Right-Wing Benghazi Witch Hunt Sets Sites On Pickering, Mullen

Continued Investigation Used To Help GOP Fundraise

Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

The right-wing's Benghazi witch hunt is turning its attention to Thomas Pickering, a career diplomat, and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, in a campaign to discredit their non-partisan report on the Benghazi attacks and push for a permanent, partisan investigation -- an investigation Republicans are actively using to raise money and campaign against Democrats.

Pickering and Mullen led the State Department Accountability Review Board, which in December issued its findings as to what went wrong in Benghazi, Libya, surrounding the September 11, 2012, attacks on a diplomatic facility that led to the deaths of four Americans. The Wall Street Journal reported in a May 12 article that Pickering and Mullen would be the next targets of the right-wing campaign to politicize those attacks:

House Republicans on Monday plan to take another step in a widening Benghazi investigation, by asking leaders of an independent review board to agree to be questioned about their investigation of last year's attacks in Libya.

The formal request, to be submitted in letters on Monday, comes as GOP lawmakers move to discredit the investigation by the Accountability Review Board, a panel appointed under federal law last year by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to size up the adequacy of U.S. security measures and preparations at the diplomatic mission that was overrun in the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist assault.

This move to discredit the Accountability Review Board and push for a permanent investigation comes after Victoria Toensing, a Republican lawyer who represented a "whistleblower" who on May 8 testified for the third time about the attacks, penned a Weekly Standard blog post challenging Pickering and Mullen's report:

The White House has touted the Accountability Review Board (ARB) investigation of the Benghazi massacre as a review "led by two men of unimpeachable expertise and credibility that oversaw a process that was rigorous and unsparing." In fact, the report was purposefully incomplete and willfully misleading. 

The two men in charge of the ARB, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen, a diplomat and military man respectively, have no meaningful investigative experience. Instead of letting the facts lead the direction of the investigation, the report appears designed to protect the interests of Hillary Clinton, the State Department higher ups, and the president. 

But Toensing's criticism, the foundation of the attacks on the ARB, itself is incomplete and misleading.

According to Toensing, a fatal flaw in Pickering and Mullen's investigation was their failure to interview then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Pickering addressed that decision during a May 12 appearance on Meet the Press, saying that he did speak with Clinton and that the conversation was "more than sufficient for the preponderance of evidence that we had collected to make our decisions."

Toensing also built her call for further investigation on the discredited claim that the State Department's counterterrorism bureau was cut out of the decision-making process while the attacks were underway:

Mark Thompson, my husband's client, testified that he asked twice to be interviewed by the ARB and was not.  Mr. Thompson was the deputy assistant secretary in charge of coordinating the deployment of a multi-agency team for hostage taking and terrorism attacks.  Yet, he was excluded from all decisions, communications, and meetings on September 11 and 12, 2012. Why? 

But during his May 8 Congressional testimony, Thompson, an assistant secretary of state for counterterrorism, acknowledged that the counterterrorism bureau was involved. That acknowledgement supports an earlier statement from the head of the State Department's Counterterrorism Bureau, who said: "at no time was the Bureau sidelined or otherwise kept from carrying out its tasks."

At this point, the indictment of Pickering and Mullen amounts to little more than criticizing the length of their conversations with Clinton and manufactured outrage over how far down the chain-of-command a meeting invite went.

These and other already answered questions are the basis of the right's continued push for yet another hearing. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

Interest in the Benghazi attacks was rekindled by a hearing last week in which the former No. 2 U.S. diplomat in Tripoli, Libya, testified about his experiences the night of the attacks. The diplomat, Gregory Hicks, testified as a whistleblower, criticizing administration statements in the first days after the attack that it had grown out of a demonstration.

As a result of Mr. Hicks's testimony, Republican lawmakers said Sunday that additional whistleblowers are likely to emerge. They also are pushing for the appointment of a special select committee to probe the attacks, bringing together investigations now under way at five different GOP-controlled panels.

Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) has called the administration's response to Benghazi--including inaccurate "talking points" used as the basis for early public statements--a "coverup" and endorsed the idea of a select committee, as did Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.). Mr. Inhofe predicted last week that the Benghazi investigation would lead to an impeachment debate.

A hint as to why the right continues to ask questions that have already been answered came May 10 with the revelation that Republicans were using the endless Benghazi investigations to raise money. Benghazi is more than just a fundraising opportunity for the right. It's also, and perhaps more importantly, an early attack on Hillary Clinton in advance of the 2016 election cycle, a fact driven home by conservative ads pivoting off Benghazi and by Fox News' graphics team:

Clinton_Benghazi

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