On Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, which resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Some Republicans, including committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), have suggested that the White House tried to cover up the attack. Their accusations have largely centered on the administration's initial claims, long since corrected, that the attack was the result of spontaneous protests over an offensive YouTube video called Innocence of Muslims. The three witnesses before the committee were presumably meant to bolster evidence that a cover-up had taken place. "Every bit as damaging as Watergate," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said earlier this week, echoing a common refrain among Republicans. The witnesses were:
1. Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya
2. Mark Thompson, the State Department's acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism
3. Eric Nordstrom, former regional security officer in Libya
Earlier in the week, part of Hicks' testimony was made public, including the assertion that a team of special-operations forces was ready to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi during the night of the attack, but was prevented from doing so by U.S. Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA).
The hearing didn't shed any light on why SOCAFRICA ordered the team to "stand down." But the witnesses did share some other details:
1. There were no protests over the YouTube video
"The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya," said Hicks, who told the committee that the consulate never mentioned the video in its reports to Washington, D.C. He claimed that Libyans weren't protesting against it; indeed, he said they weren't protesting against anything at all. "I was confident that Stevens would have reported a protest if there was one at his front door," he said.
2. Hicks says he was demoted for speaking up
Before Benghazi, Hicks claimed, he hadn't received any significant negative feedback from his superior, then-U.S. Chargé d'Affaires to Libya Laurence Pope. After speaking his mind about what happened, Hicks says, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Elizabeth Jones, told him she had heard complaints about his management style. He said that the backlash made it hard to find a new position, and that he eventually settled on a job as a desk officer.
"I've been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer," Hicks said. "The job that I have right now is a demotion."
3. Hicks claims he got an angry phone call from Hillary Clinton's chief of staff
Hicks said he was assigned a lawyer from the State Department to attend a briefing with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who was part of a congressional team investigating Benghazi. However, Hicks talked to Chaffetz without the lawyer (because the lawyer didn't have the proper security clearance), which allegedly ticked off his superiors. Hicks says Cheryl Mills, Clinton's chief of staff, was "very upset" and demanded a report on the briefing.
4. Thompson says he was ignored by the Benghazi review board
Thompson said that he volunteered to be questioned by a Benghazi review board that had interviewed Nordstrom and Hicks, but was denied the opportunity. It was odd, he claimed, because he was closely involved in the situation. He said he didn't know why he was denied a chance to talk.
Nordstrom claimed that other important officials involved in "key decisions" were not interviewed.
5. Hicks was embarrassed by a White House official's reaction to the attacks
"I was stunned, my jaw dropped, and I was embarrassed," said Hicks, referring to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice suggesting on television that the attack was the result of spontaneous violence.
6. Hicks claims that the Obama administration hurt the investigation
Hicks claimed that Libyan President Mohammed Magarief was "insulted in front of his own people" when Rice characterized the attack as a protest. Magarief had previously stated that the episode in Benghazi was a planned terrorist attack, which Hicks claimed was "a gift for us from a policy perspective."
He also said the Obama administration delayed an FBI investigation into the matter by 17 days, during which time multiple people visited and took evidence from the attack site.
7. The attack occurred before a proposed visit by Clinton
Hicks claimed that, despite signs that the city was becoming more dangerous, Stevens was rushed to Benghazi "to further [Clinton's] wish that it would become a permanent constituent post" instead of a temporary facility. He said Clinton had intended to visit Benghazi later that year.
Hicks said he agreed with the decision: "We needed to stay there as a symbolic gesture towards the people we saved from [ousted leader Moammar] Gadhafi."