One of the big bits of news to come out of the May 8 House Oversight Committee hearing was the claim that "whistleblower" Gregory Hicks felt he had been "effectively demoted" within the State Department for speaking out about the September 2012 attacks on the diplomatic facility in Benghazi. Hicks' attorney, Victoria Toensing, is making the right-wing media rounds, telling radio host Steve Malzberg that Hicks was forced out of his post in Libya after the State Department told him he could either take a desk job or lose his job altogether. Toensing's story, however, does not comport with what her client told Congress. Hicks testified that family considerations were the key factor in his decision not to return to Libya.
Here's the relevant portion from Toensing's appearance on Malzberg's May 10 program:
MALZBERG: So he got demoted, correct?
TOENSING: He did get demoted and you know what? That nasty State Department who has no integrity, shame on John Kerry for not taking charge of this, puts out "well he still has the same pay." And they lied this morning in the Washington Post, telling somebody who just prints what they said, that he sought the desk job that he describes as a demotion. No, he did not. Here's what happened. People need to know this. He was offered a choice: no job, or this job that doesn't mean anything. It's a desk job. It's like going from the -- like a co-anchor to the copy desk.
MALZBERG: So he was given two choices, you're saying, either "take a hike, you're fired," or "take this desk job."
TOENSING: I say it's like telling a starving man, "hey , you get this choice: You can either have no food or you get this rotten steak. What would you like? Would you like a rotten piece of beef or no food at all?"
And here's what Hicks said during the House Oversight Committee hearing (emphasis added):
REP. SCOTT DESJARLAIS (R-TN): So when you came back to the United States, were you planning on going back to Libya?
MR. HICKS: I was. I fully intended to do so.
REP. DESJARLAIS: And what do you think happened?
MR. HICKS: Based on the criticism that I received, I felt that if I went back, I would never be comfortable working there. And in addition, my family really didn't want me to go back. We'd endured a year of separation when I was in Afghanistan 2006 and 2007. That was the overriding factor. So I voluntarily curtailed -- I accepted an offer of what's called a no-fault curtailment. That means that there's -- there would be no criticism of my departure of post, no negative repercussions. And in fact Ambassador Pope, when he made the offer to everyone in Tripoli when he arrived -- I mean Charge Pope -- when he arrived, he indicated that people could expect that they would get a good onward assignment out of that. [transcript via Nexis]
As Toensing noted (and disputed), the Washington Post reported on May 8 that the State Department challenged Hicks' version of events. Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the department successfully worked with Hicks to find a new temporary position, that Hicks has the same rank and salary, and was under consideration for future assignments. As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson succinctly put it, Hicks "asked to come home, understandably, and the department parked him in a desk job -- with the same pay and rank -- until something more to his liking comes open."