AP’s Matt Lee revisited the question of Raymond Maxwell’s Benghazi-related allegations during the September 16 Daily Press Briefing with State Department deputy spox, Marie Harf.
Below is the video clip followed by an excerpt from the transcript where the official spox of the State Department called the allegations of one of its former top officials “a crazy conspiracy theory about people squirreling away things in some basement office and keeping them secret.” Crazy. Conspiracy. Of course! Now stop asking silly questions and go home.
Over 20 years of service in the Navy and the diplomatic service and his allegation is reduced to a sound bite. Mr. Maxwell is lucky he’s retired, or he would have been made to work, what was it, as a telecommuter? Pay attention, there’s a lesson here somewhere.
QUESTION: You wouldn’t – you would probably disagree, but anyway, this has to do with what Ray Maxwell said about the AR – the preparation to the documents for the – for submission to the ARB. You said yesterday that his claims as published were without merit and showed a – I think you said lack of understanding of the process, how it functioned.
MS. HARF: How the ARB functioned, a complete lack of understanding, I think I said.
QUESTION: Complete lack of understanding, okay.
MS. HARF: Not just a partial lack of understanding.
QUESTION: Okay. So what was it that – presuming he’s not making this story up about coming into the jogger’s entrance and going to this room where – I mean, I presume there’s nothing really sinister about collecting documents for the – for whatever purpose, but it —
MS. HARF: There may have been a room with documents —
MS. HARF: — being collected and – yes.
QUESTION: Okay. So what did he see if he did not see —
MS. HARF: I have no idea what he saw.
QUESTION: Was there, that you’re aware of – and I recognize that you were not here at the time and this was a previous Secretary and a previous Secretary’s staff, likely all of them previous although I don’t know that to be true, so you may not know. But I would expect that you have asked them for their account of what happened.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: So was there some kind of an effort by member – that you’re aware of or – let me start again. Was there some kind of effort by State Department officials to separate out or scrub down documents related to the – to Benghazi into piles that were – did not – piles into – into piles that were separated by whether they made the seventh floor look – appear in a bad light or not? I’m sorry. I’m not – asking this in a very roundabout way. Were there —
MS. HARF: It’s okay, and we’re – and he was referring, I think, to the ARB process. Is that right?
MS. HARF: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did people involved in preparing the documents for the ARB separate documents into stuff that was just whatever and then things that they thought were – made people on the seventh floor, including the Secretary, look bad?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge, Matt, at all. The ARB had full and unfettered access and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The ARB’s co-chairs, Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen, have both repeated several times that they had unfettered access to all the information they needed. So the ARB had complete authority to reach out independently and directly to people. Employees had complete authority to reach out directly to the ARB. And they’ve said themselves they had unfettered access, so I have no idea what prompted this somewhat interesting accounting of what someone thinks they may have seen or is now saying they saw.
But the ARB has been clear, the ARB’s co-chairs have been clear that they had unfettered access, and I am saying that they did have full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.
QUESTION: Could they – could a group of people operating in this room in preparing for the ARB to look at the documents – could a group of people have been able to segregate some documents and keep the ARB from knowing about them —
MS. HARF: No.
QUESTION: — or seeing them?
MS. HARF: Not to my knowledge.
QUESTION: So it’s —
MS. HARF: The ARB, again, has said – and everything I’ve talked to everybody about – that they had unfettered access to what they needed.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you can’t need what you don’t know about, kind of, right? Do you understand what – see what —
MS. HARF: The ARB had full and direct access —
QUESTION: So they got to see —
MS. HARF: — to State Department employees and documents.
QUESTION: So there were no documents that were separated out and kept from the ARB that you – but you —
MS. HARF: Not that I’ve ever heard of, not that I know of. I know what I know about the ARB’s access. We have talked about this repeatedly.
MS. HARF: And I don’t know how much clearer I can make this. I think, as there often are with Benghazi, a number of conspiracy theories out there being perpetrated by certain people. Who knows why, but I know the facts as I know them, and I will keep repeating them every day until I stop getting asked.
QUESTION: Okay. And does this apply to documents that were being collected in response to requests from Congress?
MS. HARF: Well, it’s a different process, right. It was a different process. And obviously, we’ve produced documents to Congress on a rolling basis. Part of that – because it’s for a different purpose.
QUESTION: Well, who – what was this group – well, this group of people in the – at the jogger’s entrance —
MS. HARF: In the – I love this – sounds like some sort of movie. Yes.
QUESTION: Well, whatever it sounds like, I don’t know, but I mean, we happen to know that there was an office that was set up to deal with this, understandably so because it required a lot of effort.
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: But that room or whatever it was, that office was only dealing with stuff for the ARB?
MS. HARF: I can check if people sat in the same office, but there are two different processes. There’s the ARB process for how they got their documents. There’s the Congressional process –we’ve been producing documents to them on a rolling basis —
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. HARF: — part of which in that process is coordinating with other agencies who may have equities in the documents, who may have employees who are on the documents. So that’s just a separate process.
QUESTION: Okay. So the people in that office were not doing anything with the Congress; they were focused mainly on the ARB?
MS. HARF: I can see who actually sat in that office. I don’t know. But what we’re focused on is the process, right, and the ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents. The congressional process – as you know, we have been producing documents to Congress on a rolling basis —
QUESTION: Well, I guess that this mainly relates to the —
MS. HARF: — and there’s just different equities there.
QUESTION: This – the allegation, I think, applies to the ARB. But you are saying —
MS. HARF: Right, and I’m talking about the ARB.
QUESTION: — that it is impossible for a group of people to collect a stack of documents that say something that they don’t like and secret them away or destroy them somehow so that the ARB couldn’t get to them? Is that what you’re saying? It’s impossible for that to happen?
MS. HARF: I’m saying I wasn’t here then. What I know from talking to people here who were is that the ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents.
QUESTION: Okay, but that doesn’t answer the question of whether there wasn’t —
MS. HARF: It does answer the question. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well – no, no, no, no. No, no, no. One of his allegations is that there were people who were separating out documents that would make the Secretary and others —
MS. HARF: So that the ARB didn’t have access to them.
QUESTION: Right, but – that put them in a bad light.
MS. HARF: But I’m saying they had access to everything.
QUESTION: Okay. But —
MS. HARF: So —
QUESTION: — do you know even —
MS. HARF: — I’m responding.
QUESTION: But even if it would’ve been impossible for them to keep these things secret, was there a collection of —
MS. HARF: This is a crazy conspiracy theory about people squirreling away things in some basement office and keeping them secret. The ARB had unfettered access.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, Marie, I appreciate the fact that you’re taking that line. But I mean, there is a select committee investigating it.
MS. HARF: Well, it happens to be true. And tomorrow there will be an open hearing on ARB implementation, where I’m sure all of this will be discussed with Assistant Secretary Greg Starr.
QUESTION: Okay. And they will have – they will get the same answers that you’ve just given here?
MS. HARF: Let’s all hope so.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. HARF: Yes, of course.