The Cable

3 things to know about Benghazi's star witness

Today's hearing on Benghazi features three whistleblowers: Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism at the State Department; Eric Nordstrom, diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya; and Gregory Hicks, a foreign service officer and former deputy chief of mission in Libya. The statements from Hicks loom the largest, given his status as the top U.S. official in Libya after Amb. Chris Stevens' death and the nature of his accusations as excerpted by House Oversight Committee staffers earlier this week. Here's what you need to know about Hicks during today's hearings:

Who he is: With a 22-year career at the State Department, Hicks has distinguished record of service in six overseas assignments in Bahrain, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and The Gambia. In the course of his service, he's received six Meritorious Service Increases, three individual Meritorious Honor Awards, and four individual Superior Honor Awards. At the time of the attack in Benghazi, Hicks was the number two U.S. official in Libya.

What he's alleging: Hicks says he knew immediately that the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2011, was a terrorist attack. He also told committee staffers that he was turned down by Washington after asking for more support during the night of the raid USA Today's Oren Dorell has a good recap of his statements:

"I talked with the defense attache, Lt. Col. Keith Phillips, and I asked him, 'Is there anything coming?' "

According to Hicks' account, Phillips said the nearest fighter planes were in Aviano, Italy, and it would take two to three hours to get them airborne, and there were no tanker assets close enough to support them.

Hicks said when he asked again, before the 5:15 a.m. mortar attack that killed Doherty and Woods, "the answer, again, was the same as before."

Hicks said he believes the Libyan government would have approved the flyover and that it would have been effective because the militias "were under no illusions that American and NATO air power won that war for them," he said.

"If we had been able to scramble a fighter or aircraft or two over Benghazi as quickly as possible after the attack commenced, I believe there would not have been a mortar attack on the annex in the morning because I believe the Libyans would have split," according to Hicks' excerpts.

"The Libyans would have split. They would have been scared to death that we would have gotten a laser on them and killed them."

How the Pentagon responds: In response to Hicks's allegations, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Robert Firman says there was not an order to stand-down:

Firman said Tuesday that the military is trying to assess the incident Hicks is referring to, but the aircraft in question wound up evacuating a second wave of Americans from Benghazi to Tripoli, not transporting rescuers to a firefight.

The Department of Defense "responded in every way it could as quickly as it could and we were coordinating with the Department of State every step of the way," he said.


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The Cable

Meet the combatants in today's big Benghazi hearing

Today, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform is convening its long-awaited hearing on the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi -- one that will feature a group of self-described "whistleblowers" from inside the State Department.

According to leaked copies of their testimonies, the witnesses -- Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism; Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission/chargé d'affairs in Libya; and Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya -- will testify that the State Department rebuffed requests for additional security at the consulate and that the Obama administration denied a request to send a team of special forces to Benghazi. According to the witnesses, U.S. soldiers could have made it to the consulate in time to save lives, though that is a highly contentious allegation.

The controversial testimony is sure to generate heated debate among the lawmakers assembled. Here's a guide to what you can expect from the most high-profile antagonists in today's hearing:

Darrell Issa

Best known for lobbing endless accusations at the Obama administration for the botched "Fast and Furious" operation at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Issa, the committee's chairman, is now staking a claim as a major player in Republican efforts to keep the White House's feet to the fire on Benghazi. On Monday, Issa, a California Republican, told CBS News that there is "no question" that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's inner circle and possibly the secretary herself were involved in covering up the State Department's handling of the Benghazi attack.

"If Hillary Clinton is not responsible for the before, during and after mistakes ... it's somebody close. There certainly are plenty of people close to the former secretary who knew, and apparently were part of the problem," Issa told CBS.

Jason Chaffetz

A darling of the Tea Party, Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, has accused the Obama administration of seeking to suppress the testimony of the witnesses slated to appear. "There are people who want to testify that have been suppressed," he told Fox News Sunday. "They're scared to death of what the State Department is doing with them."

Expect Chaffetz to advance the ball on allegations that the U.S. military could have responded to distress calls at the Benghazi consulate. On Monday, he told Fox News that the military was told to "stand down" and that after the attacks the Obama administration worked to cover up orders for the military to not respond to the attack.

Trey Gowdy

A South Carolina Republican, Gowdy is the man behind much of the hype leading up to today's hearing. "There are more Benghazi hearings coming; I think they're going to be explosive," he told Fox News in late April. But don't just expect grandstanding from Gowdy. A former prosecutor, Gowdy told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he is concerned his Republican colleagues won't sufficiently focus on fact-finding during the hearing, and that he has been working behind the scenes to educate his colleagues about the art of interrogation. "So I have worked with, now, four of my colleagues whose backgrounds are not in litigation, how to ask these questions in a precise, pithy way that makes the witness the star and not some arm-flailing congressman who wants to be on YouTube," Gowdy told Hewitt.

Expect Gowdy to pursue some interesting lines of questioning. Here's what he promised Hewitt:

My fear over the weekend was that a lot of the information that I thought would be most interesting tomorrow has already been released. So I went to staff, and I went to others, and said with any jury trial, you have to save something back. You have to be interesting on the day of the trial. And I have been assured, in fact, I know, because I've seen it myself, there's going to be new, provocative, instructive, dare not use the word explosive, but there's going to be information that comes out tomorrow that whether people have been so desensitized to government lying to them that they don't care anymore, I cannot speak to that. But if you're interested in Benghazi, there is going to be enough new material tomorrow to make you absolutely livid that it's taken eight months for us to get to this point.

Elijah Cummings

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Cummings has been lambasting Republicans for politicizing the attacks. Expect him to describe the hearing as an exercise in partisan politics. "[Republicans] have leaked snippets of interview transcripts to national media outlets in a selective and distorted manner to drum up publicity for their hearing," Cummings said in a press release. "This is investigation by press release and does a disservice to our common goal of ensuring that our diplomatic corps serving overseas has the best protection possible to do its critical work."

Stephen Lynch

Fresh off losing the Democratic primary in Massachusetts' special election to replace former Senator John Kerry, Stephen Lynch has been doing battle with Jason Chaffetz in recent days. During Wednesday's hearing, he'll likely be one of the louder Democratic voices pushing back on Republican claims. "This has been a one- sided investigation, if you want to call it that," Lynch told Fox on Sunday. "There's been no sharing of information in a significant way with the Democrats staff members who usually conduct this type of investigation. And I think it's disgraceful, to be honest with you."

Grab some popcorn. It should be a good show.

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