Remember the Accountability Review Board, appointed in the wake of the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans in September 2012? The ARB, headed by former ambassador Thomas Pickering, provided the first attempt at oversight over the State Department’s actions in Benghazi and Libya following the sacking of the American consulate. Pickering’s probe didn’t bother to interview State officials of higher rank, such as Hillary Clinton, and tried to lay the responsibility on low-level staffers instead.
According to the new majority report from the House Select Committee on Benghazi, that may not have been a coincidence. The report accuses longtime Hillary aide Cheryl Mills of undue influence over the ARB, from the composition of the committee to access to information and witnesses, Politico reports:
Cheryl Mills, the longtime attorney, friend and former chief of staff for Hillary Clinton, influenced the findings of an internal State Department review of the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, according to a draft of the final House Benghazi Committee report.
A section of the report obtained by POLITICO says the so-called Accountability Review Board did not act independently, as it was supposed to do, and was consistently influenced by Mills. Mills, the report says, helped select members of the panel, gave at least one other State Department official permission to talk to the reviewers, oversaw the production of some documents reviewed by the board and helped edit the final report.
“The decisions to deviate from longstanding processes raise questions about the board’s independence, thoroughness and therefore the fullness of their findings of accountability,” the report reads.
Recall Pickering’s response to Bob Schieffer three years ago, when asked about the ARB’s decision to skip interviewing higher-ranking officials, and his attempts to let Kennedy off the hook. “We knew where the responsibility rested,” he insisted. I wonder who made that clear to him? Hmmm:
“The decisions were made and reviewed at the level that we fixed responsibility for failures of performance,” Pickering told CBS’ Bob Schieffer, adding, ”I believe that that’s correct.” According to Pickering, he and his colleagues had ample opportunity to interview Secretary Clinton, but concluded that conducting an interview with her was not necessary. “We knew where the responsibility rested,” he said.
Remember too that while Pickering insisted that Kennedy was not a security specialist, he was the person who made the decisions about the Benghazi facility and its security. That’s a point that several whistleblowers made after the ARB’s report, including Eric Nordstrom in May 2013:
Nordstrom suggested the board’s report attempted to protect higher-ranking officials, and specifically faulted it for not looking at the key role played by Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy in failing to deliver the request for more security to Clinton.
He said a similar failure occurred in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, which killed 19 Americans.
“[The ARB] has decided to fix responsibility on the assistant secretary level and below,” said Nordstrom. “And the message to my colleagues is that if you’re above a certain level, no matter what your decision is no one’s going to question it.
“I look back and I see the last time we had a major attack was East Africa. Who was in that same position, when the unheeded messengers … were raising those concerns? It just so happens it was the same person. The under secretary for management was in that same role before.
“There’s something apparently wrong with the process of how those security recommendations are raised to the secretary.”
The ARB process looked fishy from the start, especially Pickering’s admission that they went into it with their conclusions all but etched in stone. Given this report’s allegations of undue influence from Mills, it’s not difficult to connect the dots and see where those conclusions originated — and how the ARB was directed to them.
If Mills was applying undue influence, it had to be at the behest of Hillary Clinton. Given the history of Hillary and official records, it’s not at all difficult to imagine her tasking Mills with restricting access to vital information and personnel in the ARB probe.
Of course, this isn’t just an academic point to the Select Committee, either. Democrats have tried to shout down the investigation into Benghazi for three years, largely on the basis that the ARB did a credible job in probing it. The majority has an interest in demonstrating the ineffectiveness (at the least) of the ARB. That might be a point of suspicion had it not been for the demonstrably laughable approach of Pickering, and the obviously inept attempt made at protecting Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking State officials at the expense of a few lower-rank career officials in the department. Even before this report, the ARB had long been discredited; this just shows the mechanism for its failures.