Democrats arrived at the House Oversight Committee’s hearing on the Benghazi terror attack determined to defend the reputation of the person that most believe will be their presidential candidate in 2016. Ranking member Elijah Cummings and his colleagues thundered at chair Darrel Issa and any other Republican who dared to raise questions about the way the State Department responded not only to the attack but also to questions about the aftermath, determined to cast the entire event as a partisan ambush. But the testimony of the three whistleblowers overshadowed their complaints about the necessity for the hearing or the spin being put on it by Republicans. While nothing said at the hearing was the “smoking gun” that some in the GOP suspect will eventually bring senior administration officials down because of the Libyan tragedy, enough questions were raised to keep the fires stoked on the issue for the foreseeable future.
Whether Democrats like it or not, Americans are going to be wondering about what senior diplomat Gregory Hicks told the committee about requests for military assistance on the night of the attack, the disconnect between the false story about the murders being a response to an anti-Islamic film and what he and others on the scene told Washington, and why he was told not to cooperate with the House committee. If Clinton thought she had put these issues to rest in January when she railed at senators inquiring about Benghazi asking, “What difference does it make?” who killed the Americans and why, the whistleblowers have ensured that Congress will keep pushing until they get the answers to these questions.
The dramatic nature of Hicks’ testimony about the night of the attack changed what started out as a stormy proceeding as Cummings attacked Issa’s statements and motives. Hicks’s recollection of the phone going dead as Ambassador Chris Stevens told him the attack was under way made it clear that what he would say would rise above the political maelstrom. And when he spoke of his conversations with U.S. military personnel who were outraged that they weren’t being ordered to go to the rescue of the beleaguered Americans, that opened a can of worms that the administration had hoped it had definitively closed.
Just as problematic was Hicks’s telling of his shock when he heard U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice tell the country that U.S. intelligence had decided the attack was the result of film criticism run amuck. Given that he had already communicated to Washington the fact that the film wasn’t a factor in Libya and that U.S. personnel in Libya knew the assault was the work of an Islamist group connected to al-Qaeda, this makes the growing controversy about the truth behind the official administration talking points that the White House altered to downplay any connection to terror even more worrisome. As Pete Wehner noted on Monday, the emails prove that the administration knowingly misled the country about the attack in a manner that makes it impossible to believe they weren’t motivated by their desire to help President Obama win re-election.
Just as damning was Hicks’s testimony about being told by the State Department not to cooperate with the House committee and Representative Jason Chaffetz as well as how his career seems to have come to a standstill as a result of his unwillingness to toe the party line about Benghazi. When combined with other testimony raising questions about what was not done to protect or help the Americans, it’s clear that further grillings of senior officials will ensue and keep the issue alive. More than that, what we heard today will deepen the suspicion that Clinton or others very close to the top in the capital had a clear desire to lie about the attack and to make sure that no one in the know about what actually happened would speak out.
None of this may change the opinions of Democrats who have been determined to move on from Benghazi since the fateful night of 9/11/12. Nor will it deaden the enthusiasm they are feeling about the prospect of Hicks’s former boss running for president in 2016. But today’s testimony shows that the attack will be a wound that will continue to bleed in the weeks and months ahead. It may not sink Clinton, but anyone who thinks she’s heard the last of this wasn’t paying attention today.