WATCH LIVE: Benghazi whistle blowers deliver testimony before House oversight committee
5:24 p.m. EST
Watch key moments from today’s hearing:
—Benghazi survivor ’embarrassed’ by Susan Rice’s TV appearances
—Diplomat recalls learning of Ambassador Stevens’ murder
—Hicks says State Department told him not to cooperate with investigators
—Top Libya ambassador on Susan Rice: ‘The sense I got was that I needed to stop the line of questioning’
—White House denies changing Benghazi intelligence reports
—Fourth Benghazi witness gagged by red tape
Again, thanks for joining us. The hearing is ended; go in peace.
5:17 p.m. EST
Committee members shake hands with the three witnesses as they leave the hearing room after nearly six hours of questioning. Thanks for joining our live-blog and continue to follow The Daily Caller for the latest breaking news on the investigation into the Libya attack.
5:14 p.m. EST
Chairman Issa closes the hearing at 5:14 p.m., but says “this investigation is not over.”
5:13 p.m. EST
“The message is the same [from the State Department]: you’re on your own,” Nordstrom says of diplomats requesting additional security.
5:09 p.m. EST
“We have to learn the lessons of the past. This happened in 1998,” and it happened again in 2012, Rep. Lankford says of a past attack on an embassy.
5:07 p.m. EST
Neither the perpetrators nor the State Department officials in charge of decisions have been held accountable in the wake of the Benghazi attack, aside from a handful of suspensions, the witnesses affirm under questioning from Republican Rep. James Lankford.
5:04 p.m. EST
“Do we need other whistle-blowers to come forward?” Issa asks. All three witnesses answer in the affirmative. Issa notes that the hearing is coming to a close since House votes have been called.
4:59 p.m. EST
“I am trying to reconcile how Benghazi was not safe enough for the Federal Bureau of Investigation” officials, but safe enough for U.S. diplomats, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy remarks.
4:56 p.m. EST
As the hearing approaches 5 p.m. deadline when House votes begin, Hicks says that the diplomats were in Benghazi to support the Libyans in the wake of the fall of Moammar Gadhafi.
4:53 p.m. EST
Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney alleges that the Democrats on the committee were blocked from previewing the testimony of Thompson, one of the whistle-blowers. Chairman Issa responds that he sent copies of the testimony of both Hicks and Thompson to the minority representatives. Maloney says that Issa’s staff met with Thompson and that he declined through his lawyer to speak with the Democratic committee members. Issa says that the Republicans did not urge any of the witnesses not to speak with the Democrats.
4:50 p.m. EST
Nordstrom acknowledges that he repeatedly asked for security personnel in the months before the attack and that instead the personnel were reduced. Rep. Jordan then notes that Clinton has said that Nordstrom was responsible for the security situation on the ground in Libya. “That’s what we have,” Jordan says.
4:46 p.m. EST
“I totally agree” with Rep. Cummings that the oversight committee should have access to all unclassified documents surrounding the attack, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz says.
4:41 p.m. EST
In every congressional delegation visit he knew of, it was normal for the top diplomat to greet the delegation leader, Hicks testifies. Hicks says he was instructed by a State Department aide not to have a personal, one-on-one interview with the delegation led by Rep. Chaffetz after the September attack.
4:37 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan begins his second round of questioning, and Hicks says the phone call from top Clinton aide Cheryl Mills did “not necessarily” directly represent the views of Clinton.
4:31 p.m. EST
Hicks says he does not know who gave the stand-down order and says congressional investigators should ask Lt. Col. Gibson. Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis asks if the military commander, the secretary of state or the president could have given the order, and Hicks says he does not know.
4:27 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, a former prosecutor, asks Hicks, “Are you aware of any crime scene that gets better with time?” Hicks answers, “I’m not a criminal prosecutor, but …”
4:21 p.m. EST
Nordstrom acknowledges ARB assertion that decisions were made at the mid-level State Department level is incorrect and that decisions were made at the upper levels of State.
4:17 p.m. EST
Hicks says, “I think we have more to do that what has been put forth” in the ARB report to increase security at embassies in dangerous areas.
4:13 p.m. EST
Gregory Hicks testifies that one of the reasons that Ambassador Christopher Stevens was at the Benghazi consulate was “to further the secretary’s wish that the post become a permanent constituent post,” and that Secretary Clinton hoped to visit Tripoli later in 2012 and announce the establishment of that permanent constituent post.
4:09 p.m. EST
Thompson says he is not convinced that the ARB recommendations have not been implemented so that such a security breakdown does not happen again at another U.S. Embassy.
4:05 p.m. EST
Illinois Democratic Rep. Danny Davis notes letter from Defense Secretary Hagel to Ranking Member Cummings saying that the military did not have time to send support aircraft, refuting anonymous interview given to Fox News.
4 p.m. EST
Nordstrom says he did not get a response from the State Department for multiple requests sent via cable for increased security in the months prior to the attack.
3:50 p.m. EST
Chairman Issa reconvenes the hearing and says the hearing can last no later than 5:05 p.m., when votes begin on the House floor.
3:43 p.m. EST
The committee is breaking to allow those giving testimony to use the restroom and refresh themselves. They have been seated for over three hours.
3:33 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Doc Hastings asks Hicks about the required presence of a State Department lawyer at all meetings with Rep. Chaffetz during the congressman’s visit. Hicks says he has never seen it before.
He reiterates that his relationship with the State Department took a downward turn after Amb. Rice’s Sunday show appearances and Hicks’s subsequent questions about her answers.
3:19 p.m. EST
Hicks testifies that after Rep. Chaffetz’s visit, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones visited and pulled Hicks aside to tell him he “needed to improve my management style,” Hicks said. Jones summoned Hicks to her office when he visited Washington for Stevens’s funeral and berated him there in a “blistering attack” as well.
In hindsight, Hicks said, he believes he was treated poorly as a result of asking questions about Amb. Rice’s Sunday show statements.
Hicks says he’s suffered a “demotion” since that time.
3:15 p.m. EST
Eric Nordstrom says he shared deep concern for “growing extremism” in Benghazi with Amb. Stevens.
3:04 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan asks why Amb. Stevens would be in such a high-risk area on September 11. Nordstrom says he has the same question.
Asked about security needs, Nordstrom says he doesn’t know why they weren’t granted the needed resources to secure American diplomats in Libya.
3:02 p.m. EST
Rep. Steven Horsford uses his time to echo his fellow Democrats, calling for security improvements to diplomatic facilities. Horsford accuses Republicans of exacerbating those security problems through spending cuts.
2:56 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Paul Gosar begins his questioning, playing a video of Sec. Hillary Clinton famously testifying, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” referring to what precipitated the Benghazi attack.
Hicks says it made a huge difference.
After Amb. Rice went on Sunday shows blaming a YouTube video, Lybian “President Magariaf was insulted” in front of his own people and the world, Hicks said.
Magariaf “was still steamed about the talks shows two weeks later,” Hicks went on. That directly led to the FBI having trouble getting into the area for over two weeks, Hicks testified.
2:50 p.m. EST
Democratic Rep. Robin Kelly reads from a Wednesday Department of Defense press release claiming that the special forces team that was told not to go to Benghazi was instead to protect Tripoli. The Defense Department, Kelly relays, says the special forces team would have been no help by that time in Benghazi.
2:44 p.m. EST
Rep. Jason Chaffetz takes some time for questions and asks Hicks whether any request was made to the Libyan government to fly an aircraft in to the area — other than a UAV. “No,” Hicks responds, who also confirmed that he would know about any such request.
2:42 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Justin Amash begins his questioning, asking Hicks whether he knows how his testimony was used in the classified ARB report. “I have no idea,” Hicks responds.
2:38 p.m EST
Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth asks Hicks to elaborate on needed improvements. Hicks says “we have to be able to go outside” and meet with the citizens of foreign countries to establish situational awareness.
“More is not always the solution,” says Nordstrom. “Better is the solution.”
Nordstrom says that conversations about putting “machine gun nests” up at diplomatic facilities should make people step back and wonder “what are we doing?”
2:35 p.m. EST
Hicks says he’s spoken with several of the witnesses interviewed by the ARB. None of those witnesses have read the classified report, says Hicks.
Asked about the shortcomings of the ARB report, Hicks says there was no stenographer in the room, leaving open the possibility of editorializing in the report.
“There were note takers,” Hicks said. “I had counsel in the room taking notes.”
2:31 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Tim Walberg asks Mark Thompson about the ARB’s decision not to interview him. Thompson says he was concerned about it because he didn’t understand why the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau was left out of the loop the night of September 11, 2012.
2:26 p.m. EST
Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan uses his time, as many of the Democrats have, to once again emphasize that the recommendations of the ARB report should be followed going forward. Pocan asks whether security should be enhanced. Hicks replies that it should.
2:23 p.m. EST
“Would you have said the things that Ambassador Rice said?” asks Rep. Henry, referring to Rice’s appearance on Sunday shows. Hicks says he wouldn’t have, given his knowledge.
2:21 p.m. EST
Rep. Henry asks again about the early claims of a protest and/or YouTube video precipitating the attack. “The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya,” says Hicks.
“No protest,” Hicks says.
2:13 p.m. EST
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier alludes to her own experience of being “woefully underprotected” in a foreign country.
She then returns to Hicks’s earlier testimony, where he said he was told not to have a personal interview with Rep. Chaffetz.
Hicks reiterates that testimony, saying he was told not to be “isolated” with Chaffetz.
Speier concludes her testimony by asking Hicks what his preferred diplomatic assignment would be going forward, promising the support of the committee once he decides on his preference.
Republican Rep. Patrick Henry follows up by reminding everyone that the Senate is responsible for such placements.
2:12 p.m. EST
Hicks says he found “shortcomings in the process” of the ARB. Hicks says he has never been given the opportunity to review his own testimony or view the classified report, despite his intimate involvement in the events of September 11, 2012.
2:09 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Duncan asks Thompson whether September 11 is a day that deserves higher security scrutiny. Thompson says it does.
1:55 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Mike Turner asks about the stand down order given to Lt. Col. Gibson and his special forces team.
Hicks says he doesn’t know why Gibson was given a stand down order.
Hicks is asked whether his testimony contradicts the Pentagon’s claim that no stand down order was given. “Yes sir,” Hicks responds.
1:48 p.m. EST
Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch begins questioning.
Eric Nordstrom says that the security standards — with the exception of the height of the wall — were all below par at the Benghazi consulate, despite requests for improvements.
1:43 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. John Mica begins his questioning, asking whether the ARB ever questioned the witnesses. Thompson was not interviewed.
Hicks says he was interviewed by the board. “The interview took about 2 hours, and it was in my mind incomplete.” Hicks said he had a follow up meeting days later with the board’s executive secretary to expand on some of the points.
Eric Nordstrom was also interviewed and thought the board’s questioning was “thorough and professional” when he spoke with them, but said the board failed to interview people with deep knowledge surrounding the attack.
1:38 p.m. EST
Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay reiterates the existence of the State Department’s accountability review board, which was tasked with reviewing the circumstances surrounding the attack in Benghazi. Clay emphasized that the ARB report addressed the question of security at the Libyan facility by recommending increases.
1:32 p.m. EST
Hicks says State Department officials told him that he and two others were not allowed to be interviewed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz when the congressman visited Libya after the attack. Hicks says that type of request — to not speak to a congressman — had ever been made to him before.
1:30 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan opens his questioning by praising Hicks for doing a “great job” and cites Sec. Clinton and President Obama as being among those who called him to deliver that praise in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack.
1:27 p.m. EST
Democratic Rep. John Tierney plays a video of Gen. James Clapper — in prior congressional testimony — defending Amb. Susan Rice from criticism, saying that the Obama administration’s intelligence community was under the impression that a demonstration preceded the attack in Benghazi.
He uses his time to insist that politics played no role in the botched reports.
1:21 p.m. EST
Hicks says Amb. Stevens went to Benghazi to convert it into a permanent diplomatic post at the request of Sec. Clinton. Clinton wanted a report on the political and security environment there before September 30, Hicks says.
1:19 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. James Lankford asks the witnesses whether the security provided to the diplomatic facilities in Libya prior to the attack was adequate. They answer that it wasn’t.
1:11 p.m. EST
A ceremonial member of the House, Washington, D.C.’s Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton begins her questioning. She asks whether the counterterrorism bureau of the State Department was pushed out of the conversation the night of Sept. 11, 2012 for political reasons.
Mark Thompson says the counterterrorism bureau was pushed out of the conversation that night and only later welcomed in the administration’s conversations.
Thompson would not say whether he thought the move was political.
1:08 p.m EST
Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz asks Hicks where the special forces stand down order came from. Hicks says he believes the order came from AFRICOM (United States Africa Command).
Chaffetz asks Thompson why his request for a Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) was denied. “I do not know,” Thompson replies.
1:02 p.m EST
Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney uses her time to defend former Secretary of State Hillary from the fact that her signature appeared on a State Department cable refusing extra security at the Benghazi consulate ahead of the attacks. Maloney insists that Clinton had nothing to do with the cable because it’s customary for the secretary’s name to be printed on such cables without her direct involvement.
12:58 p.m. EST
Gowdy asks how Rice’s talk show statements impacted the people on the ground in Libya.
We encountered bureaucratic resistance from the Libyan government, Hicks says. “It took us an additional 18 days to get the FBI team into Benghazi.”
12:54 p.m. EST
Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy begins asking Hicks about the involvement of a YouTube video as a theoretical precursor to the Libya attack. Hicks maintains that he was never under the impression that a YouTube video led to the attack and that he was “embarrassed” when U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice cited the video on Sunday shows after the Benghazi attack. “I was stunned. My jaw dropped. And I was embarrassed,” Hicks said.
12:51 p.m. EST
Issa jumps in to say that he will bring in witnesses “from both sides” to assess whether planes could have been deployed in time to intervene during the Benghazi attacks.
12:46 p.m. EST
Cummings asks Hicks to verify his prior claims that a fast-moving plane could have averted some of the attack by intimidating the attackers in Benghazi. Hicks acknowledges that he said that.
Cummings then says Gen. Martin Dempsey has already testified before Congress that F-16’s from Aviano could not have been deployed.
“Do you have any reason to question Gen. Dempsey’s testimony?” Cummings asks.
Hicks says he was told by the defense attache that the planes would take “2 to 3 hours” to arrive, but without refueling capabilities. Hicks reiterated his claim that the “Libyans would not stand if they were aware that American aircraft were in the vicinity.”
12:43 p.m. EST
Testimony is paused as the floor is yielded to Rep. Cummings. “It just reminded me of the high cost of so many in our diplomatic corps. It also reminded me of their bravery,” Cummings says.
12:39 p.m. EST
Hicks somberly repeats the story he told congressional investigators last month about a special forces unit led by a Lt. Col. Gibson that was called off by higher authorities from leaving with a C-130 to travel from Tripoli to Benghazi.
12:37 p.m. EST
Shortly after the survivors of the consulate attack reached the annex, mortars started coming in, killing former SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, Hicks says.
21:32 p.m. EST
Hicks describes his staff’s heroism that night, from loading weapons, to “smashing hard drives with an axe,” to loading vehicles, to communicating with contacts in Benghazi. “Mountains of strength,” Hicks says. “I’m still in awe of them,” he continues, choked up.
12:29 p.m. EST
“During the night, I’m in touch with Washington, keeping them posted,” Hicks says. “I think at about 2 a.m. [Sec. Clinton] called me and she asked me what was going on and I briefed her on the developments. Most of the conversation was on the search for Ambassador Stevens.” It was also on what they were going to do with the personnel in Benghazi. Evacuate, they both agreed.
The Prime Minister of Libya called Hicks at around 3 a.m — “saddest phone call I have ever had in my life” — and told him Stevens had died in the hospital. Hicks says he immediately called Washington.
12:27 p.m. EST
“At about 12:30, at the same time we see the Twitter feeds asserting that Ansar al Sharia are responsible for the attack,” we also see that there are calls for an attack on the embassy in Tripoli, where Hicks was, he says.
12:25 p.m. EST
The nearest aircraft were in Aviano Air Base in Italy, about 3 hours in flight time, Hicks says, but he was told they lacked the refueling planes needed to keep them in the air.
12:22 p.m. EST
“It was noticed that [the] second wave of attackers” were coming to attack the facility, Hicks says. Those Americans still alive were able to get away from the facility.
Later, the second phase of the attacks hits the annex. They suffered “probing attacks” from the terrorists. They were all able to “disperse them.”
12:21 p.m. EST
“The response team from the annex in Benghazi, 6 individuals, drove the attackers out,” of the consulate, with as many as 60 attackers inside the consulate at one point, Hicks says.
12:18 p.m. EST
Hicks explains that he was in touch with the government of Libya, the State Department and the annex chief.
“We agreed that we would move forward with chartering a plane form Tripoli to fly” in a response team, Hicks says, referring to his discussion with the annex.
12:12 p.m. EST
“It was a routine day … until we saw the news about Cairo,” Hicks said. He says he sent a text message to Chris Stevens asking him if he knew about Cairo. “No,” Stevens responded. Hicks explained via text what was happening and Stevens thanked him for the information. Hicks said he was watching TV when the RSO “ran into my villa yelling ‘Greg, Greg the consulate’s under attack.'”
I reached for my phone, and found two missed calls, one from the ambassador and one that I didn’t recognize I called the one I didn’t recognize and the ambassador answered “Greg, we’re under attack!” Stevens said.
“I said ‘OK’ and the line cut,” Hicks recalled.
As I walked to the tactical operations center, Hicks said, I tried to call both numbers and got no response.
When I got to the operations center, Hicks said, I told them what the ambassador said. I asked one of our agents what number the unknown number was, he explained. It belonged to Stevens’ personal escort who was in the villa with Stevens during the attack.
Hicks learned that the consulate had been breached and that there were at least 20 armed hostiles in the compound.
12:11 p.m. EST
Issa asks Hicks to “take us through the day of September 11th … from somebody who was there.”
12:08 p.m. EST
Eric Nordstrom begins his testimony. “I served as the principal security adviser to” Amb. Chris Stevens, Nordstrom says. He thanks the committee for “investigating all of the details” about what happened “prior, during and after the attack.”
“It matters to me personally and it matters to my colleagues at the Department of State,” he says. Nordstrom begins to choke up as he cites that it also matters to Americans and for the memories of the four Americans lost in Benghazi.
12:06 p.m. EST
“I fast became known as the ambassador’s bulldog,” because of my management style, Hicks says. Hicks says that a range of leadership in the Obama administration praised his “performance” which was “near heroic” during the attack in Benghazi.
12:05 p.m. EST
Gregory Hicks begins his testimony.
11:59 a.m. EST
Mark Thompson begins his testimony. He says he was at his desk at night when the first reports of the Benghazi attack came in and he followed along as the situation evolved. He then notified his “leadership,” he explained. Thompson said he told his leadership that “with the tyranny of distance, we needed to act now.”
Thompson says he sought a quick response team from the White House to get into the area. The White House responded that the option “had been taken off the table,” he said.
11:58 a.m. EST
“Do you solemnly swear the testimony you’re about to give will be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” Issa asks. All answer in the affirmative.
11:54 a.m. EST
Issa begins expanded introductions of the witnesses.
11:52 a.m. EST
“I respect the witnesses who are hear today to offer their testimony … I have a tremendous respect for evidence. But today’s hearing is not the full story,” Cumming says. Cummings wants to hear from a wider range of government officials first, he says.
11:49 a.m. EST
Cummings slams a “full scale media campaign … too launch unfounded accusations to smear public officials,” although he’s careful not to blame the present witnesses for the uptick in media attention.
11:43 a.m. EST
Oversight committee Democratic ranking member Elijah Cummings speaks. “I am glad the whistle blowers are here and I will do every single thing in my power to protect the whistle blowers.” Cummings says he sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry reminding him of the importance not to retaliate against whistle blowers. “Whistle blowers are important. They are very important.”
11:41 a.m. EST
Issa introduces the three witnesses. “These brave whistle blowers are in fact what makes this committee’s work work … the public has a right to hear their accounts.”
11:35 a.m. EST
Rep. Darrell Issa begins the hearing, citing the oversight committee’s role in holding “government accountable to taxpayers.”
“The witnesses before us are actual experts on what really happened before during and after the Benghazi attacks,” Issa said. “These witnesses deserve to be heard,” he insisted.
Issa also read aloud the names of the four Americans killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
11:00 a.m. EST
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hear testimony from three witness Wednesday morning. The hearing, led by Republican Chairman Darrell Issa, is titled “Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage.” It begins at 11:30 a.m. EST. The three witnesses who will appear are:
- Mark Thompson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State
- Gregory Hicks, Foreign Service Officer and former Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affairs in Libya, U.S. Department of State
- Eric Nordstrom, Diplomatic Security Officer and former Regional Security Officer in Libya, U.S. Department of State