The “whistleblowers” at today’s House Oversight Committee hearing on what really happened in Benghazi, Libya last September were supposed to break the dam that would lead to President Obama’s eventual downfall, in the eyes of conservatives. Instead, these witness actually served to debunk several theories that the right-wing has pushed on Benghazi, leaving the hearing a fizzle for the GOP:
1. F-16s could have been sent to Benghazi
Part of the prevailing theory surrounding the events the night of the Benghazi attacks is that the Obama administration did not do enough militarily to respond to the crisis. Gregory Hicks — a Foreign Service Officer and the former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya — claimed during his pre-hearing testimony that fighter jets could have been flown over Benghazi, preventing the second wave of the attack from occurring.
Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) questioned that statement, asking Hicks whether he disagreed with Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey’s assessment that no air assets were in range the night of the attack. Hicks didn’t disagree, saying he was “speaking from [his] perspective” and what “veteran Libyan revolutionaries” told him, rather than Pentagon assessments.
2. Hillary Clinton signed cables denying additional security to Benghazi
House Republicans came to the conclusion in their interim report on Benghazi that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lied to them about what she knew and when during her testimony this January. This includes her statement that at no time was she aware of requests for additional security at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi prior to the attack.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) used her time to take issue with this claim, asking all three witnesses about standard protocol for cables leaving the State Department. All three agreed with Maloney, that the Secretary of State’s name is placed at the bottom of all outgoing cables and telegrams from Foggy Bottom, whether the Secretary has viewed them or not, shooting down the GOP claim.
3. A Special Forces Team that could have saved lives was told to stand down
One of the most shocking reveals in the lead-up to today’s hearing was that a team of Special Forces in Tripoli were told not to deploy to Benghazi during the attack. That decision has led to an uproar on the right, including claims of dereliction of duty towards Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey for not taking actions that could have saved lives.
During questioning, Hicks confirmed that the team was ready to be deployed — not to join the fighting at the CIA annex — but “to secure the airport for the withdrawal of our personnel from Benghazi after the mortar attack.” Hicks also confirmed that it was the second such team to be readied for deployment, with the first having proceeded to Benghazi earlier. Despite the second team not deploying, the staff was all evacuated first to Tripoli, then to Germany, within 18 hours of the attack taking place.
4. The State Department’s Accountability Review Board isn’t legitimate
Republicans have been attacking the State Department’s official in-house review of the shortcomings seen before, during, and after the assault in Benghazi. That criticism prompted House Republicans to write their own report. When asked point blank about the recommendations of the Board, however, the witnesses didn’t cooperate with the GOP narrative. “Absolutely,” Eric Nordstrom, the Regional Security Officer for Libya prior to the assault in Benghazi, answered when asked if he believes implementing the recommendations would improve security. “I had an opportunity to review that along with other two committee reports. I think taken altogether, they’re fairly comprehensive and reasonable.” Hicks, when questioned, said that while he had some issues with the process by which the Board gathered its information, he demurred on criticizing the report itself.