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Partisanship Fuels Competing Narratives Over Benghazi Attack

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Issa, left, led the Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday during which Hicks testified about the September attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.

In one of the hearing’s more dramatic moments, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., read a Sept. 12 email from Jones to the packed audience, which he said was sent to Mills, Kennedy, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland and others. In it, Jones recounts how she told the Libyan ambassador “that the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.” That message, sent the day after the assault, contradicts later administration statements — including those United Nations Ambassador Susan E. Rice made on Sunday talk shows four days later — that claimed the attack was the results of a protest against an anti-Muslim video.

Gregory N. Hicks, the deputy chief of mission in Tripoli at the time of the attacks, also testified that Mills called and berated him after he held a classified briefing with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a member of the Oversight Committee who was in Libya as part of a fact-finding delegation after the attack — something Republicans on the panel suggested was part of a broader State Department cover-up of the incident.

“She was very upset,” Hicks recalled.

Republicans pounced. Mills “is the fixer for the secretary of State. She is as close as you can get to Secretary Clinton, is that accurate?” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked.

“Yes, sir,” said Hicks.

He also told lawmakers that Jones “summoned me to her office” when he was in Washington and “delivered a blistering critique of my management style.”

“In hindsight,” Hicks said, “I think it began after I asked the question about Ambassador Rice’s statement on the TV shows.”

Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who served in Libya until last summer, singled out Kennedy in his written testimony to the committee, suggesting the undersecretary rejected requests to bring the facilities in both Benghazi and Tripoli up to compliance with State Department security standards.

“I was told by Diplomatic Security (DS) and Overseas Building Operations (OBO) officials that the U/S for Management had authorized occupancy of the building ‘as is,’” Nordstrom said in his written statement, using the abbreviation for undersecretary.

Hicks, too, said that given Kennedy’s role overseeing State Department operations and facilities, he “has to bear some responsibility.”

In his written statement, Nordstrom also pointed out that the waiver for security requirements “for buildings solely occupied by the US government overseas must be approved by the secretary of State and cannot be delegated.”

Since there is no waiver on file, “the obvious question,” he said, is “if the secretary of State did not waive these requirements, who did so by ordering occupancy of the facilities in Benghazi and Tripoli?”

Nordstrom faulted the Accountability Review Board, which was headed up by veteran diplomat Thomas R. Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen and released its findings in December, for focusing its evaluation on lower-level officials.

“For the ARB to ignore the role senior Department leadership played before, during, and after the 11 September attacks ... is inexplicable,” Nordstrom testified.

There were conflicting claims at the hearing as to whether or not Pickering and Mullen had been invited or had refused to testify before the committee.

But Pickering said on MSNBC on Wednesday that he had been willing to appear before the panel.

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