State Department whistleblowers contradicted statements from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top officials and testified about internal State Department efforts to obstruct congressional inquiries into the attack during a congressional hearing on the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.
Gregory Hicks, the deputy to slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that he was bullied by higher-ups when he expressed concerns about the department’s public response to the attack, was ordered not to discuss the attack with a congressional investigator, and was not able to obtain the requisite clearance to discuss the attack with his attorney.
Hicks said Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones dressed him down shortly after he criticized U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s claim that the attack stemmed from a spontaneous demonstration.
"Jones counseled me on my management style, she said staff was upset," Hicks said. "[She] delivered a very blistering critique of my management style and said ‘I don’t know why Larry Pope would want you back.’"
State Department attorneys also allegedly instructed Hicks not to discuss the attack with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) when he was in Libya as part of a congressional inquiry into the attack.
Hicks said he has effectively been demoted to a desk job below his capability since he began raising questions about the State Department’s response to the attack.
"Between my curtailment and the job I have now, I had no meaningful employment," Hicks said. "I’ve been effectively demoted … to desk officer."
Hicks also testified that his attorney was denied a security clearance and barred from attending classified meetings with him.
Hicks added that he spoke to Clinton the night of the attack, and there was no mention of a protest outside the mission. The former secretary of state, as well as other State Department and administration officials, claimed that the attack stemmed from a spontaneous protest for two weeks following the assault.
"The only report that our mission made through every channel was that there had been an attack on a consulate," Hicks said.
An April 19, 2012 cable signed by Clinton denied requests for additional security at the mission and ordered the planned removal of security elements.
Clinton would have had to sign off on security cuts to the mission, said Eric Nordstrom, regional security officer in Tripoli.
Clinton told Congress in January that she "didn't see those requests. They didn't come to me. I didn't approve them. I didn't deny them."
Democrats on the committee said Clinton’s name was on the cable because she was the head of the department, but that she did not personally approve or deny the security requests.
Nordstrom testified that Clinton would have been required to sign off on any waiver of Security Environment Threat List requirements and that the mission did not meet these standards.
"Waiver requirements for buildings solely occupied by the U.S. government overseas must be approved by the Secretary of State and cannot be delegated," Nordstrom said.
Nordstrom said he had long raised concerns about the security at the mission, but was dismissed by his superiors.
"The response I got from the regional director when I raised the issues [of security] … was that my ‘tone’ was not helpful," Nordstrom said.
Democrats at the hearing downplayed it as a politically motivated witch-hunt, while being careful to avoid any appearance that they were attacking the witnesses personally.
Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) called the hearing an attempt to "smear public officials," but praised the whistleblowers for their courage.
"We all feel your pain," Cummings told the witnesses. "It is your bravery that brought your here today."
Democrats continued this line after the hearing.
"Really there wasn't anything new that we hadn't already seen before and that hadn't already been rehashed again and again. So there isn't much news today," Rep. Matt Cartwright (D., Pa.) said on MSNBC.
However, it may be difficult for the Obama administration to continue to portray the Benghazi investigation as purely political after today’s emotional testimony from three long-time State Department officials, who teared up at points when discussing the death of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans.