(CNSNews.com) – When asked at a press briefing on Monday to say that two State Department officials set to testify in Congress on Wednesday about the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi are "credible people," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell would not do it.
The two officials are Greg Hicks, who was the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, and Mark Thompson, who was the deputy coordinator for operations in the department's counter-terrorism division.
“Before we get to the specifics of what they’re expected to testify, I wonder if you could provide us with your assessment of the caliber of these two individuals," James Rosen of Fox News asked Ventrell. "Are they credible? They’ve been working at fairly senior posts here and abroad for years and years. I wonder first what thoughts the Department has about the caliber of these two individuals."
Ventrell: “I mean, it’s a little bit hard for us to--given that we don’t have a lot of information about how the hearing was scheduled and the various sort of formation of the majority’s decision to have this hearing, it’s a little bit hard to comment on the witnesses. Let me do – let me say one thing here, though, at the very top. We have always encouraged any State Department employee who wants to share their personal story, whether it be to the ARB or the Congress to tell the truth, period, full stop, end of story. That’s long been our position. We’ve made that clear from the start. In terms of these particular individuals, the committee didn’t come to us asking witnesses. We found out through the media and through the announcement the same way you all did. In terms of these potential transcripts out there, we haven’t seen the transcripts."
Later in the briefing Rosen returned to the question.
“Let me just go back to the question I started with, okay?" said Rosen. "And as I tried to put it to you, without respect to the specific charges that we expect these two individuals to be testifying to, can you just say: Are Greg Hicks and Mark Thompson credible people? Are they not longstanding career State Department employees? Are they credible?”
“Again, I’m not going to assess one individual or another,” responded State Department spokesman Ventrell. “These are some folks who have said they’re going to come out and tell a story to Congress, and our message— ”
Rosen: “Have they been fired? Are they--
Ventrell: “Let me finish. Let me finish.”
Rosen: “Do they still work here?”
Ventrell: “Our message is we have always encouraged State Department employees who want to share their personal story, whether to the ARB or Congress, to tell the truth, period. And so they have an opportunity to do that if that’s what they choose to do.”
Rosen: “Have they had distinguished careers? Have they had distinguished careers here?”
Ventrell: “Again, I’m not in a place to assess their bios and their work experience, but these are people who work inside the State Department.