Much of the media and liberal establishment simply ignored yesterday's Benghazi hearings. They were content to see, hear, and speak no evil -- which is typically the fastest way to kill a story in Washington. Others framed the proceedings as just another quixotic, partisan effort to hype a long-resolved story. Selling that template requires adherence to two fallacious assertions: First, that no major questions remain regarding the 9/11 terrorist assault on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya -- and second, that no new information emerged from the whistle-blowers' hours-long testimony. The former claim is outright insulting. The latter betrays either aggressive ignorance or wishful thinking. House Oversight Committee Republicans' focused questioning extracted quite a few nuggets of relevant information. For their part, many committee Democrats were focused on unseemly efforts to attack, distract and smear -- all employed as they cynically groused about Republicans "politicizing" the investigation. Cutting through the nonsense and dissembling, here's what we now know:
(1) Murdered US Ambassador Chris Stevens' second in command, Gregory Hicks, was instructed not to speak with a Congressional investigator by State Department lawyers.* Hicks said he'd "never" faced a similar demand at any point during his distinguished 22-year diplomatic career. When he refused to comply with this request, the State Department dispatched an attorney to act as a "minder," who insisted on sitting in on all of Hicks' discussions with members of Congress (higher quality video is available here). Sec. Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, later excoriated Hicks for cooperating with the investigation and permitting himself to be interviewed without a chaperone.
(2) When Hicks began to voice strenuous objections to the administration's inaccurate talking points with State Department higher-ups, the administration turned hostile. After being lavishly praised by the president and the Secretary of State for his performance under fire, Assistant Secretary of State Beth Jones instantly reversed course and launched into a "blistering critique" of Hicks' leadership. He was subsequently "effectively demoted." Hicks called Rice's talking points "stunning" and "embarrassing."
(3) Secretaries Clinton and Rice (the president's hand-selected messenger on Benghazi to the American people) repeatedly stated that the attack arose from "spontaneous protests" over an obscure YouTube video. This was never true. Hicks called the YouTube a "non-event" in Libya. He and others on the ground -- including Amb. Stevens -- recognized the raid as a coordinated terrorist attack from the very beginning. Hicks testified that he personally told Sec. Clinton as much at 2 am on the night of the attack, along with her senior staff. [UPDATE - Rep. Trey Gowdy also revealed an email sent on 9/12 in which Assistant Sec. Jones confirmed to a Libyan official that the attack had been carried out by terrorist organization Ansar al-Sharia]. Days later, Rice recited bogus talking points on five American television networks, and Clinton denounced the video while standing next to the flag-draped coffins of the fallen. Hicks said that he never mentioned any "spontaneous demonstrations" related to a video in his phone call with Clinton:
Questions: How, why, and by whom did the administration's talking points get scrubbed and re-written? Why did the president refuse to identify the attack as terrorism in an interview with CBS News on September 12, and why did he allow Sec. Rice to disseminate patently false information on his behalf?
(4) A small, armed US force in Tripoli was told it did not have the authority to deploy to Benghazi in the midst of the attack. Twice. Flight time between the two cities is less than an hour. Members of the would-be rescue contingent were "furious" over this obstruction. The witnesses said they did not know who ultimately gave the "stand down" orders, or why. If it was not the Commander-in-Chief calling the shots, why not, and where was he? Whistle-blower Mark Thompson, a career counter-terrorism official at State, said he called the White House to request the immediate deployment of a Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST) to Benghazi. He was told it was "not the right time" to do so, then was cut out of the communications loop.
(5) The US' security chief in Libya, Eric Nordstrom, averred that Sec. Clinton "absolutely" would have been briefed on his (and Stevens') repeated requests for an increased security presence in Libya. This claim undercut committee Democrats' nitpicking over whether Clinton's signature appeared on the memo denying those requests:
Furthermore, the Benghazi compound was operating below the bare minimum global security standard for US diplomatic missions -- despite being in an exceedingly dangerous place, and having been subjected to previous attempted attacks. Only the Secretary of State has the authority to grant exemptions for minimum security requirements.
(6) Amb. Stevens was stationed at the vulnerable Benghazi compound on a dangerous symbolic date at the behest of Sec. Clinton, who wished to make that diplomatic mission a permanent outpost. This detail should only intensify questions as to why the consulate was so poorly protected (see item #7).
(7) Nordstrom stated that elements of the lightly-armed Libyan militia group tasked with protecting the consulate were "certainly" complicit in the attacks. No US Marines were present at the time. Hicks estimated that at least 60 terrorists swarmed into the compound during the attack. Eight months later, zero arrests have been made.
(8) A mortally wounded Amb. Stevens was taken to a hospital controlled by the Islamist extremist group (Ansar Al-Sharia) primarily responsible for the assault. Administration officials initially pointed to locals rushing Stevens to a local hospital as evidence of local goodwill from protesters who didn't approve of the mob spinning out of control. Hicks said the American contingent did not go to retrieve Stevens from said hospital during the fight because they were fearful that it was a trap.
(9) The US government did not seek permission from the Libyan government to fly any aircraft into Libyan airspace, aside from a drone. The witnesses testified that they believe the Libyan government would have complied with any such request. The fact that none was even made indicates that there was never a plan or intention to rush reinforcements to Benghazi. This renders the "would they have made it on time?" argument largely irrelevant -- the facts in item #4 notwithstanding. Another important point about the "they wouldn't have made it" defense: The assault lasted for eight hours and took place into two waves at two different compounds. How could anyone have known how long the fighting would last? How could they have anticipated that ex-Navy SEALs Woods and Doherty wouldn't have been able to stave off the enemy for a few more hours? Help was not on the way. It was never sent.
(10) Despite committee Democrats' repeated claims and leading questions, reduced funding or "austerity" had absolutely nothing to do with the inadequate security presence on the ground. The State Department itself made this fact crystal clear at previous hearings, as did the administration's internal "ARB" review. Why did multiple Democrats flog an obsolete, thoroughly-debunked explanation, if not to muddy the waters?
(11) Oversight Democrats tried to cast doubt on Mark Thompson's credibility, suggesting that he'd declined to participate in the administration's ARB probe. Thompson corrected the record, noting that he "offered his services" to those investigators, who in turn did not invite him to testify. Democrats also claimed that the House hearings were slanted because the leaders of the ARB investigation were not invited to participate. In fact, Chairman Issa explicitly did invite them, as confirmed by letters obtained by ABC News. They chose not to participate. Democrats were dead wrong on both counts.
(12) During her Congressional testimony on Benghazi, Sec. Clinton memorably asked, "what difference does it make?" in regards to the provenance of the administration's incorrect talking points. Gregory Hicks and Eric Nordstrom both attempted to answer that question. Hicks did so in granular detail (the false explanation opened a nasty rift between the US and Libyan governments, impeding the FBI's investigation for weeks). An emotional Nordstrom was more general (we lost friends; the truth matters):
One of the few points of bipartisan agreement was that the number of unresolved issues merit additional hearings on Benghazi.
* An earlier version of this post stated that Cheryl Mills directly instructed Hicks not to meet with Rep. Chaffetz. Though Mills likely had a hand in that edict, Hicks testified that unnamed higher-ups at State actually issued it. Both Mills and Beth Jones subsequently dressed Hicks down for defying the effective gag order.