Cummings said Hicks’ story reminded him “about something that I said very recently, well, two years ago now, in a eulogy for a relative.”
“I said that death is a part of life, but so often we have to find a way to make life a part of death,” the ranking Democrat told the witnesses. “…I know this is difficult. I know it is. We all feel your pain.”
Still, committee Democrats tried to poke holes in the testimony of Hicks along with Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism Mark Thompson and Diplomatic Security Officer and former Regional Security Officer in Libya Eric Nordstrom.
Nordstrom noted that there are very few diplomatic facilities worldwide considered critical or high threat level for U.S. personnel by the GAO, and Tripoli and Benghazi were among those.
“And by statute, Mr. Nordstrom, who has authority to place personnel in the authority that does not meet the minimum [Overseas Security Policy Board] standards?” asked Rep. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.).
“It’s my understanding that since we were the sole occupants of both of those facilities, Benghazi and Tripoli, the only person who could grant waivers or exceptions of those was the secretary of State,” Nordstrom said.
Yet the conversion of insecure Benghazi into a permanent post was why Stevens was sent there.
“Timing for this decision was important. Chris needed to report before September 30th, the end of the fiscal year, on the physical — the political and security environment in Benghazi to support an action memo to convert Benghazi from a temporary facility to a permanent facility,” Hicks testified. “In addition, Chris wanted to make a symbolic gesture to the people of Benghazi that the United States stood behind their dream of establishing a new democracy.”
“We had funds available that we could — that could be transferred from an account set aside for Iraq and could be dedicated to this purpose. They had to be obligated by September 30th,” he added.
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney brushed off the significance of the hearing.
“This administration has made extraordinary efforts to work with five different congressional committees investigating what happened before, during and after the Benghazi attacks, including over the past eight months, testifying in ten congressional hearings, holding 20 staff briefings and providing over 25,000 pages of documents,” Carney said, noting that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said today he was “fairly satisfied” he knows what happened in Benghazi.
“To this day, you know, it has to be acknowledged that those talking points that Susan Rice, Ambassador Rice went out and used on those Sunday shows, and that I, of course, used when I discussed it, made clear, A, that we believed that extremists were involved in the attack and, B, that we knew that more information would come to light and that our understanding of what happened would be affected as that information became available,” the press secretary added.
Carney called it “understandable that there was some possibility of a connection between the kind of violent demonstrations we were seeing in Cairo and what took place in Benghazi.”
To those on the ground, though, there was never any question that what they were experiencing was a terrorist attack, Hicks said.
Issa asked Thompson if he tried in vain to activate his counterterrorism crisis response team based on his observations of the nature of the attack. “Did you do so because you had an initial view of whether this was a terrorist attack or something else?”
“Yes,” Thompson responded.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said on MSNBC “there’s just no question that the Republicans are latching on to this witch-hunt to continue the politicization of what is — what was clearly a tragedy.” Meanwhile, she and other Democrats latched onto the findings of the Accountability Review Board appointed by Clinton to investigate the attack.
Issa said after the hearing that “numerous questions are still unanswered, despite months of dogged investigation by the Oversight Committee.”
“Who denied the U.S. mission in Benghazi the increased security it requested months before the terror attacks? Who gave the order for special operations forces to stand down, preventing them from helping their compatriots under attack? What was the actual military capability and preparedness to respond to the mission’s requests for help?”
The chairman said the hearing also highlighted “serious concerns” with the ARB report. “Witnesses testified that the ARB failed to interview relevant witnesses and wrongly let senior officials off the hook,” Issa said.
“Perhaps most troubling is the revelation of retaliation and intimidation tactics against life-long public servants who dared to question top officials on their inaccurate and highly public assertions about the attack. This committee will stand behind these whistleblowers and will act swiftly if they face further retaliation or intimidation after speaking to us about what they know about Benghazi.”