The Cable

Issa subpoenas Pickering on Benghazi

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.

The Cable

Danny Russel appointment couldn't come soon enough

With President Barack Obama's appointment of Danny Russel to assistant secretary of state for East Asia, the president has returned one of his key national security advisors to the State Department to tackle some of his administration's thorniest issues in a region boiling over with nationalist rhetoric and military posturing.

If confirmed, Russel, a career member of the Foreign Service and currently the senior director for Asian affairs in the White House National Security Staff, will fill the big shoes of Kurt Campbell, architect of a slew of first-term administration policy initiatives including efforts to open up Myanmar. The position, which is the top diplomatic post in East Asia, has been vacant since February when Campbell stepped down.

"It's almost June. It's time to get the team in place and start cracking," Tommy Vietor, former National Security Council spokesman, told The Cable. "I think the signal here is that Asia continues to be a top priority for the president and he wants one of his top emissaries out in the field implementing his policy."

After four years away at the White House, Russel's return to Foggy Bottom is the subject of a flurry of chatter at the department. An insider tells Chris Nelson, who runs an exclusive newsletter focused on Asian affairs, that Russel will have to regain the trust of colleagues in the building given his long absence. "He's run into the age-old problem of any career person being on ‘detatched' duty, and in this case over 4 years at the White House, before returning to the Mother Ship," the source told Nelson. "So he's really got to work to reach out to former colleagues and re-build personal connections."

Vietor, however, says that White House experience is exactly what will make Russel such an effective diplomat. "Foreign leaders will know Danny's spent as much time with Obama as anyone and that's really important," he said. "He's also worked directly with Tom Donilon, Tony Blinken, Denis McDonough, Joe Biden -- all the top people in the White House."

Some critics have suggested that in Russel, the administration has selected a Japan guy at a time when Obama's "pivot to Asia" necessitates a deeper knowledge of China. (Before joining the White House, Russel was director of the Office of Japanese Affairs at State.) But Vietor dismissed the criticism as nonsense. "Danny knows every issue the White House has dealt with for the last four years," he said. "He's been involved in every important debate about China and North Korea and can really answer authoritatively about any question he's asked."

Obama sent Russel's nomination to the Senate on Thursday.