The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the deaths last September of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Three State Department officials testified in an investigation of what Republicans leading the investigation contend was a deliberate attempt to mislead the American people about what happened that day.

A major subplot of it all, as The Post's Philip Rucker reported this morning, is what role former secretary of state Hillary Clinton played in all of it.

Read below for updates as the trial unfolded.


Hearing concludes

After nearly six hours, committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) gaveled the hearing to a close about 5:15 p.m. Eastern time.

Thanks for joining The Post's live blog. And please take to the comments section below for your thoughts and reactions.

Rep. Chaffetz chokes up

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who as chairman of the oversight committee's foreign policy subcommittee has spent lots of time on the Benghazi issue, got choked up late in Wednesday's hearing.

Two of the witnesses also got choked up while talking about he deaths of four Americans in Benghazi.

See the video here.

Rep. Trey Gowdy goes after Clinton

It took a while for Hillary Clinton to become Exhibit A in today's Benghazi hearing, but Republicans on the committee are focusing intently on her as the hearing winds down.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), a former prosecutor, had this warning for the former secretary of state, referring to her comments at a hearing earlier this year asking why is mattered whether the attack resulted from a spontaneous or a terrorist attack.

"If anyone wants to ask 'what difference does it make,' it always matters whether or not you can trust your government," Gowdy said. "And to the families, we’re going to find out what happened in Benghazi, and I don’t give a damn whose career is impacted. We’re going to find out what happened.”

Nordstrom: Officials questioned my ‘tone’ on security requests

Eric Nordstrom said that he was shunned when he asked for additional security at the mission in Benghazi.

"The response I got from the regional director when I raised the issues that we were short of our standards for physical security was that my quote, tone, was not helpful," said Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya

Asked whether the security decisions were made by him, Nordstrom suggested that those decisions were taken out of his hands when his requests were denied: “I would have liked to have thought so, but apparently not.”

Another witness, Gregory Hicks, said he was granted "very few" of the security requests that he made.

Hicks: Clinton was going to visit Libya to promote permanent Benghazi post

Gregory Hicks said that a main reason Ambassador Chris Stevens was at the mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, was to turn the temporary post into a permanent one, in hopes that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could visit Libya and promote the post.

Stevens was one of four Americans killed in the attack that day, and the witnesses testifying Wednesday have said that the State Department ignored requests for additional security.

"At least one of the reasons he was in Benghazi was to further the secretary’s wish that that post become a permanent constituent post, and also there because we understood that the secretary intended to visit Tripoli (the Libyan capital) later in the year," Hicks said. "They hoped that she would able to announce to the Libyan people the establishment of a permanent constituent post in Benghazi at that time.”

Hicks’s testimony reveals details of Tripoli Embassy evacuation during Benghazi crisis

Amid much rehashing of previously disclosed information, one seemingly new aspect has been Hicks's extensive description of the evacuation of dozens of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and U.S. housing areas to a secure annex location, all accomplished in the midst of the Benghazi crisis.

That situation, at least from the Pentagon's perspective, also sheds some light on the question of why a four-man Special Operations unit in Tripoli was told not to fly to Benghazi in the early morning along with an embassy response team that included two military personnel.

The four Special Operations personnel were the remnants of a 16-person team originally sent to help set up the embassy after the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. They had been told to remain in Tripoli for training purposes, and they were transferred from embassy command back to the military. While helping with the embassy evacuation, the lieutenant colonel in charge of the Special Operations group decided that his team should be aboard a Libyan aircraft the embassy had chartered to fly to Benghazi.

When he was ordered by the Africa Command not to go, Hicks said, the officer angrily told Hicks that "I've never been so embarrassed in my life that a State Department officer has bigger balls than someone in the military."

At the Pentagon today, spokesman George Little said that when Special Operations Command-Africa received the call from the lieutenant colonel, the Benghazi mission had shifted to evacuation mode rather than protection, and the lieutenant colonel was told "to continue providing support to the embassy in Tripoli."

"We continue to believe there was nothing this team could have done to assist during the second attack in Benghazi," Little said.

Hicks: I received a big demotion after controversy

Witness Gregory Hicks said he received an unexpected demotion following the controversy in Libya.

He said he intended to return to Libya, but that he wouldn't have felt comfortable going back to his job given the amount of criticism he had received.

He said he and others were told by Ambassador Laurence Pope — who took over as ambassador after the attack — that he could accept a curtailment but that "people could expect they would get a good level of assignment." Instead, he said, he received a significant demotion.

"It's a demotion," Hicks said. "'Foreign affairs officer' is a designation that is given to our civil service colleagues who — frankly, who are desk officers," Hicks said. "So I’ve been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer.”

Hicks: I got an angry call from Hillary Clinton’s top aide

In the GOP's most successful effort of the day to tie Hillary Clinton to the controversy, witness Gregory Hicks said he got an angry phone call from a top Clinton aide after a State Department lawyer was excluded from a briefing with a member of Congress.

Gregory Hicks said that he got a rare phone call from Cheryl Mills, a longtime Clinton lawyer who served as Hillary Clinton's top counsel and chief of staff at the State Department, who was angry about the lawyer not being allowed to participate in a briefing with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Hicks said he was told the lawyer didn't have the proper security clearance.

Hicks also said the State Department told him not to submit to a solo interview with the congressional delegation — the first time he had ever received such a command.

He also said he spoke with Clinton in the early morning hours after the attack.

Here's the exchange on the phone call with Mills:

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio): "(Mills) is as close as you can get to Secretary Clinton, is that accurate?"

Hicks: "Yes, sir."

Jordan: "And tell me about that phone call you had with Cheryl Mills."

Hicks: "A phone call from that senior a person is, generally speaking, not considered to be good news."

Jordan: "And what did she have to say to you?"

Hicks: "She demanded a report on the visit ... "

Jordan: "Was she upset by the fact that this lawyer was ... "

Hicks: "She was upset."

Jordan: "... this babysitter, this spy, whatever you want to call him, was not allowed to be in that — first time that's ever happened, in all the congressional delegations you've ever entertained — was not allowed to be in that classified briefing? Was she upset about that fact?"

Hicks: "She was very upset."

Jordan: "So this goes right to the person next to Secretary Clinton. Is that accurate?"

Hicks: "Yes, sir."

Here's more on Mills's long and close relationship with Clinton, from The Post's Karen Tumulty.

Where’s Hillary Clinton?

Despite the GOP's clear designs on getting to the bottom of Hillary Clinton's role in the response to Benghazi, her name has rarely been spoken through the first three hours of the hearing.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) offered a sort of pre-emptive defense of her former New York colleague, and Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) later tried to tie Clinton's counsel, Cheryl Mills, to the response, noting her correspondence with one of the witnesses.

But with the exception of those two moments, this hearing really hasn't been about Clinton.

Instead, Republicans seem to be building their case slowly, first arguing that there were failings and then drawing a line to Clinton.

Updated 3:05 p.m: Since this posting, a video of Clinton's "What difference does it make?" testimony has been played.

Hillary Clinton’s ‘What difference does it make?’ goes viral

A remark that former secretary of state Hilary Rodham Clinton made during a January hearing has been seized on by her critics as a sign of her alleged mishandling of the Benghazi attacks.

"Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans?" Clinton said, when asked repeatedly about whether or not there were protests before the Benghazi attacks. "What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?"

That last remark – "What difference does it make?" – has since surfaced as a Twitter hashtag and a common refrain in viral graphics, particularly those created by critics of the administration's version of events. According to Topsy, a Twitter analytics firm, the hashtag #whatdifferencedoesitmake has since been used more than 10,000 times.

This morning, the fact-checking site Politifact provided some context for Clinton's remark. In their published transcript, Clinton goes on to say:

 It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime.

Nordstrom says he never got an explanation for security denial

Eric Nordstrom, whose duties in Libya ended two months before the Benghazi attack,  said he was never provided with documentation describing who denied requests for additional security in the months before the attacks, and why.

“What still remains unseen is who made that decision to go ahead and assume that this was going to be a temporary facility,” Nordstrom said. “ At one point, I was told … that the recommendations that we wanted to make – the upgrades both in Tripoli and Benghazi – would not be made.”

Nordstrom said he requested a copy of that denial eight months before the attack but was never provided one.

“I got no confirmation as to who made those decisions, nor did I get a copy of that (denial),” Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom added that the facility did not meet standards of a permanent posting.

“We did not meet any of those standards, with perhaps the exception of the height of the wall,” Nordstrom said.

His testimony appears to contradict that of Hicks, who said earlier that Hillary Clinton had decided to convert the facility to a permanent one before Stevens's travel there in September. It may be that the decision came after Nordstrom's departure in July.

There have been a number of exchanges on why U.S. personnel were allowed to be sent to facilities where security was acknowledged to be inadequate.

— Karen DeYoung contributed to this post.

Rep. Speier says witness isn’t answering Democrats’ questions

While Democrats on the committee have generally praised the witnesses as longtime civil servants, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) took aim at one of them at the start of her testimony, accusing Mark Thompson of failing to directly answer Democrats' questions.

After committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) praised the committee's process, Speier retorted:

“It’s ironic you would say that, Mr. Chairman, since Mr. Thompson will not even engage with the Democratic side of the aisle in terms of answering any series of questions," Speier said. She later praised the service of another witness, Gregory Hicks.

Thompson says he wasn’t interviewed by Benghazi board, despite volunteering

Witness Mark Thompson said he volunteered to be interviewed by the Benghazi review board but was never questioned.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said that Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, was among those closest to the situation who could have been interviewed. Thompson agreed with that characterization.

The other witnesses, Gregory Hicks and Eric Nordstrom, said they were interviewed by the board.

Hicks talks for first time about why Chris Stevens was in Benghazi

In an exchange with Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Hicks for the first time was publicly asked why Ambassador Chris Stevens was in Benghazi the day of the attack. He gave two reasons. First, he said, Clinton wanted the Benghazi facility converted from a temporary to a permanent post, and funds available to do that needed to be obligated before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. "In addition," Hicks said, "Chris wanted to make a symbolic gesture to the people of Benghazi that the people of the United States stood behind their dream of establishing a new democracy."

The question of whether Stevens, who was considered the U.S. official most knowledgeable about Libya and was given significant personal leeway to make his own travel plans, should have better considered the threat level in Benghazi before going there, is a sensitive one. But it lies outside the scope of today's hearing, which is focusing largely on the response to the attack itself.

Hicks: ‘There was no report from the U.S. mission in Libya of a demonstration’

Bipartisanship is in sharp evidence, as Democrats have tried to recall previous investigations and testimony that addressed many of the questions being raised by Republicans. Among those charges, Republicans have accused the administration of changing talking points given to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice regarding the nature of the attack for her Sunday television appearance.

In response, Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) played a portion of the February testimony of Lt. Gen. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, in which Clapper defended Rice's TV statements. "I thought it was unfair, because of the hit she took," Clapper said. "I didn't think that was appropriate. She was going on what we had given her, and that was our collective best judgement at the time of what should have been said."

Witness Gregory Hicks, responding to questioning from Tierney, said the U.S. mission in Libya never informed leaders in Washington that there was some kind of demonstration that led to the attacks.

“There was no report from the U.S. mission in Libya of a demonstration," Hicks said.

Hicks declined to judge whether Clapper was wrong or had lied, saying only that there was no report of a demonstration from the mission.

"I don't know anything about the development of those talking points," Hicks said.

— Aaron Blake contributed to this post.

This post has been updated.

Cummings checks Hicks on military response

Ranking committee member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who has taken on the role of counterpoint to Republican charges, gently took Hicks through parts of his testimony relating to whether U.S. military assets could have gotten to the scene in Benghazi sooner.

In his earlier interview with committee staff, Hicks said he thought that an F-16 flying over Benghazi at some point "might well have prevented some of the bad things that happened that night."

"I believe if we had been able to scramble a fighter ... over Benghazi," Hicks said in the interview, "I believe the Libyans would have split."

Hicks testified that the embassy defense attache told him the night of the attack that U.S. jets based at Aviano, Italy, would need "two to three hours" to arrive over Benghazi. Hicks said the attache also told him that the jets weren't coming, because there were no refueling aircraft available to service them.

"I understand you wanted planes to get to Benghazi faster," Cummings told Hicks. "If I were in your shoes, I would have wanted them to get there yesterday."

Cummings asked whether Hicks had any reason to question the February testimony of Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said that for various reasons having nothing to do with refueling, it would have taken up to 20 hours for the planes to get from Aviano to Benghazi.

When committee Chairman  Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) interrupted Cummings to say that other "knowledgeable" people would have to testify about the planes, Cummings countered that "a lot has been put out there in the air," and that he had a responsibility to protect not only today's witnesses, but those whose reputations were being brought into question but were not present.

Carney says Benghazi has already ‘been looked at exhaustively’

White House press secretary Jay Carney, in his daily briefing, stuck to the White House's line that Republicans are politicizing the events in Benghazi.

"This is a subject that has, from the beginning, been politicized by Republicans, when what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy," Carney told reporters, adding that it started with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on the evening of the Sept 11, 2012, attacks.

In response to a question, Carney said he did not know whether the House committee was "going after" former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2016.

"The fact is, this has been looked at exhaustively," Carney said.

Hillary Clinton gets first mention

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), in her question time, made the hearing’s first reference to former secretary of sate Hillary Rodham Clinton, offering a full-throated defense of her former New York colleague.

As The Post’s Philip Rucker reported, Republicans see today’s hearing as an opportunity to hold Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential frontrunner, accountable for her role – or lack thereof – in what happened.

Maloney proceeded to note that, though Republicans have noted that Clinton’s name was on the cable denying additional security to Benghazi, that it's the State Department’s policy to attach her name to cables and that there’s no evidence that Clinton personally approved the cable.

"There is no way in the world that she could sign every cable going out," Maloney concluded.

Hicks ‘stunned’ and ’embarrassed’ by Rice’s Sunday show appearances

Witness Gregory Hicks says he was "stunned" at how United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice described the attacks during her appearance on the Sunday shows the week of the attacks.

Republicans have criticized Rice for suggesting that the attack was a "spontaenous" attack. The controversy effectively derailed her potential nomination as secretary of state.

“I was stunned. My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed," Hicks said during questioning by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

Gowdy first brought up the television interviews with Rice the Sunday after the attack. Republicans have maintained that Rice intentionally lied by saying that the attack was part of an anti-U.S. demonstration, rather than the terrorist attack the administration already knew had taken place.

Asked "what impact" Rice's statements had "on the ground" in Libya, Hicks indicated that it might have been responsible for bureaucratic resistance from the Libyan government that delayed the arrival of an FBI investigating team in Libya for 18 days after the attack.

— Karen DeYoung contributed to this post.

Former deputy ambassador Gregory Hicks gives emotional account of attack

Gregory Hicks, the former deputy ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, is testifying at length about the timeline on the night of Sept. 11 and morning of Sept. 12, 2012. His description so far of what happened that night in Benghazi has varied little from what was already known. He has stopped several times to control his emotions, and described the call he received from the Libyan prime minister telling him that Ambassador Chris Stevens was dead as "the saddest phone call I've ever had in my life."

So far, none of the charges Hicks made in excerpts the committee released about its earlier interview with him have come up. He described a telephone call at 2 a.m. Libyan time from then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who he said agreed with his decision to evacuate the Benghazi annex where all U.S. personnel had by then relocated.

Hicks is also describing at length what was going on in Tripoli, where the embassy, he said, had received word of a possible threat and was busily consolidating its personnel into the annex building, which was more defensible.

Rep. Darrell Issa’s tweet publicizing the hearing

Update, 2:27 p.m.: A spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa says Issa has not paid for a promoted tweet.

Original post: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) appears to have bought an ad on Twitter to promote today's Benghazi hearings.

The "promoted tweet," which appears at the top of his feed — though not on the pages for #Benghazi or related hashtags — features an image with the tagline "exposing failure/recognizing courage" and encourages people to retweet the graphic.

As my colleague Rachel Weiner chronicled in a report last week, Republicans have recently embraced the meme as a means to spread their message online.

 This post has been updated.

Who’s tweeting about Benghazi? Rich, middle-aged men and Chick-fil-A lovers

Thousands of people have tweeted on the #Benghazi hashtag since the September attack, helping disseminate, and even steer, the divisive political narrative of what happened that night.

Thanks to Demographics Pro, a Twitter analysis firm, we have some vague idea of who's tweeting the most: According to their report, #Benghazi tweeters are 58.3% male, with an average age of 52.6 years and a median income of $61,800 ("within the top 20 percent of overall Twitter distribution," the report adds).

The tweeters are also overwhelmingly white and married, according to Demographics Pro; they also like Chick-fil-A and Walmart — two brands most often associated with conservatives.

Demographics Pro is run by Schmap, a private social data and consumer profiling firm, and describes itself as a marriage of Nielsen and Twitter.

According to Topsy, another analytics service, more than 67,000 tweets have been sent with the hashtag in the past month alone.

McKeon ‘deeply disappointed’ in Pentagon’s failure to provide classified timeline

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said this morning that while the Defense Department has been "generally cooperative ... in getting to the bottom of what went wrong in Benghazi," he is "deeply disappointed" in the Pentagon's failure to provide him with what he says is a classified timeline of the military's response during the attack.

In a response to McKeon's timeline request, Assistant Defense Secretary Elizabeth Lee King told McKeon in a May 1 ketter that the unclassified timeline publicly released Nov. 10 was the only one in existence.

"The Department did not produce a formal classified timeline, but rather only draft working products to assist witnesses" and congressional briefers. "By practice," she wrote, "such draft working products are not distributed beyond DOD."

Here is her letter, and the unclassified timeline, released by McKeon.  

In March testimony, Gen. Carter Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, said that various European-based military rapid response units were activated soon after the attack commenced, but did not arrive until the next day. "If I could," Ham told Congress in March, "if I could turn the clock back, I would make different decisions based on what I know now as opposed to what I knew then."

Text of the witnesses’ opening statements

Below are links to the prepared testimony for each of the three witnesses:

Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism

Gregory Hicks, foreign aervice officer and former deputy chief of mission/chargé d’affairs in Libya

Eric Nordstrom, diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya

Nordstrom chokes up in opening statement

Witness Eric Nordstrom got very choked up while delivering his opening statement, calling for accountability for the families of those killed.

Stopping several times to compose himself, Nordstrom concluded his remarks:

"It matters to me personally and it matters to my colleagues at the Department of State," he said. "It matters to the American people, for whom we serve. And most importantly, it matters to the friends and family of (those) who were murdered on Sept. 11, 2012."

Skeptical mother of slain diplomat Sean Smith in attendance

Pat Smith, the mother of State Department information officer Sean Smith — one of four Americans killed in the Benghazi attack — is reportedly in the room for today's hearings.

In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper yesterday, Smith said she blamed Hillary Clinton for the situation and that investigators had only told her "lies."

"I want answers," she said several times during the interview. But of today's hearings, she said: "I don't know if they'll be able to tell me anything."

Conservatives complain about lack of news coverage

The Benghazi hearing is live — but not on CNN, MSNBC or a number of other major networks, as many Twitter users are pointing out.

The Benghazi hearing is, notably, competing with another big news event: Amanda Berry, one of the women kidnapped and held for 10 years in a Cleveland home, is scheduled to give remarks to media early this afternoon. But that hasn't stopped many conservatives from reading a political bias into the lack of Benghazi coverage.



State Department official says government’s probe didn’t focus enough on leaders

The Post's Ernest Londoño reports on the testimony set to be delivered by the three witnesses from the State Department, in which one of them criticizes the government's investigation for not attaching the failures to senior officials:

A State Department security expert who was assigned to the embassy in Libya months before the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi said Wednesday that the government’s probe into the incident failed to adequately take senior leaders to task for security lapses and management failures.

Eric Nordstrom, the regional security officer posted in Libya when the U.S. Embassy was reopened after the country’s 2011 civil war, said it was “inexplicable” that the department’s investigation into the matter failed to “review the decisions of the [undersecretary] for management and other senior leaders,” according to remarks prepared for delivery before a congressional panel.

Nordstrom is one of three State Department officials appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing on the Benghazi attacks. Republicans in the House have hailed them as “whistleblowers” and expressed hope that their accounts will bring to light information the White House has sought to downplay.

Issa hits Democrats for lack of cooperation, Cummings hits back

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the committee, used his opening statement to accuse Democrats and the White House of failing to help him get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi. Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to prevent the whistleblowers from testifying.

"These brave whistleblowers are, in fact, what makes this committee work,” Issa said. “The public has a right to hear their accounts.”

Issa added: "The administration, however has not been cooperative, and unfortunately our minority has mostly sat silent as we’ve made these requests.”

Ranking committee member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) disputed Issa's account and accused him and the GOP-controlled committee of waging a "highly partisan" investigation.

"There is no member of Congress, be they Republican or Democrat, who fails to uphold the right of whistleblowers to come forward. I think it’s sad when that accusation is made against any member of this Congress,” Cummings said.

Cummings added:  "The fact is that our top military commanders have already testified they did everything in their power to deploy assets as soon as possible." Cummings said that all testimony and documents so far confirm "that they could not get there in time."

"I have seen nothing," Cummings added, "to make me question the proof on this."

— Karen DeYoung contributed to this post.

Live blog: Obama’s news conference

President Obama is holding his first news conference since March 1 at 10:30 a.m. from the Brady Briefing Room.

The president has had domestic two news conferences this year -- one shortly after the New Year and the second on the day the deep spending cuts, known as sequestration, took effect.

Between the two, his demeanor evolved. Defiant at the start of the year, he was humbler by the second, when it was clear the strength of his reelection and public opinion wouldn't fundamentally alter the balance of power between the White House and the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Which Obama will we get today? Follow along with us live.