet with the witnesses in advance.
Issa's office on Monday said Pickering and Mullen would be given a public testimony provided they first submit to a transcribed interview in advance.