U.S. official: Benghazi assault appeared to be ‘terrorist attack from the get-go’
The deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya during a 2012 attack on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi told investigators he thought it was a terrorist strike from the beginning, according to interview excerpts released yesterday on CBS News’s Face the Nation.
“I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go. I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning,” Gregory Hicks said in an interview with investigators shared with Face the Nation. The excerpt was one of several host Bob Schieffer revealed on the program.
Hicks is one of the witnesses called to testify this week before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Shortly after the attack, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice characterized the assault as a spontaneous attack. The Obama administration later said it was an act of terrorism.
“Clearly, there was a political decision to say something different than what was reasonable to say,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said on Face the Nation.
According to the excerpts of his interview with investigators, Hicks said that the morning after Rice’s Sunday show appearances he called the acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, Elizabeth Jones, to ask why Rice had said that. Hicks said Jones told him she didn’t know.
This week’s hearing is expected to focus on claims in a Republican committee report that the State Department massaged public statements about the attack to eliminate or play down the likelihood of a terrorist connection.
That long-standing GOP claim may be better supported by documents the committee reviewed in recent months that chart the changes in language over several days following the attack.
Republicans are also focusing on the scope and mandate of an independent review of the attack by a panel appointed by the State Department amid accusations that potential witnesses were excluded from the review.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that the review was comprehensive and that decisions about whom to interview were made by the outside review board, not the department.