Just how unfettered was that “unfettered access” promised by the State Department to the Accountability Review Board in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack two years ago? According to one of the four officials punished and then cleared by State for the failures that led to the death of four men, a weekend housecleaning operation kept the ARB from seeing some of the most explosive documentation related to the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens. Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell told Sharyl Attkisson that the operation was supervised by advisers within Hillary Clinton’s inner circle, in this Daily Signal exclusive:

As the House Select Committee on Benghazi prepares for its first hearing this week, a former State Department diplomat is coming forward with a startling allegation: Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to “separate” damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

According to former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, the after-hours session took place over a weekend in a basement operations-type center at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. This is the first time Maxwell has publicly come forward with the story. …

When he arrived, Maxwell says he observed boxes and stacks of documents. He says a State Department office director, whom Maxwell described as close to Clinton’s top advisers, was there. Though the office director technically worked for him, Maxwell says he wasn’t consulted about her weekend assignment.

“She told me, ‘Ray, we are to go through these stacks and pull out anything that might put anybody in the [Near Eastern Affairs] front office or the seventh floor in a bad light,’” says Maxwell. He says “seventh floor” was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors.

“I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’ ”

Not long afterward, two people high up the State Department chain arrived to check on the operation. Attkisson describes them as “close confidants” of Hillary Clinton, probably from Maxwell’s own description, although neither are named in Attkisson’s report. Maxwell says that both of them accompanied him into another office with a fourth person, where they personally vetted more documents:

Maxwell says after those two officials arrived, he, the office director and an intern moved into a small office where they looked through some papers. Maxwell says his stack included pre-attack telegrams and cables between the U.S. embassy in Tripoli and State Department headquarters. After a short time, Maxwell says he decided to leave.

“I didn’t feel good about it,” he said.

Don’t expect that this will disappear as quietly. Maxwell says that members of the select House committee on Benghazi have already deposed him on this weekend filing session, including both chair Trey Gowdy and Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Chaffetz told Attkisson that he is “100% confident the Benghazi Select Committee is going to dive deep on that issue.”

The ARB has insisted all along that they conducted a thorough and independent probe, a claim at which Maxwell scoffs on both counts in Attkisson’s report. This could let them off the hook, though. If State conspired to hide evidence from them, it will give the ARB an opening to withdraw their report — which would be a PR move entirely, since the ARB had no authoritative status otherwise — and give Congress even more validation for pursuing this in select-committee form. If Maxwell testifies to this in open session and the BSC finds one or more corroborating witnesses, it will put this right back front and center. And we may still yet hear from the unnamed advisers, too, as to what their orders were, and who gave them.