Greg Hicks, former Deputy Ambassador in Tripoli, Libya, testified Wednesday that when he learned Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens had died "it was the saddest phone call I ever had in my life."
Emotions ran high as Hicks gave a stirring personal account of how events unfolded on the ground on Sept. 11, 2012 -- the night four Americans including the Libyan Ambassador were murdered in Benghazi by terrorists.
Hicks, who was hailed as a hero by the Obama administration after the attacks, walked lawmakers through the horrifying evening from the first calls he received from Stevens that the Benghazi consulate was under attack to the brave acts of people on the ground. He described how one office manager stayed busy in Tripoli loading magazines and smashing hard drives in case of another attack. He also noted the bravery of team members who repeatedly entered the burning buildings in Benghazi looking for survivors.
But Hicks testified that relationships with superiors at the State Department began to sour after he inquired why U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's talking points, which she delivered on five Sunday talk shows days after the attack, blamed the terrorist attack in Libya on an anti-muslim video.
"I was stunned," Hicks said. "My jaw dropped, and I was embarrassed."
Hicks also testified that, while he was one of the highest-ranking diplomats on the ground in Libya, he was instructed by State Department lawyers not to talk with visiting Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, during his investigative trip in the weeks following the attacks.
Lawmakers grilled whistleblowers about whether the Obama administration failed to provide adequate support to the facilities in Benghazi once the consulate was under attack.
Hicks and another witness Mark Thompson, an official with the State Department's Counterterrorism Bureau, testified that although they asked the administration to deploy the FEST crew, an expert counterterrorism unit, their requests were refused.
Hicks said he had asked the embassy attache how soon aircraft in Aviano, Italy, could arrive to provide back up. He was told it would take less than 3 hours, but that they were unable to make the journey because there were no air tank refuelers available.
Oversight Committee Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., countered Hicks' testimony, citing past testimony from Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that it would have taken aircraft almost an entire day to arrive in Libya.
"In my personal opinion, a fast mover flying over Benghazi, at some point, might have prevented some bad things that happened that night," Hicks replied.
The hearing had strong political undertones. In the first moments, Ranking member Cummings and Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., went head to head, making it clear that the hearing was void of bipartisanship.
"I would like nothing more than to have you work with me on this investigation, " Issa said in his opening statement as he looked at Cummings. "I still hold out hope that someday you will stand with me."
Democrats on the committee said they were not allowed to interview one of the whistleblowers before the hearing and were blindsided by some documents that were introduced during the hearing.