Congress Seeks Details on Status of Four State Dept Employees ‘Fired’ Over Benghazi

— By Domani Spero

Express mail has been terribly busy between the Hill and Foggy Bottom. On May 28, the House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena for “documents and communications referring or relating to the Benghazi talking points” from ten current and former State Department officials.

The very next day, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with 14 other Members of the Committee, also called on Secretary Kerry to detail what personnel actions the State Department has taken regarding the four Department employees who were cited by the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for displaying “leadership and management deficiencies” that led to the grossly inadequate security at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi last year.

In December last year, State Spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said: “The ARB identified the performance of four officials, three in the Bureau of the Diplomatic Security and one in the Bureau of Near East Asia Affairs….The Secretary has accepted Eric Boswell’s decision to resign as Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, effective immediately. The other three individuals have been relieved of their current duties. All four individuals have been placed on administrative leave pending further action.”

You might want to read WaPo’s The Fact Checker – Has anyone been ‘fired’ because of the Benghazi attacks?

Below is an excerpt of Mr. Royce’s letter to Secretary Kerry:

As part of our inquiry, Committee Members have repeatedly asked the State Department to explain the employment status of certain Department personnel who were cited by the Accountability Review Board (ARB) for displaying “leadership and management deficiencies” that led to the inadequate security in Benghazi.

Initial reports indicated that these officials were “relieved of their duties,” thus implying their employment had been terminated.  However, by all accounts, these individuals have instead been placed on administrative leave and may or may not be returning to work.  Moreover, at least one of these individuals has stated that he has still not been informed of why he was removed from his position within the Department, or been allowed to view the ARB’s conclusions with respect to his job performance.  The Department’s handling of these matters is of great concern to the Committee, other Members of Congress, and the public.

When appearing before the Committee on April 17, 2013, you testified that you would soon be weighing in on an “internal review and analysis” of the performance of these individuals with respect to their handling of security issues.  Now that over one month has passed since your testimony, and over a full five months have passed since the ARB issued its report, we expect an immediate update on this process, and confirmation as to whether the referenced personnel are still employed by the Department.

Additionally, if these officials are still employed but on administrative leave, please describe what steps the Department has taken to resolve the issue of their employment status.  Please also provide a detailed account of any action taken by these officials to challenge the findings of the ARB report, including their basis for doing so.  Lastly, if any of these individuals are no longer employed by the Department, please provide a detailed explanation of the circumstances leading to the termination of their employment.

The full text of the letter is here.

The “at least one of these individuals” referred to in the letter above is without a doubt, Raymond Maxwell who told The Daily Beast that “nobody from the State Department has ever told him why he was singled out for discipline and that he has never had access to the classified portion of the ARB report.”

So now Congress wants details on what the State Department did to Diplomatic Security Assistant Secretary Eric J. Boswell, PDAS Scott P Bultrowicz, DAS Charlene R. Lamb and  NEA DAS Raymond Maxwell.

Ahnd, so do we!!

Obviously since there was no leadership and management deficiencies at the top … well, we need to see what the bureaucracy actually does to officials below who are deemed deficient in leadership and management.

But — hey, do you know why this is taking so long?  Are they still researching the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) so they can break the um … administrative gridlock?  Or are they updating the FAM so they can have a citation to cite?

Waiting bored until somebody translates this bureaucratic puzzle into something understandable for Congress and the neighbors …

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Update: On May 30, the State Department was specifically asked about this during the Daily Press Brief, and here is the official word from the podium:

QUESTION: Okay. You’re aware of this letter that Congressman – also Chairman – Royce has sent inquiring as to the status of the four individuals who the ARB singled out in their classified version. Do you have an answer to – well, one, have you responded to him, and two, can you – if you have or if you haven’t, can you give us any update on what those – on what their status is —

MS. PSAKI: Well, we just received the letter yesterday, so I’m not aware of a formal response at this time, although that is something that we do do in response to letters, of course. I have seen the content of the letter. There’s no real mystery here. We talk – we’ve talked about this. I have talked about this from the podium, so let me walk you through a couple of status issues. One is the Secretary is briefed regularly by his senior staff and is focused on not only continuing the ongoing cooperation with Congress, but on implementing the ARB recommendations and coming to a conclusion on the status of these four individuals. He has publicly made that clear that he considers – and that he’s considering a number of factors.

As we’ve talked about a little bit before, career Foreign Service employees are entitled to due process and legal protections under the Foreign Service Act with respect to any potential disciplinary action, and Secretary Kerry, as he said in his budget testimony, there are a set of rules and standards that govern personnel actions such as these, and any actions must be considered with a full understanding of options.

So in terms of what the status is, he continues to review with all those factors —

QUESTION: Okay. Still pending?

MS. PSAKI: — and will make a decision soon.

In short, still pending.

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Benghazi Attack: Closed-Door Briefings and Hearings All This Week

The Hill reports that three congressional panels will be holding closed-door briefings this week with administration officials at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Nov.13), the Senate homeland security panel (Nov.14) and the House and Senate intelligence panels (Nov.15). State Department officials are reportedly scheduled to brief the chairmen and ranking members of several House committees with jurisdiction over national security.

For two State Department officials, this week will be a packed schedule on the Hill.

  • Tuesday (Nov 13): Under Secretary Kennedy and Assistant Secretary Boswell will brief members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Wednesday (Nov 14): Under Secretary Kennedy and Assistant Secretary Boswell will brief members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
  • Thursday AM (Nov 15):  Under Secretary Kennedy will testify in a closed hearing before the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee
  • Thursday PM (Nov 15): Under Secretary Kennedy will testify before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
  • Friday AM (Nov 16): Under Secretary Kennedy will brief Chairmen and ranking members from the House

During the House Oversight Committee hearing on October 10, U/S Kennedy and Charlene Lamb (Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs) testified on behalf of the State Department.  The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service Scott P. Bultrowicz, the most senior special agent did not testify.  Neither did Eric J. Boswell, the Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, the top guy at Diplomatic Security, and who by the way, also reports directly to U/S Kennedy.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearings is “To Review Circumstances Surrounding September 11, 2012, Terrorist Attack in Libya and Intelligence and Security in Region”  and will focus on:

  • The intelligence collection and threat reporting relating to Libya and other Middle East countries prior to the September 11 attack, how and when that information was disseminated, and what actions were taken in response;
  • What is now known about the events of September 11, who was responsible for the attack, and what efforts are being made to find and hold those responsible to account;
  •  The Intelligence Community’s collection capabilities in the Middle East and North Africa, to include the levels of funding and availability of intelligence personnel with language and other skills necessary to operate in that part of the world; and
  • The level and adequacy of security at the State Department and other U.S. government facilities in the Middle East and North Africa, and whether current arrangements for providing security at these facilities are appropriate.

The House Intelligence Committee (also a closed hearing) will reportedly have Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Matt Olsen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, CIA Director David Petraeus Acting Director Michael Morell and the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy who is probably the lowest ranked official among those invited.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) will also have a November 15 closed hearing on “Benghazi and Beyond: What Went Wrong on September 11, 2012 and How to Prevent it from Happening at other Frontline Posts” and currently has two witnesses listed:

  • Mr. Michael Courts, Acting Director, International Affairs and Trade, Government Accountability Office
  • Mr. William Young, Senior Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation

The Hill is however reporting that Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), who has the inside track on the gavel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the 113th Congress, has “promised his Republican colleagues he would conduct a vigorous investigation of Libya.” Would have been much preferable if he promised the “American public” not just his “Republican colleagues” but it is what it is. We’ll see what happens next year.

We should note that the congressionally mandated Accountability Review Board for the Benghazi Attack started work the week of October 3.  Unless Ambassador Pickering requires additional time for the Board, the report and recommendations should be available to the Secretary at the end of the specified 60 day mark, which would be the week of December 3 or thereabouts.  The report presumably will be made available to the public given the interest on this case but for sure, it will also have a restricted classified annex given the other component.