By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of a congressional oversight committee on Friday ordered the leader of the investigation into the September 11, 2012, Benghazi attacks to sit for a private interview next week.
As Republicans and Democrats wage a political battle over the attacks in which four Americans were killed, U.S. Representative Darrell Issa issued a subpoena ordering retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering to appear for a taped deposition on Thursday to answer questions about the Accountability Review Board report he prepared on the incident.
Pickering and retired Admiral Michael Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who led the Benghazi review board, on Thursday had offered to testify publicly before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee.
But Issa, the committee chairman, insisted that committee staff members be allowed to conduct private interviews first because the committee still has too many questions about the ARB report on Benghazi.
"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.
Republican charges that President Barack Obama's administration covered up details of the September 11, 2012, attack gathered more steam last week after a U.S. diplomat told Issa's committee he thought more could have been done to stop the assault by suspected Islamist militants.
Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the oversight panel, who has disagreed sharply with Issa's approach, calling the subpoena "a stark example of extreme Republican overreach and the shameful politicization of this tragedy."
Cummings called for a public hearing.
Issa offered to lift the subpoena if Pickering agreed to a private transcribed interview.
A spokesman for the committee said there were no plans to issue a subpoena for Mullen on Friday.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)