On Fox, Latest “Benghazi Bombshell” Progresses From Baseless Speculation To Absurd Allegations

Fox News' coverage of an evidence-free “bombshell” from Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson took just hours to morph from a reiteration of her claim that a disgruntled former State Department employee “couldn't help but wonder” if Hillary Clinton's staff had turned over “scrubbed” Benghazi documents to investigators into full-blown allegations that documents had been “destroyed” -- allegations that remain baseless.

Attkisson Hypes Baseless Claim That State Department Covered Up Damaging Benghazi Documents

Attkisson Highlights Speculation That State Department Staff Removed Damaging Benghazi Documents. On September 15, Attkisson forwarded disgruntled former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell's unsupported allegation that “Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board (ARB) investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.” According to Attkisson's report, Maxwell claimed to have observed an “after-hours” document sorting session at which a State Department office director “close to Clinton's top advisers” told staff to separate out Benghazi documents “that might put anybody in the Near Eastern Affairs front office or the seventh floor in a bad light.” [The Daily Signal, 9/15/14]

Maxwell Did Not Claim Claim Documents Were Withheld, Just That He “Couldn't Help But Wonder” If They Were. Attkisson's report noted that Maxwell didn't stay to observe the full document sorting process, but simply reviewed a separated stack of documents that “included pre-attack telegrams and cables between the U.S. embassy in Tripoli and State Department headquarters” and later “couldn't help but wonder” if the ARB investigation had been skewed. From Attkisson's report:

In May 2013, when critics questioned the ARB's investigation as not thorough enough, co-chairmen Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen responded that “we had unfettered access to everyone and everything including all the documentation we needed.”

Maxwell says when he heard that statement, he couldn't help but wonder if the ARB -- perhaps unknowingly -- had received from his bureau a scrubbed set of documents with the most damaging material missing. [The Daily Signal, 9/15/14]

Rep. Cummings: Maxwell Didn't Raise Allegation During Interview With House Oversight Committee. Slate's Dave Weigel reported that Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, which has extensively investigated the attacks in Benghazi, pointed out that Maxwell did not mention the allegation during an interview with the committee:

“Maxwell was interviewed by our committee, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee,” said Cummings. He was called by Chairman Issa as a witness. And he never talked about this. He had plenty of opportunities to do it. But keep in mind, we have allegations seeming to come out every week. Mr. Schiff just talked about the three contractors, who also have been interviewed, and suddenly they come out with these 'stand down' allegations. But again, Mr. Maxwell did not bring those allegations to our attention when we interviewed him extensively. Extensively." [Slate, 9/16/14]

Successive Fox News Reports Exaggerate Attkisson's Allegations

Fox News' America's Newsroom“Some Wonder If This Could Be A Smoking Gun Of A Potential Cover-Up.” The September 15 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom quickly highlighted Attkisson's claims, calling them a “bombshell development, they say.” Fox News correspondent Doug McKelway called the report “powerful,” but was careful to characterize the details as “accusations.” He said members of the Benghazi Select Committee “are going to want to probe this information deeply” ahead of the first committee hearing. Host Eric Shawn concluded the segment by noting that “some wonder if this could be a smoking gun of a potential cover-up.” Meanwhile, an on-air graphic reiterated Attkisson's basic claim:

America's Newsroom[Fox News, America's Newsroom9/15/14]

Fox News' On The Record: “Clinton Allies Removed Politically Damaging Docs.” Attkisson appeared on the September 15 edition of Fox News' On The Record to discuss what host Greta Van Susteren called “stunning new allegations in the Benghazi investigation.” Van Susteren asked Attkisson whether Maxwell knows “what was removed, what Congress didn't see, any documents that were taken out?” Though Attkisson acknowledged that Maxwell does not know of any documents withheld from the investigation, an on-air graphic claimed more definitively that “Clinton Allies Removed Politically Damaging Docs”:

Greta Van Susteren[Fox News, On The Record9/15/14]

Fox News' Fox & Friends“They're Scrubbing The Documents. Anything That Makes Hillary Clinton Look Bad, They're Taking Out.” The September 16 edition of Fox & Friends took Attkisson's claims further, describing her “explosive new revelations” as “a scandal down in D.C. that threatens to derail Hillary Rodham Clinton.” Co-host Steve Doocy summarized the story: “State Department was told, 'put all the documents together, we're going to send them to the review board.' He, Mr. Maxwell walks in on a weekend, odd hours, and there, one of the people that works for him -- they're scrubbing the documents. Anything that makes Hillary Clinton look bad, they're taking out.” Appearing as a guest on the show, Attkisson noted that references to the State Department's “seventh floor” in her report refered to Hillary Clinton and her top advisers -- which Doocy reinterpreted in order to claim that orders to separate damaging documents “apparently came from the seventh floor.” During the segment, an on-air graphic said simply, “Documents Destroyed”:

Documents Destroyed[Fox News, Fox & Friends9/16/14]