Benghazi Cover Up Hearings: There's No Smoking Gun Yet
Today's Benghazi hearing was a continuation of the confusing mess that much of the discussion has been up until this point. Members of Congress seemed to align themselves predictably along party lines and reiterated the same story carried by their respective leaders. Unsurprisingly, the hearing did not change much.
The House Oversight Committee picked up for the second time to discuss events related to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. The debate has been highly political, with Republicans supporting the perspectives of the three whistleblowers, and Democrats backing the Obama administration.
Today's hearing included the testimonies of three whistleblowers, all from the U.S. State Department.
The three witnesses expressed their unanimous concern that they were not fully questioned and in some cases prevented from participating in questioning.
Committee members praised the three for their courage involving the actual events as well as coming forward as whistleblowers. While House Democrats mostly questioned the narrative or hesitation provided by the three, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) vowed that the three's "interests will be protected" despite the highly partisan nature of the hearing.
Cummings noted that there has been a full-scale media campaign to supposedly smear public officials. He also said that he does not question the motives of the three witnesses, but rather questions the "motives of those who want to use their statements for political purposes." Cummings developed much of his perspective on the case from Gen. Martin Dempsey and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his belief that all that could have been done was done to provide aid. Republicans and Democrats alike have taken a specific interest in the attack, potentially for political reasons, due to the speculated involvement of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Each of the whistleblowers provided brief opening statements. Hicks expressed his long history of public service and explained his desire to never have others in the future experience what they did. Nordstrom opened emotionally, tearing up, as he expressed his desire to understand all of what had happened.
One of the biggest points of contention arose from testimony that two "stand-down" orders were given while the attacks were in progress. Hicks reports that a Defense Department attaché said that a fighter aircraft in Aviano airbase in Italy would not be able to be over Benghazi for two to three hours, while others seem to report that it would have taken longer. Mark Thompson also reported that he was prevented from sending out a support team designed to engage situations like the one present in Benghazi. He claims that the White House told him that it was not the right team to send in nor was it the right time.
During questioning from Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), Hicks relayed that Col. Gibson and his team were told not to board a C-130 transport aircraft. We have yet to see any testimony from Gibson.
Much debate surrounds the role of an anti-Muslim YouTube video that was supposed to have cause the uprising. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, also repeatedly claimed that the attack was due to a response from this video. Hicks remarked during the hearing that "The YouTube video was a nonevent in Libya," despite claims that it brought on the attack.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a particularly organized congressman who asked very directed questions during the hearing said, "I would love the opportunity to do just that," when told he should ask Rice one of the questions that he posed to a whistleblower.
It also became apparent that, according to the whistleblowers, Cheryl Mills, who is Hillary Clinton's lawyer at the State Department, instructed the three not to speak with House investigators, specifically Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). The evidence for this was only described by the whistleblowers; specifics regarding the issue still remain to be described.
The hearing concluded at 5:16 p.m. with Issa stating, "This hearing is now closed, but this investigation is not over."
Partisan politics certainly will be one of the most influential forces in the discussion that follows.