Issa Blasts State Department 'Charade' After Benghazi Suspensions Lifted

Tuesday, 20 Aug 2013 11:24 AM

By Melanie Batley

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Four State Department officials suspended over the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist outrage have been reinstated to their jobs just three weeks before the first anniversary of the attack.

The move comes as pressure mounts on House Speaker John Boehner to appoint a special committee to investigate the attack that killed Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans.

Secretary of State John Kerry decided the four, who were placed on administrative leave following last September's massacre should return to work without any disciplinary action, The Daily Beast reported. His action effectively reverses the decision of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to suspend them.

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Raymond Maxwell, the former deputy assistant secretary of state, told the Daily Beast he had received a memo from the department's human resources department telling him to report to work Tuesday.

"No explanation, no briefing, just come back to work," he said.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., slammed the move and called the State Department's decision not to pursue disciplinary action "a game of musical chairs."

"Instead of accountability, the State Department offered a charade that included false reports of firings and resignations and now ends in a game of musical chairs where no one misses a single day on the State Department payroll," said Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "It is now clear that the personnel actions taken by the [State] Department in response to the Benghazi terrorist attacks was more of a public relations strategy than a measured response to a failure in leadership.

"The Oversight Committee will expand its investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack to include how a supposed 'Accountability Review Board' investigation resulted in a decision by Secretary Kerry not to pursue any accountability from anyone."

The Daily Beast quoted an unidentified senior State Department official as saying the four would not face any further action. He said the administrative leave was not punishment but was to give Kerry's team time to assess the situation following Clinton's departure from the job in February.

An administrative review board headed by former State Department official Tom Pickering and former Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen determined that termination was not warranted in any of the cases. Kerry agreed and decided that some would be reassigned but not fired.

"The four individuals are not blameless and the fact that they will not be returned to the same positions is relevant," the Daily Beast reported.

The four officials were put on leave in December. At the time the State Department identified three of them as Maxwell, who had responsibility for North Africa; Eric Boswell, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security; and Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security. The fourth was not named officially, but numerous reports say it is another diplomatic security officer, Steve Bultrowicz.

The Pickering-Mullen panel criticized the "lack of proactive leadership," saying security at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi was "grossly inadequate."

Rep. Ed Royce of California, who took over as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee within weeks of the report, praised the decision at the time, "The board severely critiques a handful of individuals and they have been held accountable," he told The New York Times. "The degree that others bear responsibility warrants congressional review given the report's rather sweeping indictment."

The website Diplopundit said it is not clear what jobs the four would return to — especially as Boswell's position has already been filled. "Putting these four back to work, of course, does not answer why they were put on paid admin leave in the first place," the website said, adding, tongue in check, "But don’t worry. We are confident that the State Department’s spokesman will be able to explain this whole circus to the inquiring public by citing issues of employee confidentiality."

The four men returned to Foggy Bottom on Tuesday morning just as pressure to appoint a special committee was growing.

A group of special forces veterans spent $5,800 to erect three massive billboards pressing home the point in Boehner's Ohio district, The Hill reports.

Boehner has insisted repeatedly that the standing committees in Congress investigating the matter are sufficient and that there is no need for a special Benghazi committee. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has been leading one of the congressional investigations which began hearings in May.

The billboards, sponsored by Special Operations Speaks, aim to give more steam to a discharge petition circulated by Texas GOP Rep. Steve Stockman that would force Boehner to allow a floor vote on legislation crafted by Virginia GOP Rep. Frank Wolf calling for a select committee to investigate the attacks. The petition has already gathered signatures of 1,000 special operations veterans.

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The billboards feature photos of Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and say, "If 4 Members of Congress were KILLED in Benghazi would we have a Watergate-style Select Committee today? Demand Justice for Benghazi."

The group is also encouraging supporters to publicly pressure lawmakers during summer town hall meetings about whether they support the petition, according to The Hill.

Another group, Patriots4America, is planning a Capitol Hill rally on Sept. 11, the first anniversary of the attack, The Hill reports, with speakers including former Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle.


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