Mojo - May 2013

Electric Car Guru Elon Musk Ditches Mark Zuckerberg's FWD.us Group

| Mon May 13, 2013 9:31 AM EDT
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and the private space travel company SpaceX, has parted ways with FWD.us, the tech-centric political group that Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg launched last month. So, too, has investor and entrepreneur David Sacks, who created the social network Yammer and financed the satiric 2005 movie Thank You for Smoking. The tech news website AllThingsD first reported the departures of Musk and Sacks, and their names have been removed from the list of nearly two-dozen "major contributors" to FWD.us.

Zuckerberg and Facebook "Causes" creator Joe Green founded FWD.us to lobby on behalf of Silicon Valley firms in Washington. They quickly earned the endorsements of a host of other tech superstars. The group—which, as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, does not have to disclose its donors—has reportedly raised more than $25 million so far. The group chose the ongoing fight over comprehensive immigration reform as its first foray into Congressional politics, seeking to expand the number of visas available to engineers and other high-skilled workers that tech companies would like to recruit. By all accounts, FWD.us' message has gotten a warm reception on Capitol Hill.

But the group caused a political firestorm recently when it ran TV advertisements praising Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) for supporting more oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. Another ad depicted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) criticizing Obamacare and President Obama's refusal (so far) to green-light the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. FWD.us ran the ads to give Begich and Graham some political cover on immigration reform, the theory being that by touting the senators' conservative bona fides, they could give them the space to take a moderate position on an immigration reform bill. The Begich and Graham ads ran for a week and are no longer on the air. Liberal and environmental groups reacted furiously to FWD.us' conservative and anti-environmental message, protesting at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. And last week, nine progressive groups, including MoveOn.org, Progressives United, the Sierra Club, and Daily Kos, pledged to pull down their existing paid Facebook ads or cancel future ad buys for at least two weeks.

It's not surprising that Musk would break with FWD.us. Tesla Motors builds high-end electric cars; its entire business model is built around a clean-tech economy. Musk also sits on the board of SolarCity, a company that delivers, installs, and maintains solar panels powering homes, businesses, and government offices.

Musk sent this statement to AllThingsD: "I agreed to support Fwd.us because there is a genuine need to reform immigration. However, this should not be done at the expense of other important causes. I have spent a lot of time fighting far larger lobbying organizations in DC and believe that the right way to win on a cause is to argue the merits of that cause. This statement may surprise some people, but my experience is that most (not all) politicians and their staffs want to do the right thing and eventually do."

FWD.us spokeswoman Kate Hansen emailed this statement to Mother Jones: "We recognize that not everyone will always agree with or be pleased by our strategy—and we're grateful for the continued support of our dedicated founders and major contributors. FWD.us remains totally committed to supporting a bipartisan policy agenda that will boost the knowledge economy, including comprehensive immigration reform."

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Val Kilmer Was in DC This Week Lobbying for What?!

| Fri May 10, 2013 6:52 PM EDT

Val Kilmer is a part-time Washington lobbyist now.

Earlier this week, the film and stage actor (Batman Forever, Top Gun, The Doors, MacGruber) was on Capitol Hill advocating for the Equitable Access to Care and Health Act, which would expand Americans' ability to claim religious exemptions to Obamacare's health insurance mandate. Kilmer alerted the world to his latest foray into political advocacy with a series of tweets, which included a photo taken at the Hart Senate Office Building.

The description of "lobbyist" here should not be taken literally; a search on the House lobbying disclosure webpage does not yield Kilmer's name.

The EACH Act is sponsored by Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), best known for getting his six-pack abs splashed on the cover of Men's Health. Under the EACH Act, Americans can avoid the insurance mandate if they file an affidavit stating that their religious faith bars them from buying insurance. Various religious groups have fiercely opposed the law, and Obamacare already includes a "religious conscience exemption."

Kilmer did not respond to requests for comment and it's not known whom he met with (he reportedly had dinner with Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York). "We have no idea why he was at the Hill; we have nothing to do with that part of his life," a representative for the actor said. "He doesn't have a publicist now, and he doesn't really do interviews."

Kilmer's visit is likely linked to his religious faith; he is a committed Christian Scientist. "It is quite a challenging faith," he told Esquire in 2005. Certain Christian Scientists' beliefs about health care, particularly their denial of modern medical care to children, are controversial, to say the least.

This isn't the 53-year-old actor first brush with politics. A few years ago, Kilmer considered making a run for governor of New Mexico, consulting with strategists and politicos; then-New Mexico governor Bill Richardson said he liked Kilmer's prospects partly because "he was Batman." He has engaged in some environmental activism and supported Ralph Nader in the 2008 presidential election. In 2010, Kilmer teamed up with the ACLU to win the right to convert his ranch near Santa Fe into a posh bed-and-breakfast.

It's hard to say if Val Kilmer will continue his public charge for Obamacare religious exemptions. As for merging elements of his faith and profession, it's still a work in progress: For more than a decade Kilmer has been working on a "tragicomic" film about Mark Twain—and Christian Science church founder Mary Baker Eddy.

Benghazi Isn't Watergate. But the White House Didn't Tell the Full Story.

| Fri May 10, 2013 3:45 PM EDT
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton take part in the Transfer of Remains Ceremony marking the return to the United States of the remains of the four Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya.

The latest revelations about the Benghazi talking points—as opposed to what actually happened at the US diplomatic facility at Benghazi, where four Americans died—do not back up Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's hyperbolic and absurd claim that the Benghazi controversy is Obama's Watergate. But neither are they nothing.

As ABC News reported on Friday morning, the most discussed talking points in US diplomatic history were revised multiple times before being passed to UN Ambassador Susan Rice prior to her appearances last September on Sunday talk shows. The revisions—which deleted several lines noting that the CIA months before the attack had produced intelligence reports on the threat of Al Qaeda-linked extremists in Benghazi—appear to have been driven by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, who, it should be noted, is a career Foggy Bottomer who has served Republican and Democratic administrations, not a political appointee. Her motive seems obvious: fend off a CIA CYA move that could make the State Department look lousy. (The other major deletion concerned three sentences about a possible link between the attack and Ansar al-Sharia, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group; last November, David Petraeus, the former CIA chief, testified that this information was removed from the talking points in order to avoid tipping off the group.)

But here's the problem for the White House: It was part of the interagency process in which State sought to downplay information that might have raised questions about its preattack performance. That's a minor sin (of omission). Yet there's more: On November 28, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, "Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect the IC's best assessments of what they thought had happened. The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word 'consulate' to 'diplomatic facility because 'consulate' was inaccurate."

Assuming the talking points revisions released by ABC News are accurate—and the White House has not challenged them—Carney's statement was not correct. The State Department did far more than change one word, and it did so in a process involving White House aides. So, White House critics can argue, Carney put out bad information and did not acknowledge that State had massaged the talking points to protect itself from inconvenient questions.

This is not much of cover-up. There is no evidence the White House is hiding the truth about what occurred in Benghazi. My colleague Kevin Drum dismisses this recent Benghazi news ("on a scale of 1 to 10, this is about a 1.5"). But the White House has indeed been caught not telling the full story. Despite Carney's statement, there was politically minded handling of the talking points. Yet in today's hyperpartisan environment, such a matter cannot be evaluated with a sense of proportion. Obama antagonists decry it as a deed most foul, and White House defenders denounce the the critics. The talking points dispute is not a scandal; it's a mess—a small mess—and not as significant as the actions (and non-actions) that led to Benghazi. Yet no mess is too tiny for scandalmongers in need of material.

Judge: Obama Admin.'s Emergency Contraception Argument Is "Something Out of an Alternate Reality"

| Fri May 10, 2013 12:56 PM EDT

On Friday, US District Court Judge Edward Korman went all Dikembe Mutombo on the Obama administration's request to delay implementation of his ruling that emergency contraception be made available over the counter to everyone within 30 days. The Department of Justice announced last week that it is appealing Korman's April 5 decision.

Korman's latest order rejecting the request of a stay is, to put it nicely, highly critical of the Obama administration, calling the DOJ's appeal "frivolous" and an "administrative agency filibuster."

In its appeal, the DOJ claimed that Korman's April 5 decision "undermines the regulatory procedures governing FDA's drug approval process." But Korman calls this argument "something out of an alternate reality," given that the FDA's scientists approved it for use over the counter when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled their decision in December 2011, implementing an age limit of 17. Sebelius, he writes, "completely lacks" the scientific expertise to decide whether a drug is safe and effective.

Korman also accuses the administration of "sugarcoating" its effort to block access by lowering the age for one brand of emergency contraception, Plan B One-Step, on the day before they filed the appeal. The administration has suggested a three-tiered system that Korman explains as:

  • (1) women 15 years of age or older with adequate proof of age will be permitted to purchase Plan B One-Step, which will only be available on the shelves in stores with on-site pharmacies;
  • (2) other levonorgestrel-based products will remain behind the counter, but will be available without a prescription to women over 17 years of age who have government issued proof of age; and,
  • (3) women who lack adequate proof of age or are under the age of 15 will not have access to Plan B One-Step and must obtain a prescription for another levonorgestrel-based contraceptive product.

Korman calls this proposal "convoluted" and "nonsensical."

Further, he notes, the Obama administration's plan still harms all women seeking access to emergency contraception, because they will need to a government-issued identification to prove their age. This is a particular burden on young women, poor women, and minorities, who are less likely to have that ID.

It would, however, benefit Teva, the company that makes Plan B One-Step, Korman writes:

The benefits the proposal would confer on Teva were not insignificant. Because, as the Assistant United States Attorney observed, 99% of Plan B One-Step consumers are aged 15 and above, Teva would lose next to nothing in the way of revenue by limiting sales to those women. On the other hand, Teva’s proposal would enable it to have its product, and its product alone, displayed on the shelves in the family planning area of stores with an on-site pharmacy. Thus, a consumer looking for an emergency contraceptive would only find Plan B One-Step on the shelves, and if she came in after the pharmacy counter was closed, her only option would be Plan B One-Step. If she were under the age of 15, she would have no option, because she could only obtain levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives with a prescription.
Moreover, because the FDA claimed that one of the studies conducted by Teva—the so-called "actual use" study—was essential to the approval of Teva’s proposal, Teva enjoys three years of marketing exclusivity to the 15 and 16 year old consumers. The pharmaceutical companies that sell "brand X" versions of Plan B One-Step as well as the two-pill package of the drug could not display their products on the shelf because the old marketing regime remains in effect for them, and their products can only be sold from behind the pharmacy counter. Anyone under the age of 17 needs a prescription to obtain these products, and anyone over the age of 17 can only obtain them from the pharmacy by showing proof-of-age identification.
While this proposal was a boon to Teva, it did little to eliminate the practical obstructions in obtaining emergency contraception to women of child-bearing age whether over or under age 15. On the contrary, Teva will use its privileged marketing status and exclusivity to increase the cost of the drug. The price of Plan B One-Step under the new marketing regime is expected to be $60, significantly more than the one- or two-pill generic version, and could conceivably go higher, if only to accommodate the more expensive packing, age-verification tags, and anti-theft technology that the new marketing arrangement would require. The cost of all emergency contraception, particularly Plan B One-Step, which is the most expensive, is already an impediment to access for many women and adolescents.

The DOJ has until noon on Monday, May 13 to try to appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay.

A Political History of the Cicadas

| Fri May 10, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

The "Great East Coast Cicada Sex Invasion of 2013" is upon us.

After 17 years of feeding and living under the earth's surface, billions of "Brood II" cicadas will emerge this summer between Connecticut and Georgia, swarming in thick, forbidding billows of shed exoskeletons and raucous insect lovemaking. (To get an idea of what the cicada mating call sounds like, click here for audio.)

For all their physical creepiness and loud public sex orgies, the (actually completely harmless) bugs have a rich cultural history in the United States. Bob Dylan wrote a song about the cicadas, for instance. But cicadas also have a rich political history in this country. Here are their greatest hits:

1. Ronald Reagan name-checks the cicada: In June 1987, Greatest President in American History Ronald Reagan delivered one of his weekly radio addresses on the budget plan for fiscal year 1988. In his prepared statement, he used the cicada in a simile to bash Democratic budget proposals:

Like the cicadas, the big spenders are hatching out again and threatening to overrun Congress.

President Reagan then asked the American people to get behind a balanced budget amendment and the line item veto to "make the cicadas in Congress go back underground."

The subsequent UPI headline read:

Ronald Reagan cicadas democrats

2. John Kerry and the cicada-morphing attack ad: Reagan wasn't the only Republican (or politician, for that matter) to invoke cicadas in a political attack. During the 2004 presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee launched a 1:15-long web ad comparing Democratic candidate John Kerry to the "Brood X" cicada. The attack ad includes an up-close shot of a cicada's face morphing into a picture of a confused-looking John Kerry:

The video, which (naturally) painted Kerry as a serial flip-flopper, was emailed to approximately 700,000 supporters of President George W. Bush: "Every 17 years, cicadas emerge, morph out of their shell, and change their appearance," the narrator observes. "Like a cicada, Sen. Kerry would like to shed his Senate career and morph into a fiscal conservative, a centrist Democrat opposed to taxes, strong on defense."

The Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee responded to the ad by saying they were "not bugging out" over it.

John Kerry would go on to lose to George W. Bush in the November election by about 3 million votes.

3. Teddy Roosevelt vs. the anti-imperialist cicadas: In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt gave a Memorial Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery. During that speech, he passionately defended American imperialism in the Philippines and his administration's policy of imposing "orderly freedom" on the Filipino people.

State Department Forces Texas Law Student to Take Down Instructions for 3-D-Printed Guns

| Thu May 9, 2013 3:38 PM EDT

"The Liberator."

Defense Distributed, the Texas-based company specializing in 3-D-printed plastic firearms, took down its downloadable files on Thursday at the request of the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Control Compliance. The company posted a blueprint for the first fully-operational printed plastic handgun, "The Liberator," on Monday at its site, DEFCAD; the file was downloaded more than a 100,000 times in its first three days.

In a letter to the company's founder, Cody Wilson, the State Department alleged that the Defense Distributed's file-sharing service violated the terms of the Arms Export Control Act, and demanded that it take down 10 of its files, including the Liberator, within three weeks.

"Our theory's a good one, but I just didn't ask them and I didn't tell them what we were gonna do," Wilson, a University of Texas law student, told Mother Jones. "So I think it's gonna end up being alright, but for now they're asserting information control over the technical data, because the Arms Information Control Act governs not just actual arms, but technical data, pictures, anything related to arms."

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Rand Paul Wants to Loosen Laws on Offshore Tax Evasion

| Thu May 9, 2013 9:45 AM EDT

Somewhere that looks like the Cayman Islands, home to thousands of US tax cheats.

Late Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a bill that would repeal part of a law aimed at fighting offshore tax evasion.

The law, called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, was passed in 2010 and is supposed to go into effect on January 1, 2014. It requires foreign financial institutions to report information about Americans with accounts worth more than $50,000 to the IRS. Firms that don't comply will be fined.

Tax policy watch dogs say the FATCA is essential to rooting out tax cheats. "The increased bilateral exchange of taxpayer information that...[is] crucial to cleaning up the worldwide shadow financial system," Heather Lowe, director of government affairs for the advocacy organization Global Financial Integrity told Accounting Today earlier this month. "[F]oreign financial institutions should not harbor the illicit assets of U.S. tax evaders."

But Paul's bill to weaken the law was immediately hailed as "heroic" by the biggest independent financial advisory firm in the world. In an email press release from the deVere group, chief executive Nigel Green said, "Senator Paul’s heroic stance against this toxic, economy-damaging tax act is a landmark moment in the mission to have it repealed. He has taken a courageous stand against FATCA, [a law that] will impose unnecessary costs and burdens on foreign financial institutions."

Paul, generally a die-hard anti-taxer, says the intent of his bill "is not to disrupt legitimate tax enforcement." Instead, he says he objects to FATCA because it "violates important privacy protections," by giving foreign governments too much access to US citizens' tax information. Paul says he is only in favor of repealing those provisions.

But Paul has a long history of fighting the offshore-tax evasion law. Since FATCA was signed, the Treasury Department has been negotiating and signing treaties with over 50 countries to implement the law's provisions. Paul has put a hold on Senate approval of all tax treaties since he was elected in 2010, and as such has been blamed for trying to block FATCA.

A companion version of Paul’s bill is expected to be introduced in the House soon.

Want to Track Deaths Along the Border? There's an App for That

| Thu May 9, 2013 5:00 AM EDT

Every documented migrant death in Pima County, Arizona, from 2001 to 2013

Pima County, Arizona, has found a new tool in the quest to save lives along the US-Mexico border: data. On Monday, the county medical examiner's office and Humane Borders, a human rights group based in Tucson, unveiled the Arizona OpenGIS Initiative for Deceased Migrants, an online mapping tool that allows anyone to search the hundreds of known deaths of migrants in the county since 2001.

The app, based on information compiled by the medical examiner and other sources and made possible by an anonymous $175,000 grant to the county, could help identify the unclaimed bodies of migrants and reunite them with their families. The data can be sorted by gender, cause of death, approximate location, and the victim's last name, if known. The medical examiners "get these calls from people—'My loved one disappeared three months ago, five months ago, at this point,'" says John Chamblee, a researcher at the University of Georgia who helped create the app. "Or they'll get a call like, 'The smuggler called me,' and they left their loved one at this point and they try to find out about them." Now can just create a custom map using whatever information they have, and sift through the results.

The Pima County data's impact is potentially far-reaching. Humane Borders hopes better tracking will help reduce the number of fatalities across the borderlands by giving aid workers an idea of where to place food and water. The data can also be used to trace shifts in migrant traffic and how policing strategies affect migrant safety. In Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the number of migrant deaths jumped from 52 in 2011 to 129 last year, an alarming increase immigration experts attributed to more effective strategies to block crossings in Arizona. Researchers like Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey have attributed the swelling number of deaths along to the militarization of the border: With easily followed geographic corridors closed off, migrants are forced to travel through less navigable terrain, where they may become lost or run out of supplies. According to the Border Patrol, there were 463 migrant deaths in the Southwest in 2012, the highest total since 2005.

But Pima County is mostly alone in its quest for better information on migrant deaths. Only a handful of other counties, such as Imperial in southeastern California, have even produced reliable data. Data collected by the Border Patrol is unreliable, and not very specific. (One of Chamblee's challenges was to reconcile often contradictory data sets maintained by the border patrol, foreign consulates, and the Pima County medical examiner.) As Mother Jones has reported before, the Pima County medical examiner is unique because it is wholly independent of law enforcement, which means it faces less political pressure and fewer distractions. In some smaller counties in Texas, for instance, coroner is just a part-time job.

It's not that officials in other counties don't care about the issue; they're just worried that the data would be misused. "Some of them think politically don't think it's a good idea to create this," said Kat Rodriguez, a program director at Coalición Derechos Humanos Arizona. "Suddenly the narrative would be, 'Oh my God, look how much money is being spent on these illegals.'"

The Pima County project looks at a slice of a larger dataset that does not exist for now. Draft legislation floated by the White House in February included language requiring US Customs and Border Protection to collect statistics on deaths along the border. It would be required to publish those statistics at least once a quarter and issue a report within one year of the bill's passage analyzing any trends and recommending actions to prevent such deaths. The draft immigration bill being considered in the Senate has no such provision, nor do any proposed amendments. In the meantime, Pima County's program will have to do.

Koch-Linked Women's Group Takes Credit for Mark Sanford's Win

| Wed May 8, 2013 5:00 PM EDT
Incoming Congressman Mark Sanford.

Soon after Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who resigned in disgrace in 2009, pulled off an upset win in his congressional race on Tuesday, a conservative group called the Independent Women's Voice boasted of its role in his victory. "Independent Women's Voice was the only outside group supporting Sanford on a significant scale, by educating voters about the facts about the Democratic candidate," IWV president Heather Higgins said in a statement. IWV spent $250,000 on TV and print ads in the last week of the election, helping to power Sanford to victory over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a special election in South Carolina's 1st Congressional district.

And if the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are encouraged by Sanford's win, they, too, can claim a degree of credit, for IWV has plenty of ties to the Koch political network.

IWV, a nonprofit group that doesn't have to name its funders (and can't make politics the majority of what it does), is the sister organization of the Independent Women's Forum, another nonprofit focused more on policy issues. Higgins, who chairs IWF's board, has staked out a position as a leading critic of Obamacare. She also argues that independent women voters are not destined to vote Democratic and, instead, these women are up for grabs on political and policy matters and can be won over by Republicans—if GOPers get their messaging right.

When IWV applied for tax-exempt status in September 2004, it listed Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former Koch Industries lobbyist, as its president. (She also had a leadership position at Independent Women's Forum.) Pfotenhauer, who is currently a Koch spokeswoman, has filled a number of roles with Koch-linked groups. She was formerly the president of Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs' flagship advocacy organization, and is now a director at AFP. She was a vice president for Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Koch-backed predecessor to AFP. She also advised John McCain's during his 2008 presidential campaign.

IWV does not have to disclose its donors, but the group received $250,000 in 2009 from the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a money conduit for conservative nonprofits run by Koch operative Sean Noble. As the Center for Responsive Politics has reported, the Center to Protect Patient Rights handed out $44 million in 2010 and nearly $15 million in 2011 to an array of nonprofit groups including Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and the 60 Plus Association, which describes itself as the "conservative alternative" to the AARP. Noble spoke at a 2010 Koch donor retreat (PDF) in Aspen, Colorado. Pfotenhauer spoke at the same retreat, as did Higgins.

Higgins also briefly served on the board of the Center to Protect Patient Rights. There is no public information revealing whether IWV still receives financial support from Koch-linked sources.

There's another curious wrinkle about IWV. In its 2004 application for tax-exempt status, the group said it would not spend "any money" on influencing elections. Yet in later tax filings, IWV changed its tune and told the IRS it spent $772,435 on elections in 2010. There are no tax filings available yet detailing IWV activity in 2012 or 2013.

IWV's six-figure spending on Mark Sanford's behalf was anything but a safe bet. But as it turns out, it was money very well spent.

Issa Tweets Story Saying Benghazi Testimony Will Yield No "Major Revelations"

| Wed May 8, 2013 3:39 PM EDT
Former deputy chief of mission in Libya Gregory Hicks testifies before the House Oversight Committee.

This week, several top Republicans have claimed that a supposed White House administration cover-up of the September 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, would soon bring down the Obama administration, and on Wednesday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House oversight committee, held a much-ballyhooed hearing featuring testimony from three witnesses whom he said would "expose the full truth of what happened both before and after the attacks." Yet while the hearing was underway, Issa tweeted a link to a Washington Post story that undercut his own claim.

As he chaired the hearing, Issa sent out this tweet: "MUST READ: breaks down 's hearing" and linked to a Post story filed as the hearing was happening. The article reported what was under way in the hearing room, but it also noted, "the witnesses' prepared testimonies do not include major revelations about the attacks." Major revelations were what the Benghazi critics were breathlessly awaiting.

The Post story did say that the witnesses' "accounts are likely to shed new light on the oversights that made the facilities in Benghazi easy targets"—and to that extent Republicans got what they wanted. The witnesses—State Department officials Gregory Hicks, Eric Nordstrom, and Mark Thompson—presented emotional, long-awaited accounts of the attack and its aftermath. They alleged that requests for additional security before the attack and access to classified State Department documents after the attack fell on deaf ears.

Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission for the US in Libya, echoed the critics' common complaints about the administration's public response to the assault, slamming UN ambassador Susan Rice for initially blaming the attack on an anti-Muslim video that led to protests throughout the region. "I was stunned," he said. "My jaw dropped. I was embarrassed." He also testified that he was told by the State Department not to meet with members of Congress investigating the attack.

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, another top target of Republican criticism, was not mentioned until an hour into the hearing, when Hicks referred to a 2:00 a.m. phone call he received from her seeking details after the attack and shortly before the Libyan prime minister called to inform him of Stevens' death.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the committee, disputed allegations that the State Department's response to the attacks had been misleading. He called the idea that relief efforts had been inadequate—a theory that's been promoted by House Republicans—the "most troubling" of "all the irresponsible allegations" about the Benghazi episode.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) sympathized with the witnesses by recalling how she had been shot five times during a fact-finding mission in 1978, while leaving the Jonestown cult settlement in Guyana. She said she had reservations about the level of security provided at that time, when California Democrat Rep. Leo Ryan became the only member of Congress to die in the line of duty in US history.

At his daily briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed the Benghazi hearing as an "effort to chase after what isn't the substance here." He defended Hillary Clinton's handling of the consulate attack and said, "This is a subject that has from its beginning been subject to attempts to politicize it by Republicans, while in fact what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy."

Nevertheless, Issa hinted there may be more testimony in the future. "Our committee has been contacted by numerous other individuals who have direct knowledge of the Benghazi terrorist attack, but are not yet prepared to testify," he said in a statement.