A new report from discredited investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson baselessly suggested State Department staff removed damaging documents on Benghazi instead of turning them over to the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for investigation. But Attkisson's claims have been denied by the State Department and are based solely on speculations from a disgruntled employee after he was disciplined for his “lack of leadership” and engagement by the ARB.
In a September 15 report for The Daily Signal, a publication of the conservative Heritage Foundation, Attkisson reported that a former State Department diplomat alleges that “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.” The Daily Signal described this as a “Benghazi Bombshell.”
Attkisson reported that the diplomat, Raymond Maxwell, a former deputy assistant secretary responsible for North Africa, says that in late 2012 he observed an “after-hours session” at which a State Department office director “close to Clinton's top advisers” directed 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” from “boxes and stacks of documents.” Attkisson notes that "'seventh floor' was State Department shorthand for then-Secretary of State Clinton and her principal advisors." Maxwell told Attkisson that while he was present, Clinton Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan “appeared to check in on the operation and soon left.”
Speculating that potentially missing, possibly damaging documents made it impossible for the ARB's investigation to be thorough, Attkisson reported that Maxwell said “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.”
Fox News' America's Newsroom quickly reported Attkisson's claims, calling them a “bombshell development” and a “smoking gun of a potential cover-up”:
Fox subsequently reported that the interview indicated that Maxwell “claims Clinton allies scrubbed Benghazi documents.”
But Attkisson's report has several flaws. It is based solely on conjecture from Maxwell, who does not claim and cannot prove that any documents were withheld from the ARB in its investigation, but rather only speculates about the fate of the documents that were reviewed.
The State Department has already denied Maxwell's speculation in a statement to Attkisson -- State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach called “the implication that documents were withheld 'totally without merit,'” emphasizing that the “range of sources that the ARB's investigation drew on would have made it impossible for anyone outside of the ARB to control its access to information.” Other allegations that the ARB investigation was biased have been repeatedly disproven.
Maxwell himself is a dubious source. He was placed on administrative leave after the Accountability Review Board's investigation found a “lack of proactive leadership” and pointed specifically to Maxwell's department, saying some officials in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs “showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi's security issues.” A House Oversight Committee report released findings from the classified version of the ARB report, which revealed that the ARB's board members “were troubled by the NEA DAS for Maghreb Affairs' lack of leadership and engagement on staffing and security issues in Benghazi.”
Disgruntled over being “the only official in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), which had responsibility for Libya, to lose his job,” Maxwell spoke to The Daily Beast in May 2013 in an attempt to “restore” his “honor.” Maxwell, who had filed official grievances regarding his treatment, expressed anger that Mills -- the same staff member Maxwell speculated was involved in hiding potentially damaging documents -- “reneged” on a deal to eventually bring Maxwell back to the NEA after his leave.
While Maxwell has previously been interviewed by the ARB, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight Committee, the Daily Beast, and Examiner.com, this is curiously the first time this allegation has been made public. FoxNews.com reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) had confirmed “that Maxwell told him and other lawmakers the same story when they privately interviewed him last year.” The claim is absent from the House Oversight Committee's Benghazi Attacks: Investigative Update Report on the Accountability Review Board, which was based in part on Maxwell's 2013 testimony.
Attkisson, too, has been roundly discredited and is well known for her shoddy reporting, both during her time at CBS News and after leaving the network. Attkisson supported CBS' disastrous Benghazi reporting, for which the network ultimately had to apologize and retract. And CBS executives reportedly saw her as “wading dangerously close to advocacy on the issue.”
Fox's adoption of this story as a major new development is not surprising given the network's history of relying on discredited Benghazi hoaxsters and using "bombshell" to describe everything but new developments in the story.