Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) opened the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing by saying that panel Democrats had “mostly sat silent” while Republicans tried to wrest the truth from an uncooperative Obama administration.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the senior Democrat on the committee, countered that Issa’s GOP majority had launched a “full-scale media campaign . . . of unfounded accusations to smear public officials.”
But in expanding the narrative of the intensely politicized episode, the witnesses raised fresh questions about whether then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her deputies were sufficiently engaged in assessing the security posture of diplomatic posts last year.
Speaking before the panel, they also reiterated criticism of the administration’s initial reluctance to describe the attacks as premeditated terrorist acts. The Libyan government had labeled the attacks a terrorist assault, and the absence of similar descriptions from the United States made it more difficult for Libyan officials to assist the FBI’s investigation of the incident, according to the former deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Libya.
“It negatively affected our ability to get the FBI team quickly to Benghazi,” Foreign Service officer Gregory Hicks said. President Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf was “insulted in front of his own people. His credibility was reduced. His ability to lead his country was damaged,” Hicks said.
Clinton and her senior aides should have paid more attention to deteriorating security in Libya over the months preceding the attacks, along with requests from the post for additional resources, said Eric Nordstrom, who served as the embassy’s security chief until July.
If for no other reason, Nordstrom said, Clinton was planning to travel to Libya later in the year and had signaled that she wanted the United States to turn its temporary mission in Benghazi into a formal diplomatic post.
“Certainly, there’s a reasonable expectation that her staff would have briefed her” on a March 28 cable from the embassy in Tripoli asking for additional security personnel and resources, Nordstrom said.
The State Department has defended the review carried out after the Benghazi assault, calling it exhaustive. The former top diplomat who led the probe, Thomas Pickering, told MSNBC that “the notion of a coverup,” as some Republicans allege, “has the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction.”