A key Benghazi whistle-blower testified Wednesday that his team knew the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. compound was terrorism, revealing that it appeared some were trying to lure even more U.S. personnel into a separate “ambush” while the attack was still being carried out.
Greg Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Libya who became the top U.S. diplomat in the country after Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed, revealed new details as he and other whistle-blowers delivered emotional testimony on Capitol Hill.
He described how, as diplomatic officials were trying to find out what happened to Stevens, they were receiving phone calls from supposed tipsters saying they knew where the ambassador was and urging Americans to come get him.
“We suspected that we were being baited into a trap,” Hicks said, adding that he did not want to send anybody into what he suspected was an “ambush.”
Getting choked up, Hicks described how the Libyan prime minister later called him to tell him Stevens was in fact dead. “I think it’s the saddest phone call I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.
At the very beginning of the attack, before Stevens went missing and was later found dead, Hicks said his team believed it was terrorism. He said a regional security officer rushed into his villa yelling, “Greg, Greg, the consulate’s under attack.”
He then spoke by phone with Stevens who told him the same: “Greg, we’re under attack.”
After enduring a night of attacks on the U.S. consulate, Hicks said the team departed at dawn for the nearby annex — shortly after they arrived, “the mortars came.”
The testimony of Hicks and others is poised to challenge key elements of the Obama administration’s narrative, including their initial statements that the attack was triggered by protests over a film.
Hicks said that, despite U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s repeated claims the Sunday after the attack that the film was the impetus, Stevens never mentioned a demonstration before his death.
“I was stunned,” Hicks said of Rice’s comments. “My jaw dropped, and I was embarrassed.”
He said Rice never talked to him before those appearances.
Another whistle-blower questioned Wednesday why more military assets were not deployed sooner during the Benghazi terror attack. Mark Thompson, a former Marine and official with the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau, said he was rebuffed by the White House when he asked for a specialized team — known as a FEST team — to be deployed. This is a unit made of special operations personnel, diplomatic security, intelligence and other officers.
Suggesting that some were hesitant to deploy because they were unsure what was happening, “One definition of a crisis is you do not know what’s going to happen in two hours,” he said.
Further, Hicks explained how a separate team of special forces personnel were not given the authorization to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi. “They were furious,” he said.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the oversight committee holding the hearing, defended the witnesses, calling them “actual experts on what really happened before, during and after the Benghazi attacks,” who “deserve to be heard.”
The three witnesses are Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya who became top U.S. diplomat in the country after Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the terror attack; Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who was formerly the regional security officer in Libya; and Thompson.
“I am a career public servant,” Hicks said. “Until the aftermath of Benghazi, I loved every day of my job.”
Nordstrom choked up as he began to testify Wednesday.
The administration has parried Republican allegations lately by arguing that the attack is old news, that the State Department already has investigated it and that Republicans are engaged in a political witch hunt.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., top Democrat on the oversight committee, also said Wednesday that Republicans are using the witnesses’ statements for “political purposes.” He said he’s glad the whistle-blowers are testifying and would ensure they are protected, but pre-emptively challenged some of their claims — including the claim that U.S. military could have responded sooner to the site of the attack.
But a series of carefully timed leaks on the whistle-blowers’ testimony indicates House Republicans could have the goods to at least merit a second look at the administration narrative.
“The question is, where’s the accountability for lying to the American people?” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told Fox News. “The American people were lied to.”
The witnesses are expected to cover a breadth of material in their testimony Wednesday. Lawmakers have questioned to what extent security requests were ignored before the attack, whether the military could have done more to respond the night of the attack and whether talking points were intentionally changed for political reasons after the attack to downplay terrorism. The witnesses could address all three areas on Wednesday.
The Obama administration has adamantly denied several of the latest charges, including a claim that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a key aide tried to cut the department’s own counterterrorism bureau out of the chain of reporting and decision-making on Sept. 11. The administration also denied that the whistle-blowers in question were intimidated — while behind the scenes questioning the credibility of the witnesses.
A “fact sheet” released by the department ahead of the hearing reiterated its denials. The statement also said the department has “demonstrated an unprecedented degree of cooperation with the Congress” on Libya, and rejected claims that the military was in a position to help that night but was told to stand down. Citing its internal review, the statement noted the review “found no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders.”
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