Sorry, Michelle Malkin, this is not part of Operation Smear Benghazi Whistleblowers, but one particular line of questioning in Wednesday's House Oversight Committee hearing on last year's Benghazi attacks may represent just what happens when you keep travelling down the same rabbit hole. During an emotional day on the witness stand that otherwise went pretty much as expected — the first ground-level witness to testify had been expected to say that he was bullied into staying quiet, in addition to offering a tick-tock of that violent evening, when forces were told to stand down — Gregory Hicks got more or less forced into a corner.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) asked the former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Libya about a conversation Hicks had with ambassador Chris Stevens while the diplomatic mission in Benghazi was under siege. That conversation took place, as Hicks testified, during the attack on Stevens's villa and was one of the last phone calls of Stevens's life; Hicks described it before the committee as the saddest of his.
Hicks described Stevens's words during the call:
Greg, we're under attack.
Gowdy then presented Hicks with with a speculative line of questioning, clearly in reference to the now-famous Susan Rice Sunday talk-show talking points. Gowdy asked about the reported demonstration at Stevens's villa and how the State Department initially connected it to violence that spurred from protests in Cairo, which were spurred by the Innocence of Muslims film. So Gowdy tied it all together around a frantic phone call while "under attack." Indeed, Gowdy posed quite the hypothetical:
Gowdy: Would a highly decorated career diplomat have told you, or Washington, had there been a demonstration outside his facility that day?
Hicks: Yes, sir, he would have.
Gowdy: Did he [Amb. Stevens] mention one word about a protest?
Hicks: No, sir, he did not.
Of course, that's all speculation and opinion from a former officer in charge of the embassy in Tripoli — a whistleblower whose advice apparently went unheeded back in Benghazi and, apparently, in Washington. But it's spinning a lot of plates at once for a man who, at that point in the hearing, was trying to recount a lethal incident, a sad phone call, an important moment. The idea that Stevens, in what Gowdy called "a dying declaration," would have misreported something that happened earlier in the day, or what was up with that YouTube video — or even bothered to rattle off that information — well, it's not exactly wrong. As the State Department said in the month following the attack, there was no evidence of a protest. But it does make you wonder if this hearing, titled "Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage," is a little more focused on the exposing part than the courage part.
Here's the full Gowdy-Hicks exchange, which kind of puts the whole narrative in its strange grandstanding context:
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) made very clear his displeasure with Congressional Republicans for airing out these "whistleblower" testimonies in the media — and then airing them out some more when it came time for actual questioning. Those remarks garnered him a pretty great side eye from Darrell Issa (R-California), the committee chair.
But none of the speculation, or the grandstanding, or the careful and emotional testimony from Hicks and his fellow chief whistleblower Mark Thompson taught us much of anything new about what's been out there for the last six months or so: that Republicans are very concerned with Susan Rice's talking points, that conservatives are concerned that the administration didn't just do a bad job telling us what happened last September 11th but willfully misled the public (also: Hillary). The dramatic questioning of Hicks over the sad phone call didn't shed any light on other new realities — like how Hicks missed two calls from Stevens during the attack, or why the defense official Hicks was speaking to had a completely different timeline over reinforcements than did the U.S.'s top military officials. And maybe that's the saddest part of all: True sadness was, today on Capitol Hill, trumped by ignorance of sadness and the willful stuffing of words into a dead man's mouth.
Update, 6:17 p.m. Eastern: The Benghazi Show, Brought to You by Darrell Issa