State Department disputes diplomat’s account of retaliation for Benghazi-related criticism


WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday rejected charges by Gregory B. Hicks, the former deputy ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Libya, that he was demoted and treated unfairly after he criticized the department’s performance during and after the September terrorist attack in Benghazi.

“The Department has not and will not retaliate against Mr. Hicks,” said Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman for the State Department.

In House testimony, Hicks said that despite receiving high praise for his performance during the Benghazi crisis from President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, he was later given a “blistering critique of my management style” by Elizabeth Jones, the acting assistant secretary for the Near East.

Hicks said family concerns were the “overriding” reason for his decision not to return to Libya. But he said he also felt that “I would never be comfortable working there” after the criticism. When he voluntarily withdrew from his assignment in Tripoli, Hicks said, he was given a State Department job in Washington that he considered a demotion.

Hicks’ decision took him out of the annual assignment cycle, and difficulty in finding a suitable assignment was “not uncommon” in such situations, Ventrell said.

“However, the Department worked with him to find a suitable temporary assignment and succeeded,” he said. “Mr. Hicks still receives the same salary and has the same employment status and rank as before. Per standard procedure, Mr. Hicks recently submitted a preference list for his next assignment and is under consideration along with other Foreign Service employees.”

Hicks was also critical of Clinton counselor Cheryl Mills, who he said “was upset” with him in a telephone call after a State Department lawyer was barred by security from a meeting between embassy staff members and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. Chaffetz suggested the lawyer was sent to keep Hicks and others from voicing their concerns.

In an e-mail to MSNBC, top Clinton aide Phillipe Reines called that charge “completely and utterly false,” and said that Chaffetz had tried to bar the lawyer. Mills’ conversation with Hicks, which Reines said he was present for, was supportive.