WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans, who have been aggressively pursuing information about how the Obama administration responded to the attacks in September on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, say the testimony that a State Department official will give today will be a damning indictment.
It will show, they say, what they have been claiming all along: that President Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state, did not do all they could to stop the attack, and that they then misled the public about what they knew.
But much of what the witness, Gregory Hicks, is expected to say — that he had appealed in vain for fighter jets to buzz the besieged compound, and that other U.S. officials had sought to send a small group of commandos to the rescue but were told to stand down — would raise questions that have been addressed in hearings and in a critical report by the State Department.
Gen. Carter Ham, the head of the military's Africa Command, has said that U.S. F-16 fighters in Europe were not on alert the night of the Benghazi assault and would not have been useful anyway in a confused situation in a major Arab city. The four special operations troops would have been sent on a Libyan aircraft from Tripoli, the capital, but the commandos would not have arrived until after the second attack hours later on a nearby CIA annex, a fact acknowledged by Hicks, who was serving as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli at the time.
Far from bringing any resolution to the questions over how the administration handled the attacks, the hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee may serve as the prelude to a longer investigative process that could lead to subpoenas for Clinton and others.
"Anybody who was personally involved is somebody I think we'd ultimately like to hear from," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
"I think there will be additional hearings," he added. "I don't think there's any doubt about that."
Much of the controversy over Benghazi revolves around whether deploying other forces more quickly might have saved lives. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and another State Department official, Sean Smith, were killed in an initial attack. Two CIA security officers died in a later attack.