The top American diplomat in Libya is set to offer politically damaging testimony this week that suggests the Obama administration fumbled its response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Gregory N. Hicks is expected to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he thought it was a terrorist attack from the start, and not a spontaneous reaction to protests out of Egypt resulting from an anti-Islam video on the Internet — a version that U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice put forward on Sunday talk shows in the wake of the attack.
“We can’t find a classified reason for it. We can’t find a diplomatic reason for it,” committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Mr. Issa said the Obama administration’s initial assessment was an “insult” to Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf, who said the attack appeared to be planned.
The political firestorm surrounding the incident, and whether it could have been prevented, has resurfaced after it ebbed for some months amid debate over gun control and spending priorities on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, promised startling testimony from “whistleblowers” like Mr. Hicks and former Marine Mark I. Thompson, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism.
“Every single turn, the State Department and the White House has impeded this investigation,” Mr. Chaffetz told “Fox News Sunday.”
Mr. Issa said the initial assessment may be the result of “a mentality where you had to pretend like things were safe, the war on terror was over, and that may have gone in a great way to getting people to say, ‘Well, we can’t call this a terrorist attack because then the war on terror is back alive.’”
Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Massachusetts Democrat, said House Republicans are the ones who have been less than transparent, but he acknowledged that the White House made mistakes with the “talking points.”
“It was false. … There’s no excuse for that,” Mr. Lynch said when asked on Fox about a Weekly Standard report that concluded the administration “engaged in a wholesale rewriting of intelligence assessments about Benghazi in order to mislead the public.”
But Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland Democrat, said it is important not to rush to judgment while Congress gets to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi.
“This should not be a partisan issue at all,” he told “Face the Nation.” “This should be to get the facts and open the issue and to hear from everybody. And when you hear allegations that people are told not to talk, I would hope that those issues would come out. And if that’s the case, then we should be held accountable.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, accused the Obama administration of committing “errors and sins of omission” by failing to interview survivors of the attack who were transferred to Germany.
If they had, he said, then Ms. Rice could have provided a more accurate picture of what happened in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Her initial assessment was panned so loudly by Republican lawmakers in November, that President Obama demanded that his congressional critics “go after me” instead of his top aides.