Face the Nation transcripts May 12, 2013: Gates, Pickering, Ayotte, Durbin, and Angelou

CBS News

(CBS News) Below is a transcript of "Face the Nation" on May 12, 2013, hosted by CBS News' Bob Schieffer. Guests include: Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Amb. Thomas Pickering, and CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. Plus, a special Mother's Day interview with acclaimed poet and author Maya Angelou.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And good morning again. Ambassador Thomas Pickering is the one who led the State Department's investigation into how those Benghazi attacks where handled. Mr. Ambassador, you and I have known one another as you had various posts in the government for many, many years. You headed this investigation. But the three state department employees who testified this week where frustrated with the report--they said it was incomplete, one of them, Greg Hicks, even told investigators his words, not mine, it let people off the hook. Is that a fair criticism?

AMBASSADOR PICKERING: I don't believe so and I think that's an unfair criticism. They've tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made. The decisions were made and reviewed at the level that we fixed responsibility for failures of performance. Those people were named in the report. Two of the four that we felt failed in their performance were, under our recommendation, relieved of their jobs. The State Department is now considering what further steps to take. I believe that that's correct. We interviewed under Secretary Kennedy. People have pointed to him. We believe in fact, that while he made a significant decision to keep the post open, he was not a security specialist, he was not engaged in a daily review of the decision making that took place that we felt in some cases was seriously flawed. And as a result, we don't believe it went higher. We interviewed Secretary Clinton; we interviewed Deputy Secretary Burns, and Deputy Secretary Nides. We briefed them on the report, we told them where we were, it was near the end. We had plenty of opportunity had we felt it was necessary, all five of us, to ask them questions. We didn't believe that was necessary and I don't see any reason to do so now.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But let me understand what you're saying. You had Secretary Clinton but you didn't ask her any questions? And why not?

AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Because in fact, we knew where the responsibility rested. She had already stated on a number of occasions, she accepted as a result of her job, the full responsibility. On the other hand, legislation setting up our board made it very clear that they didn't want a situation in which a department or agency had accepted responsibility and then nobody looked at where the decisions were made. And how and what way those decisions affected performance on security. And whether people where thus responsible for failures or performance. That's what we were asked to do and that's what we did.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, do you think in retrospect it might have been a good idea to question her? And some of these other ranking officials?

AMBASSADOR PICKERING: I think that we knew and understood because we had questioned people who had attended meetings with her. What went on at those meetings and how they were handled. What was relevant. I don't believe that it was necessary to do that. I don't think that there was anything there that we didn't know.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Did you, Ambassador, take--did you have a recording of this. Was any of this transcribed and recorded?

AMBASSADOR PICKERING: We did not do recordings. We did notes and we made a record of all of our notes and they're part of the voluminous document that in effect was produced when we did these two months of work, over 100 interviews, thousands of pages of material, classified and unclassified, hours of video tape.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Why would you not record it?

AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Because we didn't feel that it was necessary for us to get the essential elements of information down, to make recordings.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Now you have said in other places, that you did not look into how the talking points that officials were given to talk to the public about this. And why would that be?

AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Because we were asked to look in under the law at five questions, all of which had to do with security, with the adequacy of security, with the preparation of security, with intelligence and whether anyone breached their duties. That was in effect, our mandate. At the time, and still now, I find it hard to see how the talking points issues relate to the security at the Benghazi mission.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just, I mean I have a copy of the talking points and how they were changed. In the first version, the talking points said, "We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to Al Qaeda participated in the attack." This went through this various scrubbing till the end, they took out the word Al Qaeda, they took out extremists, then they took out Islamic and in the end, it said, there are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations. They didn't even call it an attack. If you were looking into the security, wouldn't it have been of interest, to find out, doesn't that deal with security? What the people where talking about? And what they were coming up with? I just don't understand why you wouldn't have check as part of this investigation.

AMBASSADOR PICKERING: Because the talking points came after the fact. They made no difference at what happened at Benghazi. They related to how and in what way people where explaining to the Congress and the American Public. The question of culpability, which is hinted at, in the recitation of the talking points, was specifically reserved under our criminal statues for the FBI. They have that responsibility. They were concurrently reviewing that question. Who did this? Why did they do it? Who was responsible? Were there criminal charges under U.S. law possible? We and they shared our records of the conversations we had with the people, particularly those who were in Benghazi on the night of the events. And so there was broad transparency between us. But we had a different set of responsibilities and we had a different set of questions that we had to address.