The White House and the State Department cited the ARB conclusions, according to the Issa report, as “the final word on the internal failures that contributed to the tragedy in Benghazi.” But for others it said the report “overvalued certain facts, overlooked others, and failed to address systemic issues that have long plagued the State Department.”
The congressional committee charges the ARB failed to conduct a thorough investigation as a result of time constraints, maintaining that “the ARB operated under significant time pressure, completing its work and issuing a final report in just over two months.” It noted that some key witnesses only appeared to provide testimony before the board once and some, like Clinton, were not questioned at all.
As an example it cited Elizabeth Dibble, the second-most senior official in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs – one of the two offices directly criticized in the final ARB report. Dibble, the committee report noted, “appeared once, as part of a group and for less than two hours.”
That limited consideration, the congressional staff held, “raises a number of questions about the thoroughness of the ARB’s review. For example, aside from her participation in the short group interview, it is still unclear what information the ARB reviewed that led to the conclusion that her role or awareness of issues related to Benghazi did not warrant further inquiry.”
The Issa report also questioned the treatment of Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy, who played a role in rejecting requests for enhanced security at the Benghazi mission. The ARB didn’t hold Kennedy responsible for any shortcomings and he subsequently helped select not only the members of the ARB but the staff that aided the commission.
“The haphazard decision to place the four officials cited by the ARB on paid administrative leave created the appearance that former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s decision to announce action against the individuals named in the ARB report was more of a public relations strategy than a measured response to a tragedy,” the Issa report said. “Therefore, one year after the Benghazi attacks, no one at the State Department has been fired for their role leading up to the Benghazi attacks. It appears increasingly likely the Department’s primary objective was to create the public appearance of accountability.”
The Issa report also raised questions about the degree of Clinton’s knowledge about the assault.
The House Oversight & Government Reform Committee has scheduled a hearing on the issue for Sept. 19 to give panel members an opportunity to question Pickering and Mullen about the process the ARB utilized and producing its report as well as its conclusions. Staff members who put together the report critical of the ARB also will be called to testify.
Cummings rejected the Issa conclusions, noting that the ARB “fulfilled this mission by conducting one of the most comprehensive reviews in history –interviewing more than 100 people, reviewing thousands of pages of documents and viewing hours of video.”