Secretary of State John Kerry has determined that the four State Department officials placed on administrative leave by Hillary Clinton after the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi do not deserve any formal disciplinary action and has asked them to come back to work at the State Department starting Tuesday.
Last December, Clinton’s staff told four midlevel officials to clean out their desks and hand in their badges after the release of the report of its own internal investigation into the Benghazi attack, compiled by the Administrative Review Board led by former State Department official Tom Pickering and former Joint Chiefs chairman Ret. Adm. Mike Mullen. Those four officials have been in legal and professional limbo, not fired but unable to return to their jobs, for eight months ... until today.
Former deputy assistant secretary of State Raymond Maxwell, the only official from the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau to lose his job over the Benghazi attack, told The Daily Beast on Monday he received a memo from the State Department’s human-resources department informing him his administrative leave status has been lifted and he should report for duty Tuesday morning.
“No explanation, no briefing, just come back to work. So I will go in tomorrow,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell previously told The Daily Beast that the reasons for his administrative leave designation had never been explained to him. He contended that he had little role in Libya policy and no involvement whatsoever in the events leading up to the Benghazi attack.
“The overall goal is to restore my honor,” Maxwell had said.
While not a formal discplinary action, Maxwell regarded his treatment as punishment because he was not able to work and was publicly identified as being blamed for the tragedy that cost the lives of four Americans, including his friend Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Maxwell had filed grievances regarding his treatment with the State Department’s Human Resources Bureau and the American Foreign Service Association, which represents the interests of foreign-service officers. The other three officials placed on leave were in the Diplomatic Security Bureau, including then–assistant secretary Eric Boswell and then–deputy assistant secretary Charlene Lamb.
A senior State Department official confirmed to The Daily Beast on Monday that all four officials placed on administrative leave were now returned to regular duty and would not face any formal disciplinary action. The administrative-leave designation was not a formal punishment, but did prevent the officials from working while the Kerry team, which inherited the Benghazi issue from the Clinton team in February, reviewed their cases.
“As soon as he came into the department, Secretary Kerry wanted to invest the time to review the ARB's findings and match those against his own on-the-job findings about security,” the senior State Department official said. “He's been hands-on focused on building on the lessons learned from the Benghazi attack to strengthen security at missions worldwide and continue the ARB's security paradigm shift.”
As part of this process, Kerry asked his high command to complete a thorough review of the ARB’s findings. At the time of the report’s release, Pickering said the ARB had determined that blame for the security failures leading up to the Bengazi attack should be placed at the assistant secretary level but that no officials had committed breaches of duty that would warrant outright termination.
After consideration, Kerry reaffirmed the ARB’s finding that no employee breached their duty or should be fired but rather that some should be reassigned, the official said. The four individuals are not blameless, and the fact that they will not be returned to the same positions is relevant, the official said.
Kerry and his team also considered the long records of the four individuals and the circumstances leading up the Benghazi attack when considering what to do with the sidelined officials, the official said. None of the officials will be able to get their old jobs back, and Boswell will not return as the head of diplomatic security.
“[Secretary Kerry] studied their careers and studied the facts,” the official said. “In order to implement the ARB and to continue to turn the page and shift the paradigm inside the department, the four employees who were put on administrative leave last December pending further review, will be reassigned inside the State Department.”
There was also concern in Congress that only midlevel officials with little direct responsibility for the Benghazi attack had been taken out of their jobs following the ARB report release.
“The ARB tried to blame everyone but hold no one responsible, except for some of the lower-level people who were not in control of the situation,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R–Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, told The Daily Beast in May.
UPDATE: House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R–California) issued the following statement in response to The Daily Beast’s report:
Obama administration officials repeatedly promised the families of victims and the American people that officials responsible for security failures would be held accountable. 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. It is now clear that the personnel actions taken by the Department in response to the Benghazi terrorist attacks was more of a public relations strategy than a measured response to a failure in leadership.
In the course of our investigation, the Oversight Committee learned that the State Department’s review of these four individuals did not include interviews with them or their supervisors to either substantiate or challenge allegations. 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.