The House Oversight Committee held its much-anticipated hearing on the Benghazi consulate attack today, and as expected, the testimony was both explosive and unflattering for the administration. Perhaps the most gripping testimony came from Ambassador Chris Stevens' top deputy, Greg Hicks, who said he'd known the attack was terrorism from the beginning—in part because Stevens called him and said, "Greg, we're under attack." When Hicks heard Susan Rice describe the events as a protest on television "my jaw dropped," he said, according to Fox News. "I was embarrassed."
More from the hearings:
- Hicks says he got a call later from the same phone Stevens had used. Unidentified Libyans on the other end said that they were with Stevens and that the US should come get him. But Hicks had already been told Stevens was dead—which he called "the saddest phone call in my life"—so he didn't follow their instructions. "We suspected we were being baited into a trap," he explained.
- Hicks recalled a 2am phone call with Hillary Clinton, in which he briefed her on the attack and they agreed to evacuate their Benghazi personnel, the AP reports.
- Another witness, State Department counterterrorism official Mark Thompson, complained that the White House denied his request to deploy a special military "FEST team" during the attack, in part because it wasn't sure what was happening.
- Hicks added that the Pentagon denied a separate special forces team in Tripoli permission to fly to Benghazi. "They were furious. I can only say, well I will quote Lieutenant Colonel Gibson who said, 'This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.'"
- The third main witness, Libyan regional security officer Eric Nordstrom, testified that the review board Clinton set up to look into the incident turned a blind eye to the role senior State Department leaders played "before, during, and after" the attack, Bloomberg reports.
- Democrats from the start denounced the hearing as a partisan exercise, the LA Times reports. Rep. Elijah Cummings called it "a full-scale media campaign that is not designed to investigate what happened," but rather to throw "unfounded accusations to smear public officials."
- The White House echoed those sentiments, saying it had handed over more than 25,000 pages of documents to various congressional inquiries.
- But both Republicans and Democrats on multiple occasions promised to shield the witnesses from any State Department blowback, CNN reports.