The deputy chief of mission in Benghazi, Gregory Hicks, said in an exchange with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, during Wednesday’s House Oversight Committee hearing that a State Department attorney was excluded from meetings in Libya with Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who was in country investigating the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
“I was instructed not to allow the RSO [Regional Security Officer], the acting deputy chief of mission and myself to be personally interviewed by Congressman Chaffetz,” Hicks said.
“So, the people at State told you, don’t talk to the guy who’s coming to investigate?” Jordan pressed.
“Yes, sir,” Hicks replied.
“Have you ever had anyone tell you, don’t talk with the people from Congress coming to find out what took place?” Jordan asked.
“Never,” Hicks said.
Hicks said that Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills “was very upset” that the lawyer was barred from the classified briefing.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide Philippe Reines responded by email to NBC News/msnbc regarding the allegation that Mills was angry that a State Department attorney was excluded from meetings in Libya with republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, of the House Oversight Committee. Reines’ response is below:
It’s hard to answer your question because Greg Hicks didn’t get much in during Congressman Jordan’s - I guess I’ll call it rant given his decibel level - but his accusation was entirely out of line and not based on what little Greg said. Jordan clearly went in there intent on yelling “cover up” and he was going to yell it no matter what he heard. He could’ve asked Hicks about his favorite color and Jordan would have blurted out “cover up” in response.
So I’ll address his accusation - which is completely & utterly false - by telling you what I remember about that day.
To take a step back, from the moment we learned of the attack in Benghazi, Cheryl Mills did everything she could, round the clock for months on end, right up until our very last day in February, to support our personnel in Tripoli, and keep our 70,000 people worldwide as safe as possible. Anyone who worked around or with her will tell you she gave every bit of herself to the Department. You know half the building, you’ll hear the same. You could throw a dart in the cafeteria and it would likely hit someone who will tell you how much she added to the Department and meant to them personally.
And you know I was attached to her at the hip for most of our last five months at State, and never once did she treat anyone with anything other than respect and complete professionalism. Not even me when I deserved it.
In this instance, I was with her and I remember it vividly because we were hearing from our people in Libya that some at Embassy Tripoli were left unsettled by their interactions with the CODEL - which was made up of only Jeremy Chaffetz because he refused to allow any minority member to join him (or is it Jason Chaffetz?) - and the position they felt they were being put in. Which btw, Jeremy/Jason Chaffetz pledged before his trip he wouldn’t do, and that he would completely respect the integrity of the FBI investigation by not interrogating State personnel, who had also just been through hell, were still in a dangerous situation, and lost colleagues and friends - including their ambassador Chris Stevens who they adored.
State sent a legal advisor as sop to Tripoli so that any personnel on the ground who wanted their advice or presence for any conversation could avail themselves of that option. For their own protection and comfort. Chaffetz refused to let this person on government plane, and resented his being in Tripoli (after he was forced to fly there on his own). And he decided he didn’t want this person around. Which wasn’t his choice to make for the individuals on the ground. If those individuals didn’t feel a need for it, they didn’t have to take it. And nobody was told to keep Chaffetz from speaking with anyone. That’s completely at odds with the cooperative approach the Department has taken with the Congress - all eight of the committees looking into this - from day one, until today.
So after hearing these disturbing reports from several people on the ground, Cheryl said she wanted to call Greg herself to find out how the CODEL went (also remember that it was soon after the attack and we were worried that a CODEL, which requires a great deal of embassy support, would tax their resources at a very difficult time), and that we were behind and with them 100%. She wanted them to know that no matter how far away they were from home, they weren’t alone, that the Department was with them, that she was with them, and most importantly, that the Secretary was with them.
I heard Hicks say that nobody senior had ever called him with good news. That’s too bad. But he’d never met Cheryl. That’s who she is, that’s what she does.
I remember it so vividly because in the midst of a very trying time, it was exactly what you’d hope a leader would do at a time like that. To take a moment to talk to the people on the ground, doing the work, trying to do that work under difficult circumstances after a terrible event, making sure they’re ok.
So I’m hoping that if Greg Hicks had been allowed to say more than yes or no and actually elaborated on the conversation, Jordan’s accusation would be revealed to be as specious as it is.
What I do know though is that Tom Pickering, who led the review and interviewed Greg for their report, said as recently as today in some interview that Hicks expressed nothing like what Jordan is alleging.