Three State Department officials, referred to as 'whistleblowers' by some on the House panel, testified on the Benghazi attack for hours in an intensely partisan atmosphere.
The Benghazi terrorist attack returned to Congress Wednesday in hours of testimony – and sharply partisan questioning – that included the first public retelling from a US diplomat in Libya at the time of what happened the night Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
The testimony was not kind to the Obama administration.
The hearing, called by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was framed around the appearance and questioning of three State Department officials who were closely involved with the US response to the Benghazi attack on Sept. 11, 2012, but had not yet testified on it.
All three officials, called “whistleblowers” by several committee members, were critical of the Obama administration’s actions before, during, and after the assault on the temporary US mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi and on an annex operated by the CIA.
But any light the hours of questioning cast on the events in Benghazi – and on the committee’s stated broader goal of making sure steps are taken so they never happen again – was dimmed by the intensely partisan atmosphere of the hearing.
Republicans, led by committee chairman and top Obama critic Darrell Issa, repeatedly referred to the Benghazi “cover-up” they said was engineered by the administration, while Democrats said time and again that Republican cuts to diplomatic security budgets were to blame for exposing Benghazi to the deadliest assault on a US diplomatic mission in more than a decade.
The officials, including the second-in-command to Ambassador Stevens at the time of the attack, were critical of a wide range of administration decisions: from the level and type of security for the Benghazi mission, to rejecting a number of military options for addressing the attack.
Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Tripoli the night of the attack, criticized “stand down” orders out of the Pentagon: one not to send jets to overfly the attack site, another not to dispatch special forces from the embassy in Tripoli in the early morning hours the day after the attack.