Rep. Darrell Issa of California charged on Sunday that the Obama administration made a political decision to deny that terrorists were responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
"We can't find a classified reason for it. We can't find a diplomatic reason for it," said the Republican, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will begin hearings on Wednesday to find out whether there was a cover-up by the Obama administration of the attack that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
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Gregory Hicks, who was second in command at the Benghazi mission, will testify along with Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, and Eric Nordstrom, diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya.
"I thought is was a terrorist attack from the get-go," Hicks was quoted as telling investigators. "I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning."
But U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday morning news shows five days later blaming the attack on a spontaneous protest that erupted after a similar protest in Egypt. The Egyptian protest was blamed on an anti-Muslim video made in the United States.
Prior to Rice’s appearance on "Face the Nation" at that time, Libya's newly elected president Mohamed Magarief had just told host Bob Schieffer that the attack was caused by terrorism.
For Rice to immediately contradict him was a "loss of face" in his own country and throughout the world, Hicks said. "The net impact of what has transpired is the spokesperson of the most powerful country in the world has basically said that the president of Libya is either a liar or doesn't know what he's talking about.
"My jaw hit the floor as I watched this," Hicks told investigators. "I've never been as embarrassed in my life, in my career, as on that day. I never reported a demonstration; I reported an attack on the consulate. Chris' last report — if you want to say his final report — is 'Greg, we are under attack.'"
"You can't insult a foreign leader in a greater way than happened literally here just those few days later," Issa told Schieffer on Sunday.
That slap in the face caused Magarief to delay approval of a request by the U.S. to put FBI investigators on the ground in Benghazi, Issa said.
"If you tell him he's wrong, that it's not terrorism, what a surprise that you have a hard time getting FBI to the crime scene," he said. "If anything, we may have compromised our ability to know what really happened there as far as catching the culprits, because more weeks went by with no FBI on the ground."
Hicks said he was known by people in the State Department, yet was never told Rice would appear on television and deny that an attack had taken place. Had he known in advance, he could have told her she was wrong, he said.
And Beth Jones, acting assistant secretary for near-eastern affairs in the State Department didn't seem like she wanted to talk either, Hicks recalled.
Issa called the episode a "fatal error" to the U.S. relationship with Libya for at least a period of time. "And we can't find the purpose."
Issa said that the reason for the possible cover-up is likely because requests for additional security had been ignored by the State Department. "But it does seem like it's bigger than that."
There was a mentality, he said, that everyone had to pretend things were safe, that the war on terror was over. That may have caused people to say it couldn't be called terrorism, "because then the war on terror is back alive."
He said the war on terror is very much alive, "whether it's Chechen nationals that come here, or it's what's going on in Syria. It's al-Qaida around the world."
One of the issues Issa's committee will focus on is why talking points were changed in the days after the attack.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland had expressed fear that the talking points would be used by members of Congress to criticize the State Department for not paying attention to agency warnings about the need for more security, according to Schieffer.
"We know one thing," Issa responded. "The talking points were right, and then the talking points were wrong."
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should have been "on the same sheet of music with the Libyan government," Issa said, "and she wasn't."
Hicks himself hasn't been given access to the classified report, Issa said, so his assertions that the report is wrong are based on the public report.
Issa called the State Department's probe "questionable" in that it clearly meets the statutory requirement to do an investigation, but "it doesn't answer any real questions, or place blame on people who were involved in this failure."
He described the effort by the Obama administration "a misinformation campaign at best, and a cover-up at worst."
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