FactCheck: Clinton and the Benghazi reports
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said all of the government investigations into the terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi concluded that “nobody did anything wrong.” That’s not exactly accurate.
An independent accountability board appointed by Clinton found “systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels.” On the day the report came out, four State Department employees were placed on administrative leave, and all four were later reassigned.
Clinton, who was interviewed Oct. 5 on NBC’s “Today” show, criticized congressional Republicans for politicizing the deaths of four Americans who were killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks at a temporary U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi and a nearby CIA annex.
In her interview, Clinton cited comments made by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy about the negative impact that the House Select Committee on Benghazi has had on her standing in the 2016 presidential polls. Clinton, who has run a TV ad featuring McCarthy’s comments, said the Benghazi special committee was unnecessary because the attacks have been thoroughly investigated by others.
Clinton, Oct. 5: There have been seven investigations led mostly by Republicans in the Congress. And they were nonpartisan and they reached conclusions that first of all I and nobody did anything wrong but there were changes we could make.
We contacted Clinton’s campaign about her comments, but we did not receive a response. However, it is not entirely correct to say that the reports found “nobody did anything wrong.”
We won’t go into all the Benghazi investigative reports — four of which can be found on the House Republican caucus website. We will just focus on key aspects of two bipartisan reports: one written by an independent accountability board and another issued jointly by the chairman and ranking committee member of a Senate committee.
As required by law, Clinton convened and appointed the bipartisan Accountability Review Board for Benghazi. Thomas R. Pickering, George H.W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador, was chairman. Another board member was Catherine Bertini, who served in the Reagan and Bush administrations.
In a report released Dec. 18, 2012, the independent board said responsibility for the attack rests “solely and completely with the terrorists.” However, it also said “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the “Department”) resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”
In particular, the report said the “perimeter and interior security” at the temporary diplomatic facility was inadequate and its security equipment was “severely under-resourced.”
The State Department immediately placed four employees on administrative leave, pending further review and action. The department did not name the employees, but the New York Times and a subsequent House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report identified them as Eric Boswell, assistant secretary for diplomatic security; Scott Bultrowicz, director of diplomatic security service; Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for international programs; and Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary for Maghreb affairs.
Lamb was “responsible for the safety and security of over 285 overseas Embassies and Consulates and oversees the 550 special agent/security professionals posted at those locations,” according to her official biography. She took the brunt of the criticism at congressional hearings for the security failures.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee issued its report two weeks later on Dec. 30, 2012. That bipartisan report — which was issued jointly by the committee chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman, and the ranking minority member, Sen. Susan Collins — was also critical of the lack of security at the U.S. temporary diplomatic facility in Benghazi.
The Senate report said that State Department officials ignored “increasingly dangerous threat assessments” that indicated the Benghazi facility was “particularly vulnerable.” That report cited classified intelligence reports and well-publicized “attacks and other incidents targeting western interests in Libya” prior to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi. It said the State Department should have increased security or “closed or temporarily shut down” its facility in Benghazi, calling the decision to leave the facility open “a grievous mistake.”
The independent board did not recommend disciplinary action against any department employee. Its report said “poor performance does not ordinarily constitute a breach of duty that would serve as a basis for disciplinary action,” adding that the board did not find that the employees “engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities.” The Senate report did not address the issue of disciplinary action.
Nearly eight months after those reports were issued, the four employees placed on administrative leave were reinstated and reassigned to other jobs at the State Department. No other disciplinary action was taken. At an Aug. 20, 2013, press briefing, then-department spokeswoman Marie Harf said “things could have been done better,” but the decision not to fire them was based on “the totality of these four employees’ overall careers at the State Department.”
It may be Clinton’s opinion that no one did anything wrong, but the fact is independent, bipartisan reports found “poor performance” by senior department officials left the temporary U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi “particularly vulnerable” for attack.