U.S. Official Saw Benghazi Attack as Not Spontaneous

Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

A file photo shows U.S. President Barack Obama watching as the remains of four Americans, including U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, are loaded into a car during the transfer of remains ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on September 14, 2012. Close

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Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

A file photo shows U.S. President Barack Obama watching as the remains of four Americans, including U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, are loaded into a car during the transfer of remains ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on September 14, 2012.

The second-ranking U.S. official in Libya during last year’s deadly attack on the mission in Benghazi immediately considered it a terrorist attack rather than a spontaneous event, according to a transcript of his interview with congressional investigators.

“I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go,” Gregory Hicks, a foreign service officer and former deputy chief of Libyan operations, told investigators, according to excerpts of the interview displayed today on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “I never reported a demonstration, I reported an attack on the consulate.”

His account contrasted with comments made by Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, after the attack on Sept. 11, 2012. She said it grew out of a “spontaneous” demonstration against an anti-Islamic video that was “hijacked” by militants. Hicks said he wasn’t contacted by State Department officials before Rice spoke on five Sunday talk shows Sept. 16, according to the interview with congressional investigators.

The Benghazi attack killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens and became a flashpoint in last year’s presidential campaign. Republicans criticized officials including Rice for their early accounts of the circumstances.

Hicks is scheduled to testify at a May 8 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, in a May 1 statement announcing the hearing, accused President Barack Obama’s administration of offering “a carefully selected and sanitized version” of the Benghazi attack.

Political Decision

“Clearly there was a political decision to say something different than what was reasonable to say,” Issa said today on CBS.

Other potential witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the Benghazi attack have been “suppressed” by the administration, Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“There are people, more than one, that have felt intimidation from the State Department,” Chaffetz said.

An April 23 report by Republicans in the U.S. House said the Obama administration presented “misleading” talking points after the attack and removed references to the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaeda in eastern Libya, including information about at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi.

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, issued a Sept. 28 statement, 12 days after Rice’s appearances, saying the intelligence community had revised its initial assessment and concluded the assault was “a deliberate and organized terrorist attack.”

‘Scrubbed’ Report

Speaking today on “Fox News Sunday,” Representative Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat and member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said there was ’’no excuse’’’ for the administration’s talking points about the attacks.

“It was scrubbed. It was totally inaccurate,” he said. “It was false information.”

Asked whether Rice’s talking points were revised because an al-Qaeda attack didn’t fit with the 2012 Obama presidential campaign’s narrative that the terrorist group was on the run, Lynch said: “I think it was a victory of hope over reality, to be honest with you. They were hoping that this wasn’t the case.”

Still, Lynch said allegations of administration intimidation of potential witnesses were “completely false.”

Witnesses

In addition to Hicks, the witnesses scheduled to testify before Issa’s committee May 8 are Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for counterterrorism, and Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who had been a regional security officer in Libya.

“They have critical information about what occurred before, during and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks that differs on key points from administration officials,” Issa said in a statement.

The Obama administration and congressional Democrats said Republicans are playing politics with the Benghazi incident.

“The politicization of this issue is unfortunate, and it continues unabated,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a May 1 briefing.

To contact the reporters on this story: Nick Taborek in Washington at ntaborek@bloomberg.net; Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ann Hughey at ahughey@bloomberg.net

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