Pete Hoekstra, the former chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee, tells Newsmax TV that the whistleblowers who testified at Wednesday’s explosive hearing on Benghazi took a “huge risk politically” to tell Congress the truth about the attack which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
“There were parts of the hearing today that were very, very compelling,” asserted Hoekstra in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. “I’m very familiar with whistleblowers. They’re taking a huge risk politically. They’re risking their careers. They’re going to Congress. They tried to go to their superiors.
“They tried to go their agencies to their let voices be heard. They feel that they’ve been rebuffed,” he said. “And anytime you get whistleblowers going to Capitol Hill, that’s going to raise some eyebrows.”
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Hoekstra, who attended the hearing on Capitol Hill, said he was shocked that Gregory Hicks, a former top State Department official in Libya, had been told to withhold information from a U.S. congressman, who visited Libya on a fact-finding mission.
“Mr. Hicks did the right thing. He talked to Congressman Cahffetz. He answered all of his questions and those types of things,” said Hoekstra, asking why the State Department would have given such instructions in the first place. “That’s an interesting question.”
While he stopped short of accusing the Obama administration of a cover-up, Hoekstra said that “you can say there’s a lot of information here that really requires us to do a more in-depth analysis.”
He said it will be the responsibility of the House Oversight Committee to put together the “rest of the pieces” of the puzzle. “You need to remember that Mr. Hicks, now, has come back from Libya and, as he said, he’s been demoted,” according to Hoekstra. “Why would you demote someone who, in the immediate aftermath of Libya, his actions were described as being heroic, exemplary? And now that he didn’t follow their instructions, he’s been demoted?”
Hoekstra believes that the responsibility to protect State Department personnel abroad ultimately should fall on then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Another thing that was very interesting in the testimony today was that some on the committee kept bringing up that, you know, Gen. Dempsey (chairman of the Joint Chiefs) said it would take 20 hours before they could get a fixed-wing fire aircraft over Libya,” Hoekstra explained. “Leon Panetta (then secretary of defense) was quoted as saying it would be 12-14 hours and you’re sitting there and thinking, ‘let’s see, it’s about an hour, hour-and-a-half flight across the Med from Italy where we’ve got a major Air Force base and just a few months after we’ve had military operations flying planes regularly over Libya.”
Hoekstra questioned the time estimates.
“It now would take 20 hours to get a few fixed-wing jet fighters over Benghazi? There’s something wrong with this process and I’m thankful the whistleblowers came up,” he said. “I’m thankful that Congressman Issa fulfilled his responsibility to whistleblowers and had the hearing.”
Even after Wednesday’s hearing, Hoekstra added that it is still not clear why then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tried to blame the incident on an anti-Islamic video.
“It didn’t give us any conclusive evidence on that today,” he said. “What we did hear today is that from the people who were in Libya — who were in Benghazi — they didn’t believe that this video had any impact on the attack. They felt it was a planned terrorist attack from the beginning.
“They never said that their superiors or anybody who asked from Washington that the video was a part of the activities in the attacks on that day,” he said. “They said ‘pure and simple this was a terrorist attack from the beginning.’ It’s what the ambassador described it as. He described it as an attack.”
He said that lawmakers will likely continue to press the administration for answers to prevent such attacks from happening in the future, a common thread among Wednesday’s witnesses.
“They have questions about why the security footprint in Libya was so dramatically scaled back, you know, and those kinds of questions,” according to Hoekstra. “But, again, we need to talk to the decision makers as to why those decisions were made. These were the people (witnesses) that were feeling the results of decisions that were made in Washington. They disagreed with some of those assessments but they don’t necessarily know what the decision-making process was for that.”
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