Thursday's New York Times led with the congressional hearings into the Obama administration's response to the terrorist attack on Benghazi, Libya on the anniversary of September 11 that left four Americans dead: "Envoy Testifies Libya Questions Led To Demotion," reported by the team of Scott Shane, Jeremy Peters, and Eric Schmitt. But the paper still treated it as a partisan game of gotcha in an online symposium titled "Serious Investigations, or Partisan Ploys?"
A veteran diplomat gave a riveting minute-by-minute account on Wednesday of the lethal terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11 and described its contentious aftermath at a charged Congressional hearing that reflected the weighty political stakes perceived by both parties.
But within days, Mr. Hicks said, after raising questions about the account of what had happened in Benghazi offered in television interviews by Susan E. Rice, the United Nations ambassador, he felt a distinct chill from State Department superiors. “The sense I got was that I needed to stop the line of questioning,” said Mr. Hicks, who has been a Foreign Service officer for 22 years.
He was soon given a scathing review of his management style, he said, and was later “effectively demoted” to desk officer at headquarters, in what he believes was retaliation for speaking up.
The Times offered up some mild political criticism of the Obama administration, while suggesting the hearing had become a "political spectacle." The paper also noted U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's infamous appearance on the Sunday talk shows days after the attack, falsely blaming an anti-Muslim video on YouTube for the attacks. Hicks' response: “I was stunned. My jaw dropped and I was embarrassed.” And there were diplomatic repercussions as well:
[Rice's] remarks angered the president of Libya’s National Assembly, Mohamed Magariaf, who had said on one of the Sunday shows that the attack was the “preplanned” act of militants, including some from Al Qaeda, Mr. Hicks said. He asserted that Mr. Magariaf’s fury at being undercut caused Libyan officials to drag their feet on cooperating with F.B.I. investigators. A State Department official said the delays were caused by security concerns in Benghazi.
Mr. Hicks offered an unbecoming view of political supervision and intimidation inside the Obama administration. When Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, visited Libya after the attack, Mr. Hicks said his bosses told him not to talk to the congressman. When he did anyway, and a State Department lawyer was excluded from one meeting because he lacked the necessary security clearance, Mr. Hicks said he received an angry phone call from Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills.
The hearing became a political spectacle well before the committee’s chairman, Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, gaveled it to order. Republicans had promised damning revelations that could ultimately undo the Obama presidency. “Every bit as damaging as Watergate,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said this week.
Congressional Republicans have threatened to hold additional hearings and subpoena witnesses, including Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Rice, and Democrats see a partisan fishing expedition.
Feeding into that explanation, comforting to Obama fans, was the paper's latest online "Room for Debate" symposium, featuring contributors from all parts of the political spectrum to weigh in on the question, "Serious Investigations, or Partisan Ploys?" The introduction posed the question: Have Congressional hearings become mere political devices?" Only when they make the Obama White House look bad.