11:44 am Eastern
Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings – While reading a prepared document, he expresses strong support for whistleblowers and stresses that retaliation against whistleblowers does not happen. Tells Gregory Hicks, who was second in command for the State Dept. in Benghazi, that he supports him and his efforts. However, he has now shifted his speech to attack Rep. Darrell Issa as irresponsible and simply trying to score political points. His tone has changed from empathic to anger as he shifts his statement to an attack on Issa.
Report: Hicks told the House Oversight Committee that he never reported a demonstration prior to the attack. He continued that if there had been a demonstration, then Ambassador Stevens would have been taken out the back door immediately.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduces the witnesses. Mark I. Thompson the acting deputy assistant for operations in the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau. Gregory Hicks who is the Deputy Chief of Missions in Libya. He is a highly decorated servant to this country. Eric Nordstrom is the a diplomatic security officer and the regional security officer in Libya. In the months prior to the attack, he was the top security official in the country.
12:00 pm Eastern
Gregory Hicks: Stated that until the days after Benghazi, he was loved every day of his 21 year career with the government. He said that one reason that he is hear at the hearings, is because he pledged to the foreign service that none of them should ever again experience what they went through in Tripoli and Benghazi on Sept. 11, 1012. He continues to say that he was praised by both President Obama and then Sec. of State Hillary Clinton for his performance and service. He said that in February 1991, he swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. He’s here today to honor that oath.
Eric Nordstrom: Nordstrom is the only witness to testify who does not consider himself a ‘whistleblower’. He has previously spoken out about the attack. He testified on October 12, 2012 before the House oversight Committee. He is noticeably shaken up as he begins speaking about the 4 who lost their lives during the attacks.
12:15 pm Eastern
Issa – Requests that Mr. Hicks takes us through the events of 9/11/2012 so that we can have an understanding for the first time from someone who was there.
Hicks responds – It was a routine day at the embassy until they saw the news about Cairo. He sent a text to Stevens to ask if he was aware of what was going on in Cairo. Stevens didn’t know, so Hicks told him the embassy had been stormed and they were trying to tear down their flag. He went back to his villa, at 9:45 pm Libya time, laid down and watched television when someone ran into his villa and told him that the consulate was under attack. He realized that he missed two phone calls and called the number he didn’t recognize back. Amb. Stevens answered the phone and said, “Greg, Greg. We are under attack.” When he arrived at the tactical operations center, he told people he had just talked to the Ambassador and told them what he said. When he asked what number he reached Amb. Stevens on, since it was unknown to him, he was told that it as the phone of the Scott Wickland’s phone, the Ambassador’s Agent in Charge, his personal escort for that night. He was with him in the villa during the attack. When John Martinique got off the phone, he asked him what was going on. He was told that the consulate had been breached and there were at least 20 armed, hostiles inside.
Issa asks him to explain the annex chief.
Hicks continues – He said that he had been in touch with the annex in Benghazi and they were mobilizing a response team there to go to our facility, provide reinforcements and repel the attack. He then called the Operations Center at the State Dept. to report the attack and what they were doing to respond to it. Next, he began to call senior officials in the government of Libya that he knew at the time. He first called Pres. Magariaf’s Chief of Staff to request government assistance. He then called the Prime Minister and made the same request. Finally, he called the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s America’s Director. Once this was all done, he called DC to let them know what actions he had taken. Over the course of the night, Hicks said that he was talking to the government of Libya, relaying the information to the State Department, and talking to the annex chief. He also talked to the annex chief about mobilizing a response team from Tripoli by plane to provide reinforcements.
He said that the attack unfolded in four phases. Phase one was the attack on our consulate. It was invaded. The safe area where Stevens, Sean Smith and Scott Wickland were hiding was set on fire. The attackers also went into another building, but were unable to enter the tactical center in Benghazi because of previously made improvements. Wickland attempted to lead Stevens and Smith out of the burning building. He made it out, but they didn’t. The response team from the annex in Benghazi managed to drive the attackers out and secure it temporarily. There have been estimates that there were as many as 60 attackers were in the compound at one particular time.
There were repeated attempts to go into the burning building to save Stevens and Smith. They got Sean Smith’s body out, but he was not responsive. However, they did not find the Ambassador.
It was noticed that a second wave of attackers were coming to attack the facility. The teams evacuated with Sean Smith. The annex team also evacuated after the attackers broke through to the annex. At that point, the attackers took it over. Around 11:30 pm, after the second phase commenced, the teams suffered probing attacks by the attackers for almost 2 hours. The Tripoli response team departed around midnight and arrived at app. 1:15 am in Benghazi. In Tripoli at that time, around 10:45 pm or 11 pm, he asked the defense attache if help would be coming. He said the nearest help was in Aviano Air Force Base and it would take 2 to 3 hours for them to get there and there were no tankers there for them to refuel. They then went on with their work.
Phase 3 begins with news that the Ambassador’s body had been recovered. They began to hear that the Ambassador had been taken to the hospital. However, it was in hospital controlled by the group leading the attack on the consulate. At this point, the response team looks like it may be a hostage rescue team since the Ambassador, as far as they knew, was in a hospital under enemy control. He stated that his contacts with the government in Tripoli was telling him that the Amb. was in a safe place, but they implied that he was with them in an annex in Benghazi. He stated that he kept telling him, “No, he is not with us. We do not have him.”
At 12:30, they also began to see a call for an attack on Tripoli. They began planning to evacuate the State Dept. residential compound in Tripoli. There were about 55 diplomatic personnel in the 2 annexes. During the night, he works to stay in touch with Washington to keep them informed with what is going on in Benghazi and Tripoli. At 2 am, then Sec. of State Hillary Clinton called him along with her Senior Staff. She asked him what was going on. He briefed her on developments. Most of the conversation was on the search for Amb Stevens and what they would do with their personnel. He informed her that they would evacuate. She said that was the right thing to do.
At 3 am, he received a call from the Prime Minister of Libya. He described this as the saddest phone call he has ever received. The PM told him that Amb. Stevens had passed away. He immediately called DC to inform the State Dept. He accelerated his efforts to evacuate his team. When asked when the would move to the annex, Hicks decided they would move at dawn since they were not used to driving the armored vehicles. Prior to the phone call from the Prime Minister, they were also receiving phone calls from unknown individuals stating that they knew where the Ambassador was and they could come get him. They determined after their local help asked questions that whoever was calling was trying to bait them into a trap. The next attack was short. The next three landed on the roof, killing Glen and Tyrone, severely wounding David.
Hicks’ eyes are visibly filled with fear and hurt as he recounts these events.
Hicks backtracks a bit – As. Lt. Col Gibson and his personnel were getting in the cars, he stopped, called them off and said he had not been authorized to go. He said that Gibson was furious. He wanted to bring our people home. The plane went, landed in Benghazi around 7:30.
When the charter flight arrived in Tripoli, there were doctors waiting for their wounded.
12:58 pm Eastern
GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy asks two questions. “Mr. Hicks, I want to know two things. Number 1, why in the world would Susan Rice go on five Sunday talk shows and perpetuate a demonstrably false narrative. Second, what impact did it have on the ground in Benghazi the fact that she contradicted the President of Libya.”
Hicks responds. He states he cannot answer the first question. However, he does address the second question. He stated that at the time, they were trying to get the FBI to investigate. After the talk show appearances by Susan Rice, they began to encounter resistance from the Libyans. He goes on to say that it took them an additional 18 days to get the FBI to Benghazi during which time the crime scene was unsecured.
1:06 pm Eastern
Jason Chaffetz zeroes in on the military. These four highly trained members of the military were not under Hicks authority. He asks Hicks to explain further what happened. He asked if any of these US military personnel not permitted to travel on a rescue or relief mission to Benghazi. Hicks confirms that they were not authorized to travel. Chaffetz follows up and asks what happened to those personnel. Hicks said that they remained in Tripoli with them. The medic went to the nurse with the hospital to help with the wounded there.
Chaffetz asks, “How did the personnel react to the order to stand down?” Hicks responded, “They were furious.” He said that Lt. Col. Gibson stated, “This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.” Chaffetz asks where did the stand down order come from. Hicks said he the order came from either Africom or South Africa (US command centers there). Chaffetz adds that his understand was that Gen. Carter Ham was not in Africom, but in Washington, D.C. Hicks said he does not know his exact whereabouts.
Chaffetz then moves on to Mr. Thompson, but is stopped momentarily by Issa. Cummings then chimes in and requests a copy of a document that Mr. Thompson has. Issa added that if the State Department had given them all documents, then they would everyone would have all documents in question.
1:12 pm Eastern
Upon questioning, Thompson said he assumed he would be part of meetings, but he was told not to attend. His group in the counter-terrorism bureau was not involved or given information. They were never asked to go into action.
Rep. Norton says that Thompson would not speak with any Democrat member of the House Oversight Committee as per his attorney. She goes on to say that his statements so far have been largely biographical. She asks him if he believes that the counter-terrorism bureau was intentionally kept out of the loop for political reasons. He responds that it is not. He said the portion of the counter-terrorism unit that responds to crisis, i.e. his unit, was kept out the meeting. She asks again if he believes it was because of political reasons. Thompson responds that he does not politicize his job.
Norton continues to badger Thompson and states that a statement was made by someone in the State Department that the counter-intelligence bureau was in the meetings and said that this contradicts Thompson’s testimony. Thompson reiterates that no other group of the counter-terrorism bureau is responsible for responding to a crisis. No members of his group were involved in the meeting, though other members of the bureau were. She interrupts him a second time and continues to badger him asking if he was aware of his superior’s decision not to employ the foreign emergency support team. Thompson responds that as earlier indicated he was told that by the Under Secretary of Management Office. He stated, however, that the normal process for making such a decision was not followed.
1:41 pm Eastern
Issa stated that in an earlier hearing on October 10th, this particular facility in Benghazi could not withstand and attack. However, also in that hearing they learned that funding was not an issue.
1:56 pm Eastern
The chain of command had been changed and they had been reduced. These are personnel that are highly skilled who would have been useful in Benghazi. Hicks is asked if there was any reason to believe that the situation in Benghazi was over? He response was basically no.
Major Roger Foreman, Pentagon Spokesman, stated in an article in USA Today “The military’s account that was first issued in the weeks after the attack hasn’t changed. There was never a stand down order given to anybody. Mr. Hicks continues to contend that the statement by Foreman is incorrect. Lt. Col. Gibson was given a stand down order.
Democrat Rep. Gerald Connolly picks up the badgering of Norton where she left off by asking Thompson if he is aware this his superior said that the counter-terrorism bureau was not shut out of meetings. Thompson tries to speak to maintain his stance that the group that responds to crisis was not involved, however Connolly interrupted him.’
Connolly next directs his questioning to Mr. Hicks and says that anyone who listened to his recounting that day at Benghazi most certainly was moved. He goes on to state that he wants to discuss the domestic situation in Libya where we are facing instability in Libya and what Hicks found in terms of that inherent instability.
Hicks said that he does not recall saying that anyone other than himself testified before the ARB. In regards to the stability, he said after the elections, the political trajectory was headed in the right direction. He said that the security scene was unstable and that was well documented. However, it was determined that it was Libyans against each other, not necessarily a threat directed at foreigners.
Connolly states that he is also a member of the House Foreign Affairs committee and if there is ever any attempt to go after Hicks or the other whistleblowers in retaliation for their testimony, then he will intervene on his behalf.
2:08 pm Eastern
Rep. Duncan asks Mr. Thompson what was he told was the reason he was not interviewed. Thompson says he does not know.
He asks Mr. Hicks if he believes the report lets any individual or bureaucracy off the hook. Hicks says yes. He says that in our system of government, the decision making authority is at the level of presidentially appointed, senate confirmed individuals at the level of asst secretary or higher. He said that Under Secretary Kennedy made the decision regarding who went to Tripoli and Benghazi and who didn’t. Budgets also went to him as well as security threat reports. Therefore, in his eyes. There is some responsibility there.
You can watch the hearing LIVE on YouTube for the first time ever.
2:15 pm Eastern
Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier continues to attack Mr. Thompson for not previously speaking with Democrats on the other side of the aisle prior to these hearings. Hicks states that they were told not to speak with Jason Chaffetz. He said he did receive instructions, but he does not know who said it. Speier stated that previously Hicks said he was told to make sure other State Dept. officials were present and not to be isolated with Chaffetz. She asked if it is more a matter of not being alone of him, not necessarily to not be interviewed. Hicks stands by his statement that the meaning was that he was not to be interviewed by Chaffetz.
Speier says to Hicks that he deserves to go to whatever post he desires and asks where he would want to go. He says he would have to confer with his wife. She tells him that this committee would help him get a good onward assignment. Issa thanks her for her comments, then adds in that he’s shocked that Mr. Connolly didn’t make such a promise to a constituent in his district who can actually vote.
Rep. McHenry begins and says that the Senate is in charge of those types of movements referred to by Speier. He returns to Gowdy’s line of questioning. He asks, “Was there a protocol in the consulate in the event of a protest?”. Hicks says yes. McHenry asks if there was any evidence that one was taking place. Hicks responded no. McHenry asks if there was any awareness that the events took place because of a YouTube video. Hicks responded that the YouTube video was a non-event in Libya.
McHenry asked if he knew about that within the first couple of days or the day of. Hicks replied yes. McHenry continued and asked if he reported to anyone in Washington within the first couple of days that there was anything in connection to a protest in connection to a YouTube video. Hicks said, “No.” The only thing they reported was that there was an attack; they never referenced a protest. McHenry asks Hicks if he had any role in the talking points put together in reference to the attack. Hicks said that he did not.
A clip of Under Secretary Kennedy from October 2012 is played. In this statement, Kennedy contends that they were giving out the best information that they had at the time. He said that any official would have said the same thing that Ambassador Rice said on the Sunday talk shows, that was referencing Rice’s recitation that the attacks happened because a YouTube video.
McHenry asked if Hicks would have blamed the attack on a YouTube video as Susan Rice did. Hicks adamantly stated no. He then reference President Magariaf’s appearance on tv in which he stated that the attacks were well planned by terrorists. He reiterated that it took 17 – 18 days after those interviews to get the FBI to Benghazi to investigate.
Democrat Rep. Mark Pocan from Wisconsin: “What I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, is that I don’t think there is a smoking gun today. I don’t even think there is a lukewarm slingshot. What we have is some strong opinions from people who participated in the study or in the case of Mr. Thompson, he didn’t though no one stopped him.” He continues to blame funding for the attack and says the committee’s focus is to make sure this doesn’t happen again. He continues to say maybe it is time we protect our embassies the best that we can.
GOP Rep. Tim Walberg from Michigan asks “Was anyone interviewed by the ARB provided the opportunity to read the full classified report?” Hicks said as far as he knows, no one interviewed was allowed to read that report. Walberg then goes back to the 2 am phone call that he made to Hillary Clinton the night of the attack. He asked if a demonstration was mentioned during that call. He said no. Walberg states it would be interesting to know if that was included in the report. Hicks has read the report and confirms that there was no reference to a demonstration in the report.
Democrat Rep. Tammy Duckworth from Illinois continues to stress the obvious Democrat talking point that the hearing today is to make sure that this never, ever happens again. She continues by asking questions improvements in security by directing questions to Hicks and Nordstrom. Nordstrom says as part of his response that more money is not necessarily the answer. Better is the answer.
Chaffetz asks Hicks and Nordstrom if the Libyans would have granted us permission to fly an unarmed drone to fly to Benghazi to help in the attack. Both men said they did believe permission would be granted. Chaffetz contends that there was never an intention to send help to assist those people and protect them.
Democrat Connolly challenges Hicks testimony that there was no protest and his statement that the YouTube video was a non-issue in Libya. He goes on to say that the Libyan government is a little disconnected then continues to reference a New York Times article that quoted someone else from the Libyan government during which time the video was blamed.
Rep. Gosar asks Hicks if he ever questioned officials in Washington about what Secretary Rice said on the Sunday talk shows. He said when Asst. Secretary Jones called him after the talk shows, he asked her why she had said there was a demonstration when they reported an attack. The reaction she got was curt and it was clear to him from her tone that he should not proceed any further.
He said for the next month, he began to receive counseling from Asst. Secretary Jones about his management style. He was already doing it on the ground, but he implemented everything. Gosar reiterated that this was something that he was already highly decorated for that was now being questioned.
The clip of Hillary Clinton’s testimony during which she famously yelled, “What difference does it make?” was shown.
Hicks response was, “The real question is, what difference DID it make?”
Gosar asked Hicks if he was ever interviewed by the FBI. Hicks replied no.
Democrat Rep. Steven Horsford from Nevada continues the Democrat talking point that ‘we must do whatever we can to prevent this from ever happening again.’ He continues by stating that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks. He asks each of them if he is correct, then goes on to blame budgets and says that security does cost money. He directly blames Republicans for failure to fund large scale and long term security projects. He fails to ask questions to get to the heart of Benghazi, but instead begins to get louder and louder as he points the finger of blame for the attacks on Republicans accusing them of not properly funding the safety of the embassies.
Rep. Patrick Meehan references to Charlene Lamb’s testimony which specifically stated that funding played no role in the decision making to not provide relief and security at Benghazi.
Democrat Rep. Tim Cardenas from California attempts to place the blame on Ambassador Stevens death on Eric Nordstrom who he accuses of not telling Stevens to avoid traveling to Benghazi. He closes his time with the Democrat talking point, “So this never happens again.”
GOP Rep. Scott DesJarlais from Tennessee states that everyone wants the truth, but he is disturbed by the feel that there is a partisan feel to what the truth is. He continues and speaks with Hicks about the attacks he experienced following his questioning of the government’s blaming the attacks on a video and demonstration.
Hicks said he felt that he was being tried and convicted of something. He said everyone was offered the ability to leave Tripoli with no negative ramifications on their service. He said between his curtailment and the job that he has now, he had no meaningful employment. The job that he has now is basically a demotion. He has been effectively demoted from Deputy Chief of Mission to Desk Officer.
Issa reads from a cable sent directly from President Obama to the President of Libya. In this cable, the circumstances are described by Obama an ‘outrageous attack’. At no point does it talk about working together to fight terrorism.
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) – “I’m stunned that the State Department was relying on a militia with extremist ties to protect American diplomats. That doesn’t make any sense. How does that happen?”
Nordstrom answers by citing specific examples of when locals in areas that were used to protect American diplomats turned on them.
GOP Rep. Doc Hastings from Washington State asks Hicks to explain how things changed after the Rice interview. Hicks said he began to have his management style counseled and was told that his staff was upset. He said when he returned to Washington, Asst. Secretary Jones delivered a very blistering critique of his style and said she didn’t know why Larry Pope would want him back. Prior to September 2012, he had never received any negative critique from his superiors.
GOP Rep. Doug Collins from Georgia asked Mr. Hicks to give a bit of information on the plans to make Benghazi a permanent post. He stated that Stevens was told that is what the State Department would like to see and Stevens’ response was that he would make that happen. He asked of Washington was fully informed that Ambassador Stevens was going to Benghazi. He said they the were around August 22nd. No concerns were raised.
Collins continues to ask what does Hicks believes needs to be done to keep this from happening again. He said he believes there is more to do than what has been put forth by the ARB in its recommendations.
4:28 pm Eastern
Trent Gowdy reads a quote from Susan Rice during which she claimed on September 16th that an investigation by the FBI in Benghazi had begun. Hicks confirms that her statement is not true.
Florida Rep. Rob DeSantis asked who gave the stand down order. Hicks said he did not know and that the right person to ask would be Lt. Col. Gibson.
It was revealed that people representing the State Department told him to breach protocol and not provide any information to Chaffetz if asked.
Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings reads what he claims is testimony of Hicks from a previous interview. Cummings claims that Hicks said that he was not given the instruction to not speak to Chaffetz. Hicks, looking perplexed at this accusation, continues to contend that whatever document the Democrats are reading from is inaccurate and that he was instructed not to speak to Chaffetz.
1:53 pm Eastern
Democrat Rep. Carolyn Maloney from New York says that the Democrat minority was denied access to a witness stating the only access they had to Mr. Thompson was through the press.
Chairman Issa interrupted her, stopped the clock, and addressed the allegation as blatantly untrue stating that they fully complied with the spirit of the rules. Maloney said that Issa’s staff met with Thompson but that the Democrats were not allowed to meet with him. Issa said we did not prohibit Thompson from speaking to anyone. After being interrupted by Elijah Cummings who came to her defense, Maloney said that they requested a meeting with Mr. Thompson through his attorney, but they did not get a meeting.
Rep. Trent Gowdy in expressing his outrage over all of the events surrounding Benghazi said, “And to the families, we are going to find out what happened in Benghazi and I don’t give a damn whose career is affected. We’re going to find out what happened.”