Benghazi witness: Obama aides misled public about attack
Washington • The top U.S. diplomat in Libya after the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens says there was no question the mission was under a terrorist attack and that military officials refused to send in a second team of soldiers to help diplomats in jeopardy.
Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of the U.S. mission to the country, also said he believes the administration of President Barack Obama misled Americans about the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks, a point Republicans have stressed and continue to probe.
Asked how he reacted when he saw U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice initially blame the attack on an anti-Muslim video, Hicks said he was "stunned."
"My jaw dropped," he said. "And I was embarrassed."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has led the GOP's charge into the attacks that killed Stevens and four other Americans.
Under questioning, Hicks noted that State Department lawyers prevented him from being interviewed by Chaffetz when the Utah congressman flew to Tripoli shortly after the attacks a rare move, Hick said.
"So the people at State told you don't talk to the guy who is coming to investigate?" Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked Hicks.
"Yes, sir," the diplomat responded.
Chaffetz, too, pushed Hicks on how he felt when he wanted to send a four-person military team from the capital city of Tripoli to Benghazi as the attack unfolded but was denied.
"How did the [military] personnel react to being told to stand down?" Chaffetz asked.
"They were furious," Hicks said. "I can only say well, I will quote Lieutenant Colonel Gibson. He said, 'This is the first time in in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.' "
Republicans have seized on the attack later confirmed to be a planned terrorist hit on the U.S. consulate and not a spontaneous protest as proof that the president and his advisers purposely misled the public during the contentious election last year.
The White House has pushed back, noting that initial reports were unclear and its version of events shifted as more information came to light.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the administration has made "extraordinary efforts to work with five different congressional committees investigating what happened before, during, and after the Benghazi attacks," including handing over 25,000 documents and testifying at 10 hearings.
"I mean, this is a subject that has, from its beginning, been subject to attempts to politicize it by Republicans, when, in fact, what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy," Carney said.
A review of the attacks and the State Department and White House response showed a mess of communications impeded a speedy response and two officials were demoted.
Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., referred to the witnesses as "whistle-blowers," but Democrats charged that the hearing was a partisan ploy.
"I don't think there's a smoking gun today," said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis. "I don't even think there's a lukewarm sling shot."
Chaffetz, who at times got choked up talking about the attack, disagreed and quizzed the witnesses about the lack of security at the consulate.
Eric Nordstrom, the State Department's regional security officer in Libya, testified that he had wanted to beef up the military presence but the request was denied.
"True or false: The security decisions on the ground in Libya were made by you?" Chaffetz asked.
"I would have like[d] to [have] thought [that], but no," Nordstrom responded.
The White House says that the review commission's recommendations have been completed or are being implemented, but Republicans say it isn't enough and called for all unclassified documents to be released.
"The hearing is now closed, but this investigation is not over," Issa said as he gaveled the five-hour hearing to an end.