Leading up to yesterday's House Oversight Committee hearing on Benghazi, the conservative media worked diligently to drive home the idea that the “whistleblowers” who testified had been silenced and were unable to make their voices heard to Congress or other investigative authorities. Much of that narrative was driven by Republican attorney Victoria Toensing, who portrayed her own struggles with bureaucratic red tape as evidence of an administration cover-up. Fox News' Special Report cited Toensing on April 29 in reporting on allegations that “the Obama administration is trying to intimidate potential whistleblowers into silence.”
But the testimony of Gregory Hicks, one of the three witnesses at yesterday's hearing, put lie to the notion that the administration was suppressing his voice and opinion. Hicks, we learned, had already spoken with Congressional investigators in Libya. And he had been interviewed -- twice -- as part of the State Department's independent internal investigation. That, combined with the fact that other Benghazi survivors and witnesses have spoken to the FBI, the State Department, and Congress, dismantles the idea that the administration worked to keep Hicks or his cohorts from being heard.
Hicks caused a brief stir yesterday when he testified to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) that he had been told by the State Department “not to allow the [regional security officer], the acting deputy chief of mission, and myself to be personally interviewed” by Rep. Jason Chaffetz when the Utah Republican led a Congressional delegation to Libya to investigate the Benghazi attacks. Some conservatives misinterpreted Hicks' testimony to mean that Hicks had been ordered not to speak to Chaffetz, period. Hicks, however, later clarified his remarks when questioned by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-NY), explaining that he had been told not to speak to Chaffetz without a State Department attorney present.
That's a significant difference, particularly when allegations of a “cover-up” are being thrown around. Hicks did end up speaking to Chaffetz without a State attorney in the room because, as he explained, the attorney lacked the proper security clearance. Hicks described the requirement that an attorney be present as unusual. The New York Times reported that a “State Department official said Mr. Hicks had been free to talk to Mr. Chaffetz, but that department policy required a department lawyer to be present during interviews for any Congressional investigation.”
The State Department's internal investigators -- the Accountability Review Board (ARB) led by Admiral Mike Mullen and Ambassador Charles Pickering -- also spoke to Hicks. In fact, after Hicks sat down for his interview, he asked for a follow-up interview to expand on issues that he felt needed amplification. And he was granted one.
This was revealed in a brief exchange with Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who asked Hicks to describe his interactions with the ARB: (2:09:30 in the C-SPAN video)
REP. MICA: OK, let me go to chargé Hicks. Were you interviewed by the board?
HICKS: I was interviewed by the board.
REP. MICA: Were you able to convey all the information that you felt was necessary regarding this incident to the board?
HICKS: The interview took about two hours, and it was in my mind incomplete. A few days later I had a separate meeting, briefly, with the executive secretary.
REP. MICA: So you did have a follow-up meeting and you impressed that--
HICKS: With the board's executive secretary to amplify on some issues that had been discussed at the meeting. At the initial interview.
That really doesn't sound like the State Department, or anyone, was trying to shut Hicks out of the process. Really, if you're going to shut someone up, letting them talk to Congressmen and independent investigators is a bad way to start.