Benghazi Hearing Revelations: 'The YouTube Video Was a Non-Event in Libya'
Breitbart News will provide live updates and analysis of today's hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the Benghazi terror attack of September 11, 2012. Todays testimony will feature whistleblowers who are expected to provide information supporting claims that the Obama administration failed to provide adequate security to U.S. diplomates in Libya, declined to intervene once the attacks began, and attempted to cover up what happened by concocting a story about an anti-Islam video.
5:16 p.m. EDT: Issa: "This hearing is now closed, but this investigation is not over."
5:02 p.m. EDT: Debate now revolves around the decision to open a mission in Benghazi, and stay there after the British left. Rep. Gowdy makes clear, through questioning, that Clinton was responsible for those decisions. He adds that Cheryl Mills was responsible in part for the talking points debacle. Nordstrom adds that she prepared State Department staff for testimony about Benghazi in October. At the very least, the Committee now has a new key witness to call. Gowdy: "We're going to find out what happened."
4:56 p.m. EDT: As the hearing winds down, one question that remains unanswered is who ordered U.S. forces not to intervene--or to "stand down." Hicks could not say who gave those instructions, or why.
Breitbart News' Kerry Picket reported Tuesday that only President Obama could have given such an order. Joel Pollak reported yesterday that some on the left seem to believe the president did order such an intervention, even though the evidence indicates that he had no further contact with the military after an initial briefing.
The question remains: what did President Obama do when he learned of the Benghazi attacks, and why?
4:54: p.m. EDT: Chairman Issa counters Rep. Maloney's claim that Republicans on the committee did not provide equal access to the witnesses to both sides of the aisle. Cummings weighs in, saying that while Democrats want to protect whistleblowers, they would have liked to interview all the witnesses. Issa asks Thompson, Hicks, and Nordstrom whether Issa had asked them not to speak with the Democrats; all say no.
4:53 p.m. EDT: Rep. Jason Chaffetz breaks down and weeps as he remembers the dead in Benghazi.
4:44 p.m. EDT: Rep. Cummings is back again, sweeping up some loose ends in an effort to trip up the witnesses again and establish some basis for a pushback or a plausible administration counter-narrative. It all seems rather small, pulling at the edges of the testimony instead of any of the fundamental contentions.
4:36 p.m. EDT: Rep. Jordan asks Hicks about Cheryl Mills, Clinton's Chief of Staff, who told Hicks not to speak with Rep. Chaffetz without a State Department lawyer being present. Jordan asked whether Mills is generally taken to be speaking for the Secretary of State herself. Hicks says "No. Not necessarily." But her intervention would have been regarded as important. Hicks adds, in response to further questions, that Mills wanted to know about a classified briefing Hicks had given to members of the Committee from which the lawyer had been excluded, and that her tone had been somewhat angry. Jordan says, "This is the equivalent of Rahm Emanuel calling...representing the White House." Emanuel is now Mayor of Chicago.
4:25 p.m. EDT: As the major networks focus on the Jodi Arias verdict sideshow, all but ignoring the Benghazi hearings, Breitbart News' Ben Shapiro sums up the situation as perhaps only he can:
4:20 p.m. EDT: After a string of questions from Republicans on the committee, it would seem that no Democrats are asking questions any more. They have largely packed up and called it a day.
4:03 p.m. EDT: Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) asks (reads out, actually) a question about the Fox News Special Operations source who claimed in a May 2 story that Special Operations forces could have been sent in time. He cites a response--which no one else has seen--from the Pentagon that disagrees with the Fox News story.
4:00 p.m. EDT: Nordstrom says people asked him why he kept requesting security: "If you knew she was going to keep saying 'no,' why did you keep asking?" His answer: "Because it was the right thing to do." He says requests were taken less seriously because the Libya missions were not under the kind of overt attacks seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The response from Foggy Bottom amounted to, in effect, "Stop complaining."
3:51 p.m. EDT: The hearing gavels back in. Nordstrom talks about security requests ignored by the State Department--one of the areas, he notes, which the Accountability Review Board did criticize the Department. Recommendations that were put into the official format of a diplomatic cable, he says, were not well-received because they were seen as creating a way for the State Department to be held accountable.
3:38 p.m. EDT: Chairman Issa calls a 10-minute break.
3:35 p.m. EDT: John Nolte pronounces his verdict on the mainstream media's coverage of Benghazi:
"Media Will Never Admit It, But Hearings Prove Obama Lied to Them"
3:30 p.m. EDT: Hicks just testified that he has been demoted from Deputy Chief of Mission to what amounts to Desk Officer. A classic tactic used against whistleblowers--make their lives miserable without firing them. The fact that Hicks has a storied, highly-decorated career does not seem to matter to the State Department.
3:05 p.m. EDT: Democrats continue with the budget argument, attacking Republicans for cutting the international affairs budget, a portion of which is allocated to diplomatic security.
One problem: guess who else has been "cutting" the international affairs budget? President Barack Obama. His FY2014 request is "flat" compared to last year and a cut compared to some previous years--though within that overall budget, the president does call for increased allocations to diplomatic security.
In point of fact, Democrats' assumption that the Republican budget cuts diplomatic security is false. The House budget report notes [emphasis original]:
Diplomatic Security. Although this budget does not assume any savings from either the State Department’s Diplomatic Consular Programs or its Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance accounts, there is concern regarding State Department’s prioritization of resources...
In 2012, while requests for additional security to Benghazi were denied by the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Vienna received a new charging station for its Chevy Volts (electric cars), to combat climate change. The charging station cost $100,000...
This budget recommends that the State Department re-prioritize its re- sources and eliminate wasteful spending.
2:50 p.m. EDT: Newly-elected Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) gets a "question" in that is aimed simply at highlighting the role that military personnel eventually played in treating and evacuating survivors and wounded.
2:45 p.m. EDT: Rep. Chaffetz asks Hicks whether there had been any request from the U.S. to the Libyan government for permission to fly anything other than a surveillance drone over Libyan airspace. Hicks says there were not, and that he would have known. Chaffetz also cites an email from Dan Benjamin supporting Thompson's contention that the counter-terrorism bureau would be kept out of the loop, in which Benjamin indicates that he would not lobby to keep the bureau involved.
2:40 p.m. EDT: Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) humbles her fellow Democrats with a constructive question about what should be done to improve diplomatic security in the future.
2:24 p.m. EDT: Hicks, under questioning from Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), insists that there was no protest in Benghazi, and emphasizes: "The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya."
There are now five major takeaways from the Benghazi hearing thus far.
1. Two "stand-down" orders were given while the Benghazi attacks were in progress.
2. The "protest" about a YouTube video was a complete fabrication by the Obama administration.
3. Cheryl Mills, Clinton's lawyer at the State Department, told witnesses not to speak to House investigators.
4. The diplomatic personnel on the ground acted with incredible, unheralded heroism.
5. Democrats came to rebut the eyewitnesses with talking points.
2:16 p.m. EDT: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) gets caught using talking points--prepared by whom?--in which she attempts to impugn Hicks's testimony by contrasting what he said about being told not to be interviewed by Rep. Chaffetz with what he previously told the committee about not receiving any communication from Washington. Hicks does not recall the earlier statement; when Issa asks Speier what page of the transcript she is talking about, she defers to her staff and says that she is reading from a different document.
2:10 p.m. EDT: Hicks, responding to a question from Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), notes that the decision-making authority rested with "presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed" officials. No responsibility has been assigned to anyone at those levels; instead, Duncan notes, the ARB report blames the State Department's diplomatic security bureau. Nordstrom responds that the ARB report sent the message to State Department colleagues that "if you're above a certain level" you will not be held accountable for the decisions you make.
2:00 p.m. EDT: Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) quotes the State Department's Dan Benjamin to rebut Thompson's testimony that the counter-terrorism bureau was kept out of the loop. Benjamin believes he was kept informed; Thompson believes that Benjamin was not fully informed. Connolly tries to introduce Benjamin's attributed statement as "testimony." Issa intervenes to point out that Benjamin will be invited to testify himself in future.
1:55 p.m. EDT: Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) focuses on the crux of the matter. There were two stand-down orders, he says--one the decision not to send the State Department's FEST team, and the other the order to Lt. Colonel Gibson not to board a C-130 that was on its way to intervene. He asks Hicks to elaborate on the latter.
Hicks says he does not know why the stand-down order was given, and says there was every reason to believe U.S. personnel were still in danger at the time the order was given. Hicks remembers his reaction: "OK, we're on our own, we're going to have to try to pull this off with the resources available." He says the Libyans working for the U.S. diplomatic mission were surprised that the military was not going to be sending help.
1:50 p.m. EDT: White House spokesperson Jay Carney says that the President is not watching the hearings.
1:45 p.m. EDT: Rep. John Mica answers Cummings by raising another issue: the State Department's Accountability Review Board (ARB) did not interview key witnesses such as Thompson, and only interviewed Hicks for two hours, hardly long enough (both witnesses concur). As Breitbart News' Kerry Picket noted last week, the ARB did not even interview Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for its Benghazi report. The Inspector General of the State Department is now reviewing the review board, which the State Department insists is a fairly routine matter but is almost certainly prompted by the glaring weaknesses in the Benghazi investigation.
1:40 p.m. EDT: Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) renews an old and discredited line of attack, blaming Republican-supported budget cuts for the lack of security in Benghazi. As Breitbart News' AWR Hawkins pointed out in January, testimony in October 2012 by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Charlene Lamb confirmed that budget considerations were not an issue.
Issa asks Clay whether he was there that day. Clay does not remember.
Cummings counters that the Accountability Review Board report said that resources were an issue. But as Breitbart News' John Sexton pointed out yesterday, "the official State Dept. report on Benghazi did not claim that insufficient resources were directly responsible for the security cuts made in Benghazi, though it did recommend raising the overall budget by 2015.
More from Sexton:
1:35 p.m. EDT: Rep. Jim Jordan leads a line of questioning to Hicks in which he elicits testimony that the State Department tried to dissuade him from speaking to members of the Oversight Committee, and attempted to place a lawyer in between him and committee members, including attending classified meetings. Hicks confirms that this had never happened before in his career, and that a lawyer who assisted Secretary Clinton directly was upset about the investigation.
1:29 p.m. EDT: Tierney continues by attempting to trip up Nordstrom regarding the change to the administration's talking points. Nordstrom reiterates that there was no report from the U.S. mission in Libya about a protest.
1:26 p.m. EDT: Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) continues the Democrats' attack on Issa, objecting to the charge that the American public was deliberately misled. The Democrats' resource on this is the Washington Post, which gave one of Issa's statements "four Pinnochios" but only gave the administration's original story about the protest "two Pinnochios." The same Washington Post that is mocking people watching the hearings (see update from 1:15 p.m., below).
1:16 p.m. EDT: D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton asks Thompson whether a quote about the counter-terrorism bureau of the State Department being circumvented is accurate. He replies that it is not, and objects to her implication that he would have said or done something out of political motives. She cuts him off.
In a subsequent answer, Thompson tries to explain that a portion of the bureau that would have been most effective was not involved--and Holmes Norton cuts him off again. Thompson is visibly irritated.
1:15 p.m. EDT: Presented without comment.
1:13 p.m. EDT: Rep. Chaffetz presents evidence that help might have been able to arrive in time. He concludes by making the point that the question is irrelevant anyway, because "We had no idea how long, or when this was going to end."
1:12 p.m. EDT: Politico reports that the White House has slammed Republicans for attempting to "politicize" Benghazi.
1:07 p.m. EDT: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) drills down on the question of whether military personnel were authorized to travel after the attack to help rescue and escort diplomatic personnel from Benghazi. Hicks says that military personnel did not have authorization and did not travel, leaving the duty to diplomatic personnel. He recalls a comment made at the time: "First time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than our military."
1:02 p.m. EDT: Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), given an opportunity to question the witnesses, launches a tirade against Republicans who "attacked" President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, including the committee chair, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). She hones in on a controversy about a cable that Issa alleged Clinton signed, arguing that Clinton's name had merely appeared on the bottom of the cable. Issa declines to respond.
1:00 p.m. EDT: Over at Big Journalism, John Nolte notes that several mainstream media journalists are mocking Hicks, trying to rebut the whistleblowers in real time, and generally behaving miserably. Some are attacking Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who serves on the Intelligence Committee, for attending the hearings.
12:55 p.m. EDT: Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) asks Hicks whether Amb. Stevens, or the Prime Minister of Libya, mentioned anything about a protest or demonstration outside the Benghazi consulate. "No, sir."
Asked about UN Ambassador Susan Rice's assertions about a protest on the Sunday talk shows: "I was stunned," Hicks says. "My jaw dropped."
12:50 p.m. EDT: As predicted, Democrats are pushing back against the idea that there could have been any military response that would have arrived in time. Cummings challenges Hicks on whether fighter jets could have arrived:
As Breitbart News' Joel Pollak pointed out yesterday, the question is actually irrelevant. First, because there was no way to know at the time how long or how extensive the attacks would be; and second, because we now know more about just how unprepared the administration was to provide any security of any kind in case of emergency.
12:45 p.m. - Ranking Member Cummings tries to push back against Hicks's testimony, saying he needs to provide "balance" in order to "protect" Hicks's colleagues. Terrible optics.
12:40 p.m. EDT: Some notable points from Hicks's riveting testimony:
12:25 p.m. EDT: Hicks: second phase took place from about 11:30 p.m. - 1:30 a.m., consisted of probing attacks from terrorists. Tripoli response team arrived at ~1:15 a.m.
1. We are hearing stories of heroism that have never yet been told to the American public--of the brave response team of six men who drove off 60 terrorists in the first phase of the attack, of the diplomatic staff in Tripoli who scrambled to protect their colleagues and the American mission, of the Libyans who sacrificed their own lives to protect Americans.
2. We have yet to hear one word about a protest or demonstration in Benghazi about the anti-Islam video that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed for the attack. Ambassador Chris Stevens told Hicks, "We're under attack!" He never mentioned a protest, and the report of the attack was the first Hicks heard of anything unusual.
3. The administration was totally unprepared to defend the embassy in Tripoli or the consulate in Benghazi. When Hicks asked what kind of help might be available, he was told that the closest available military resources were fighter jets a few hours away. They could not be sent because there were no refueling planes available. An inexcusable lack of preparedness.
12:23 p.m. EDT: Hicks describes "four phases" of the night. First is attack on consulate, whose details he says many in public have already learned. Says estimates were up to 60 attackers in compound.
12:18 p.m. EDT: Full preparedstatements from each witness:
12:15 p.m. EDT: Hicks describing how he found out about attack. Says Chris Stevens did not know about Cairo attack until he (Hicks) texted him.
12:10 p.m. EDT: Third witness is Eric Nordstrom. Tears up after mentioning his friends at State Dept. Says "it matters" to get the truth out about attack.
12:06 p.m. EDT: Second witness is Hicks. Setting up his background, reputation as man who gets things done--"Ambassador's bulldog." "Until Benghazi," he says, "I loved my job."
12:02 p.m. EDT: First witness is Mark I. Thompson. Says State Dept. told him it was not "right time" to send an emergency response team to besieged mission--the State-led Foreign Emergency Response Team [via Aces of Spades, this is the sort of response Thompson requested].
12:00 p.m. EDT: Issa gives what Erik Wemple calls "long-form version" of Gregory Hicks' résumé. Substantive record of service.
11:55 a.m. EDT:
11:50 a.m. EDT: Cummings says witnesses' statements have been used for media witch hunt against public officials. Claims from today's hearing must be thoroughly vetted.
11:47 a.m. EDT: Darrell Issa (R-CA) finishes opening statements. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) very incensed by accusation anyone held back whistleblowers.
11:39 a.m. EDT: YouTube has provided a live stream of the hearing. It is their first time streaming the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
11:30 a.m. EDT: As the hearing gets under way, John Nolte has set up Breitbart News' media live blog at Big Journalism. He will be covering the media's reactions to the hearings, and we will link to his updates here.
A few early observations from Nolte--not about today's media, but the administration's media spin in September
11:05 a.m. EDT: Media coverage of the hearings is scant today, with most mainstream media outlets relegating the story to second-tier status. That continues a trend noted yesterday by Breitbart News' John Nolte and Larry O'Connor, who noted that the New York Times, Politico, and Buzzfeed had buried or ignored the Benghazi story.
11:00 a.m. EDT - Breitbart News' Kerry Picket will be at the hearing and will provide reactions from lawmakers afterward. In her preview this morning of the hearings, she noted the key expectations and witnesses:
Republicans on the House Oversight Committee say there will be “explosive” revelations that will come forth during the Committee’s hearing on Wednesday when three State Department witnesses reveal what they knew the night the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya were attacked by terrorists. Committee members will be hearing the testimonies of State Department employees Greg Hicks, Mark Thompson, and Eric Nordstrom.
The Committee appears to be interested in finding out who ultimately made the decision to tell military assets not to send help to the Americans who were under assault in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. The attack took the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.