Gregory Hicks testifies at a congressional hearing on Benghazi on May 8. (Reuters/Yuri Gripas.)
The tired Benghazi circus staged by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this week did have one legitimately intriguing moment: Gregory Hicks, a senior diplomat at the State Department, claimed he was intimidated and then demoted for questioning the administration’s response to the September 2012 attacks.
This was a new bit of information, and fleshed out heretofore-anonymous claims in the right-wing media that Benghazi whistleblowers were being cajoled and silenced by federal authorities.
It appears, according to experts, that indeed Hicks not only fits the profile of a whistleblower but is also being unfairly retaliated against by his superiors. The unfortunate backdrop here is an administration with a troubling record of retribution against federal employees who speak out against official policy.
Hicks first testified that State Department officials would not allow him to speak with Republican members of Congress without a State Department lawyer present, which he said had never happened before when meeting with congressional delegations. He also said that Cheryl Mills, a top aide to then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called him to voice displeasure that he had met with Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz without a lawyer anyhow:
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): And didn’t you say—excuse me—didn’t you say, Mr. Hicks, in my first round, that this was the first and only time this had ever happened, where someone from the State Department accompanied a congressional visit, and you were instructed specifically by the State Department, “Do not talk to Congressman Chaffetz or anyone on the committee’s delegation who’s there without this lawyer being present?
HICKS: That’s correct.
JORDAN: And shortly after the one time when you did have a chance to interact with Mr. Chaffetz, and the lawyer was not president—was not present, you got a phone call from Cheryl Mills?
HICKS: That is correct.
JORDAN: And on that phone call, what did she say?
HICKS: She asked for a report on the visit, which I provided. The tone of the report—the tone of her voice was unhappy, as I recall it. But I faithfully reported exactly how the visit transpired.
Hicks also testified that he received an excessively negative performance review once he began speaking out:
HICKS: Prior to the visit [with Chaffetz], Assistant Secretary Jones had visited and she pulled me aside and again, said I need to improve my management style and indicated that people were upset. I’d had no indication that my staff was upset at all other than with the conditions that we were facing.
Following my return to the United States, I attended Chris’s funeral in San Francisco and then I came back to Washington. Assistant Secretary Jones summoned me to her office and she delivered a—a blistering critique of my management style, and she even said, I exclaimed, “I don’t know why Larry Pope would want you to come back,” and she said, she didn’t even understand why anyone at Tripoli would want me to come back.