Ahead of the House Select Committee on Benghazi's first public hearing tomorrow, former CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson is out with a significant new report centered around new claims from a former State Department official. Raymond Maxwell -- whom you may recall as one of the lower-level employees disciplined, then reinstated, in the wake of the Benghazi firestorm -- says he was ordered to cull damaging documents from a file of evidence being handed over to the State Department's 'independent' Accountability Review Board (ARB):
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....Maxwell says the weekend document session was held in the basement of the State Department’s Foggy Bottom headquarters in a room underneath the “jogger’s entrance.” ... 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 advisers. “I asked her, ‘But isn’t that unethical?’ She responded, ‘Ray, those are our orders.’ ” A few minutes after he arrived, Maxwell says, in walked two high-ranking State Department officials.
According to Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who interviewed Maxwell for the Select Committee, one of those "high-ranking State Department officials" was Cheryl Mills -- Hillary Clinton's Chief of Staff:
Mills famously castigated Gregory Hicks, murdered Ambassador Chris Stevens' second in command in Libya, for cooperating with Congressional investigators. The ARB supposedly undertook a "fiercely independent" investigation with "unfettered access" into the facts surrounding the Benghazi massacre. Based on Maxwell's accusation of explicit whitewashing and meddling, the ARB's inquiry would appear to be anything but "unfettered." The panel has faced challenges to its credibility in the past, including questions over whether it was stacked by the probe's subjects, and the admission of a lead investigator that he'd engaged in some behind-the-scenes collusion with Mills:
The House Oversight Committee report suggests there may be a conflict of interest in having the ARB rely so heavily on the State Department that it's investigating for staff and resources. For example, Under Secretary Kennedy supervised the selection of the Benghazi ARB staff; and the State Department appointed four of the five members of the Board. Further, Mullen acknowledged giving Cheryl Mills, Secretary Clinton's Chief of Staff, "a head's up" prior to her interview with deputy assistant secretary for international programs Charlene Lamb. Mullen said: "I thought [Lamb's] appearance could be a very difficult appearance for the State Department."
That would be the same Under Secretary [Patrick Kennedy] who has been identified as one of the officials directly responsible for denying requests for an increased on-the-ground security presence in Libya leading up to the deadly terrorist raid. Secretary Clinton, for her part, was never interviewed by the ARB. A subsequent Senate report on Benghazi was much more critical of the State Department's role in the 'preventable' attacks, and scolded Sec. Clinton's department for "unnecessarily hamper[ing] the committee's review." Internal email exchanges have also revealed private efforts by top-level State Department officials to scrub relevant details from Susan Rice's inaccurate talking points, very clearly for the purposes of political damage control. Additional emails that were initially withheld from investigators directly contradicted previous administration assertions, producing frantic, risible spin from the White House. Mr. Maxwell's allegations add a new layer to the emerging picture of a Benghazi cover up. If and when he offers public testimony, Democrats will almost certainly accuse Maxwell of being a liar with an axe to grind. What they can't accuse him of is Republican partisanship:
Maxwell, 58, strongly supported President Barack Obama and personally contributed to his presidential campaign. But post-Benghazi, he has soured on both Obama and Clinton, saying he had nothing to do with security and was sacrificed as a scapegoat while higher-up officials directly responsible escaped discipline.
Insinuating that an African-American Obama donor was somehow part of some GOP conspiracy will be a tough sell. Then again, I must say that this quote from Maxwell rings a bit too 'perfect:'
Several weeks after he was placed on leave with no formal accusations, Maxwell made an appointment to address his status with a State Department ombudsman. “She told me, ‘You are taking this all too personally, Raymond. It is not about you,’ ” Maxwell recalls. “I told her that ‘My name is on TV and I’m on administrative leave, it seems like it’s about me.’ Then she said, ‘You’re not harmed, you’re still getting paid. Don’t watch TV. Take your wife on a cruise. It’s not about you; it’s about Hillary and 2016.’ ”
Was the 2016 bit his inference, or is he claiming that this woman spelled out a cartoonishly political calculus to a furious employee who felt he was being unfairly scapegoated? C'mon. We'll know soon enough: “I’m 100 percent confident the Benghazi Select Committee is going to dive deep on that issue,” Chaffetz says. Stay tuned.