South Carolina’s 4th District Congressman Trey Gowdy says a State Department email the day after fatal attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya shows Obama Administration officials knew within a day that terrorists were involved.
Gowdy mentioned the email during a high-profile U.S. House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday, saying it contradicted statements from United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice about the attack stemming from a spontaneous protest. Rice’s statements on several Sunday morning talk shows have been a frequent target for Republicans who insist the White House was trying to hide the severity of the attack.
Administration officials say Rice was only repeating what the White House, FBI, and others believed at the time.
Wednesday’s hearing featured three State Department officials who were closely involved in the agency’s immediate response. They included deputy chief of mission Gregory Hicks, who became the top diplomat in the country after Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the attack.
Gowdy brought up the September 12 email while questioning Hicks. In it, he says, a high-ranking State Department official linked the attacks to the militant group Ansar al-Sharia, which is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.
The email was from the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the time and was meant for a State Department spokesperson. The email mentioned the official had told Libya’s U.S. ambassador that Ansar asl-Sharia was behind the assault.
Gowdy also asked Hicks if Rice or others consulted him about the attacks prior to her TV appearance.
AUDIO: Listen to exchange (0:17)
Gowdy then asked Hicks how he responded when he heard Rice’s statements.
“I was stunned. My jaw dropped. I was embarrassed,” Hicks answered.
Hicks was peppered with critical questions from Democrats on the committee. Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) said the incorrect protest narrative was largely due to early intelligence reports. He said there was no evidence that the public was purposely misled for political reasons.
“Now we know that the reporting was wrong,” Tierney said, “But the mention of a demonstration was put in the talking points by the intelligence community, not the White House or the State Department.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also hyped up the hearing Wednesday, tweeting afterwards that “the dam just broke” on the story. Earlier that morning, Graham told MSNBC that he believes the White House’s initial response was politically motivated.
“I think the story of Benghazi is that after the attack— seven weeks before an election— there was an effort by some senior people to put a political spin on this, rather than tell the story that it was a terrorist attack from the get-go,” he said during an appearance on “Morning Joe.”