Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her senior staff conducted a conference call with Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Libya, in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, 2012.
Hicks was overseeing a chaotic scene in Tripoli, where his staff was busy destroying classified material with axes and whatever else was at hand and as the few security people left in Tripoli were preparing to evacuate to a safer location at dawn. (Think the opening scenes of the movie "Argo.") The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi had been stormed and the ambassador was missing.
In his testimony Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the inspiring and obviously fearless Hicks recounted that, at the end of the 2 a.m. call, Hillary concurred with his decision to evacuate, and the call ended.
An hour later, having received "the saddest phone call of his life," Hicks then relayed to the State Department in Washington that Ambassador Christopher Stevens was dead.
Hillary never called back.
It is impossible for me to imagine any other modern secretary of state, having once established contact with a besieged charge d'affaires managing a four-front crisis with terrorists at the gates and a missing ambassador, not calling back later in the long night to encourage him.
Other secretaries would have gotten on the phone with then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and demanded every available asset for her people: Jets from Aviano, special operations forces from wherever. There was no telling what was developing, others would have argued, and Americans from the State Department and the CIA were under siege.
This isn't Monday morning quarterbacking, but just an assessment of what other heads of the State Department would have done.
George Marshall and John Foster Dulles are titans, so we won't use them as a measure of Hillary's fade to black that night.
Which of the recent secretaries of state wouldn't have at least called Hicks back: Rice, Powell, Albright, Christopher, Eagleburger, Baker, Schultz, Haig, Muskie, Vance, Kissinger, Rogers or Rusk?
The specifics of that call ought to be the subject of intense congressional interest, especially if the people who edited the subsequent talking points were on it. What was said then and to whom matters a great deal.
There is probably a tape of that call. The NSA routinely records calls from the U.S. that go abroad.
As last week's hearing ended, I interviewed national security reporter Eli Lake. Here is our key exchange:
HH: So Eli Lake ... do you think there's a tape of that 2 a.m. phone call in the archives of the NSA or the State Department?
HH: You think it's been subpoenaed yet?
HH: Should it be?
On Friday, I interviewed Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., about the probable existence of a tape of the 2 a.m. conference call. Wolf is leading the charge for a House Select Committee to investigate Benghazi.
Wolf said about a tape that "you are exactly right, and there are contractors that are contracted by the different groups who are operating those things."
After confirming my understanding that no subpoenas had yet gone out for anything, I asked Wolf if he was worried about evidence disappearing.
"[R]emember the 17 minutes of missing [Watergate tape recording], I mean, so who knows?" Wolf replied. "But let's subpoena it, let's bring all that information in, let's do it in a bipartisan way."
(The complete transcripts of both interviews are posted at HughHewitt.com.)
The House needs to get its subpoenas out. It needs one select committee to replace the five committees sharing jurisdiction to drive the process. And the country needs to know exactly what Hillary had been told by Hicks, and what she and her team ignored or covered up in the hours, days and weeks that followed her sign-off with him.
Washington Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.