"EXCLUSIVE: Embassy Staff Undercut ‘Whistleblower’ Testimony On Benghazi"
Throughout his testimony on Wednesday, Hicks seemed certain that any critique of his leadership style while serving as deputy chief of mission in Libya was based solely around anger related to his stance on Benghazi. He also blamed his subsequent assignment after being pulled from Libya in mid-Oct. 2012 on his speaking out against the Obama administration’s response to the attacks.
However, ThinkProgress has talked to staffers based in Libya who counter Hicks’ portrayal of both his own performance and the State Department’s alleged response to him speaking out. A meeting between Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones and Hicks took place in Tripoli prior to his removal from Libya, but not under the same circumstances Hicks sought to portray. Counter to Hicks’ story of an unwarranted reassignment, the staff was upset with Hicks’ performance since he was first assigned to Tripoli on July 31, and told Jones as much prior to her meeting with Hicks.
“[Jones] and her aide had one-on-one meetings with us to see if [Hicks] could be guided into being a better leader,” a State Department employee posted to Libya told ThinkProgress. “Literally every single one of us begged for him to be removed from post,” said the employee, who spoke to ThinkProgress on the condition of anonymity, as they were not cleared to discuss personnel issues with the press.
A second State Department employee present in Libya before and during the Benghazi attacks confirmed the meetings occurred. Assistant Secretary Jones’ meetings with the staff prior to Oct. 2 were “entirely” focused on Hicks’ performance, according to this second employee, who also believed that Hicks should be removed from his position. “The group of us who were here during the attacks, we sat here two nights ago and watched [the hearing] with our jaws dropped,” the staffer said, referring to Hicks’ claim that he was demoted out of retribution for speaking out.
“He was removed from here because he was a disaster as a manager,” the second employee went on to say, expressing the belief that Hicks’ reassignment had “nothing to do with him being a whistleblower, it had everything to do with his management capacity or lack thereof.” This statement contradicts the narrative promoted on conservative media outlets that Hicks was being forced to remain silent and being punished for speaking out.
The same employees also told ThinkProgress of several troubling incidents involving Hicks and the staff at the Tripoli Embassy both before and after the September 11, 2012 assault in Benghazi. During the aftermath of Benghazi, Hicks showed a lack of diplomatic protocol that both staffers found extremely questionable given the tense times. This includes going to a meeting with the Libyan Prime Minister Mohammed Magarief in a t-shirt, cargo pants, and baseball cap. “I’m too upset to wear a suit,” Hicks allegedly told a staffer. “I want the Libyans to know how upset I am about this attack.”
In testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, Hicks gave some of the most riveting testimony yet on what occurred in Tripoli the night of Sept. 11, 2012, when a diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya was attacked. That detailed account was prefaced by Hicks’ written testimony, which included claims that his superiors praised his performance during the night of the attack, which now rings slightly hollow given the critiques of his colleagues.
When speaking about the night of the attacks, the employees ThinkProgress spoke with described Hicks as being in a daze while other senior Embassy officials organized the evacuation from Tripoli to Germany. “At one point [Hicks] wandered past the huddled State evacuees, muttering to himself, and just sank into a couch,” the first employee relayed to ThinkProgress.
Prior to today, the State Department attempted to chart a middle path on Hicks, seeking to neither give credence to his claims of retribution nor portray him as lacking as a leader. Speaking in the daily press briefing yesterday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters that Hicks’ reassignment was merely part of the Foreign Service Assignment System. “He’s now, per the standard procedure with all the other members of the Foreign Service, working through a preference list that he submitted, and he’s under consideration for positions in the next rotation,” Ventrell said. “So this is all part of the standard procedures.”
ThinkProgress contacted the State Department for comment from Hicks on Thursday, but that request has not been fulfilled at press time. ThinkProgress also reached out to Hicks’ lawyer, Victoria Toensing, for comment. Neither Toensing nor Hicks responded prior to publication of this post.
In the run-up to the hearing, Republicans including Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) pointed to Hicks as a model for future whistleblowers on Benghazi, citing State Department threats of “retaliation” as evidence of Hicks’ bravery in coming forward. Members from both sides of the aisle pledged to protect Hicks from any future retaliation from Foggy Bottom, with Rep. Jackie Spier (D-CA) going so far as to ask him what his dream post would be. It will be interesting to see if those pledges remain in place following this new information about Hicks’ time in Libya.