Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

The latest blockbuster story on Benghazi tells us that one of State Department employees disciplined in connection with Benghazi claims to have been scapegoated at the hands of higher ups and that the bad news was delivered by Hillary Clinton’s right-hand gal Cheryl Mills.

Raymond Maxwell, who was a deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, was placed on forced administrative leave.

Josh Rogin reports:

The decision to place Maxwell on administrative leave was made by Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills, according to three State Department officials with direct knowledge of the events. On the day after the unclassified version of the ARB’s report was released in December, Mills called Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones and directed her to have Maxwell leave his job immediately.

“Cheryl Mills directed me to remove you immediately from the [deputy assistant secretary] position,” Jones told Maxwell, according to Maxwell.

The decision to remove Maxwell and not Jones seems to conflict with the finding of the ARB that responsibility for the security failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi should fall on more senior officials.

Moreover, Jones wasn’t disciplined, “nor was the principal deputy assistant secretary of State at Near Eastern Affairs, Liz Dibble, who is slated to receive a plush post as the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in London this summer.”

In short, people actually responsible for security in Libya weren’t disciplined. Hillary Clinton wasn’t even interviewed by the Accountability Review Board. And Maxwell gets the ax. Something sure does seem wrong here.

Maxwell claims the ARB was a sham. From the Daily Beast’s report:

Also, he believes that Clinton’s staff, not the ARB, was in charge of the review of the attack that took place during her watch.

“The flaws in the process were perpetrated by the political leadership at State with the complicity of the senior career leadership,” he said. “They should be called to account.”

Passing the buck is nothing new in government. But when four Americans are dead, the secretary testified to a certain version of events to Congress, and an independent report was allegedly not independent, we are in different territory. The gross incompetence that led up to the deaths of four Americans is inexcusable, but so was the mismanagement of the State Department. Under Clinton, critical memos never reached the secretary and the steps taken after the fact look a lot like an all-out effort to shield her from blame. Isn’t it time to get her back under oath?

According to Hicks, Clinton personally sent Stevens to Benghazi to open a permanent consulate by the end of the year. If true, this suggests Clinton is guilty of at the very least willful ignorance of the circumstances into which she sent Stevens. It also changes the moral obligation, if not the technical responsibility, to ensure appropriate security for what at that point was a largely CIA compound. It also calls into question whether the ARB was investigating or shifting blame for the fiasco, as The Hill reports:

According to Stevens, Secretary Clinton wanted Benghazi converted into a permanent constituent post,” Hicks testified.

“Timing for this decision [to visit the region on Sept. 11] was important. Chris needed to report before Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, on the … political and security environment in Benghazi.”

He said Pickering appeared “surprised.”

“I did tell the Accountability Review Board that Secretary Clinton wanted the post made permanent,” Hicks testified.

“Ambassador Pickering looked surprised. He looked both ways … to the members of the board, saying, ‘Does the seventh floor [the secretary of State’s office] know about this?’ ”

The ARB appears to have ignored Hicks’s statement in its public report. Instead, the board appeared to place responsibility on Stevens.

“The Ambassador chose to travel to Benghazi that week, independent of Washington, as per standard practice,” the ARB concluded in its three pages of findings.

Here are some questions Congress might want to ask if they get Clinton back under oath:

  • What system did she have in place for alerting her to critical cables?
  • Was she aware Libya’s security situation was deteriorating? If so, why did she not pull people out, as did other governments? Why did she not step up security in conjunction with the CIA?
  • Did she inform the president that Libya was becoming dangerous?
  • Why was Chris Stevens in Benghazi? Did she specifically send him there?
  • Did she understand from Gregory Hicks on the night of the attack that it was a terrorist act?
  • Where was the president that night? Did Clinton attempt to contact him? Did she inform the national security adviser what she learned from her conversation with Hicks?
  • Why did she bring up the anti-Muslim video at the casket ceremony on Sept. 14? Did she tell the father of slain SEAL Tyrone Woods that she’d get the maker of the video?
  • When she learned of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s comments on Sunday Sept. 16 tying the attack to the video, did she raise concerns with anyone? Did she ever question why the president, his press secretary and the U.N. ambassador were not telling an accurate story to the American people?
  • Did she or her department vet the president’s Sept. 25 speech to the United Nations?
  • Did she instruct Cheryl Mills to keep Hicks from speaking to a congressional delegation? Did she instruct Mills to relieve Maxwell of his duties?
  • Why did she not offer herself and other top State Department officials to the ARB for an interview? Did she select Pickering and former chairman of the joint chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen? Did she give Pickering any direction as to the scope of the ARB report? Did she or her staff edit it before it was released?

There is much we don’t know about what occurred in the State Department. We do need to find out, most especially at a time when we are learning just how rampant is the culture of half-truths, blame-casting and feigned ignorance in this administration. It makes a difference to those who were punished and those who weren’t as well as to the familes and loved ones of the dead Americans.

 

 

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.