Just five days after the one-year anniversary of the attack on our consulate in Benghazi and the murder of a US ambassador and three other Americans, the House Oversight Committee has raised the stakes on the public debate over accountability for the collapse. A new report from Oversight accuses the State Department of willfully obstructing the Congressional investigation into the attack and the actions of the Obama administration before, during, and after the sacking of the consulate. As The Hill notes, the report also accuses the Accountability Review Board of obstruction and participating in a softball attempt to sweep the scandal under the proverbial rug:
The State Department willfully obstructed a congressional investigation of the deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi last year, according to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
State Department officials routinely refused requests for documents on its investigation into the September, 2012, attack, including interview transcripts and summaries of eyewitnesses to the attack, according to a committee report obtained by The Hill.
Additionally, members of the independent Accountability Review Board (ARB) tasked with reviewing the events that led up to the Benghazi attack were rife with “actual and perceived conflicts of interest” with State, the House report adds.
“The State Department’s refusal to turn over ARB documents has made an independent evaluation of the ARB’s review difficult,” according to the report.
To that end, ARB members failed to “record or transcribe the interviews it conducted” and refuses to hand over summaries of the interviews, it adds.
Oversight subpoenaed these materials to investigate the issue on its own, as Congress has both a right and a duty to do. The State Department refused to intercede with the ARB, in part by arguing that the panel was independent of the State Department. However, as the report notes, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commissioned the ARB as required by law, specifically “the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and
Antiterrorism Act of 1986 (the Act), which states that “in any case of serious injury, loss of life,
or significant destruction of property at, or related to, a United States Government mission
abroad . . . the Secretary of State shall convene an Accountability Review Board.” The Benghazi ARB was the nineteenth Accountability Review Board held since 1988. While an ARB is supposed to be “thorough and independent,” according to the law, it still exists within the aegis of State, and a permanent ARB staff officer remains in State to serve as the “institutional memory” of the investigation.
State argues, however, that the ARB exists in the same kind of sphere as an Inspector General. Oversight found itself less than impressed by that argument:
Furthermore, the State Department’s attempts to characterize the ARB as independent have proven to be inconsistent with the Department’s action in response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attacks. In refusing to produce ARB materials subpoenaed by the Committee, the State Department has sought to compare the ARB to “analogous investigative bodies such as Offices of Inspectors General.” If an Inspector General, however, encouraged agency leaders to prevent a witness from testifying before Congress because that witness’s testimony could reflect poorly on the Department, the Inspector General’s credibility would be greatly diminished. An ARB should be held to the same standard, if the State Department is to use the community of Inspectors General as a point of reference.
More to the point, though, why is State making excuses for not cooperating with Oversight? If the Benghazi debacle was as straightforward as the White House claims, then these materials should have been turned over with alacrity. Instead, State has dragged its heels or worse, while the ARB acts to protect State from investigation. Meanwhile, even the few low-level staffers disciplined over the failure have returned to work with no explanation as to how accountability got served by the State Department’s internal investigation.
In a sadly-related note, TPM reports that State didn’t even bother to mark the anniversary with an official commemoration of the four Americans who died in the line of duty. Instead, Foggy Bottom employees had to organize a memorial on their own:
Staffers at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. held their own private ceremony Wednesday to commemorate the first anniversary of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya after finding out the agency would not be organizing a formal, official memorial service.
The Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack left four people dead, including the American Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and Sean Smith, an information management officer in the department’s foreign service.
A State Department staffer who worked with Stevens in Libya and asked not to be named told TPM there were about 20 to 25 staffers at the memorial. The informal gathering was put together after staffers inquired and learned the department would not be holding an official event to mark the anniversary.
Secretary of State John Kerry sent out a broadcast e-mail noting the anniversary, but that was the end of official recognition of the first anniversary of Benghazi. This seems to still be the motto at State: