Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi Accountability Review Board was always a classic Washington and Clinton response to a scandal. Clinton convened the board to give the appearance of investigating the attack, but it never really needed investigating at all. On the night of the attack, the evidence quickly pointed toward al Qaeda terrorists. But quickly after the night of the attack, Clinton and President Obama started to blame a movie. They would continue blaming the attack on a movie for more than two weeks. The reason they did this needs no investigation as well. Just a few days prior to the 9-11 attack, Obama and the Democrats had spent much of their national convention declaring that “Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is on the run.” The terrorist attack in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead, killed that campaign talking point. Obama eventually dropped the “al Qaeda is on the run” part from his stump speeches.
This isn’t to say that many things regarding the attack don’t need to be investigated. Clearly, the president’s actions and behaviors on that night must come to light. The lingering questions include:
- Why was the consulate not secured despite repeated requests from the ambassador and his security staff for reinforcements?
- Why was Stevens in Benghazi that night?
- Why did he meet with the Turkish envoy there and what was discussed?
- Was the consulate being used by the CIA as a “black site” to house and interrogate captured terrorists?
- Was Stevens involved in running arms to the Syrian opposition, much of which is composed of al Qaeda militants?
- Who ordered the stand down in the midst of the attack, condemning Americans to die without aid?
- Why did the SEALs have reason to believe that air support was coming?
- Why haven’t we heard from any of the 30 or so survivors of that attack?
- Who decided to blame a movie, and when did they make that decision?
- Who made the decision to publicly identify the filmmaker and push him through a perp walk in front of the media?
- Who altered the CIA’s talking points, when, and why?
- Who decided to make Ambassador Susan Rice the face of the administration’s response to Benghazi, when as President Obama later said, she had nothing to do with the decision-making that night?
All of this merits a serious investigation. But Clinton’s Accountability Review Board was always under her control and led by her allies, chiefly Thomas Pickering. It’s fair to be skeptical that the ARB will diligently work to get to the bottom of what happened. But there was at least some hope that once the ARB had delivered its report, which is expected to happen before December 20, that Clinton would appear before Congress to testify about the report’s findings.
Now even that hope is falling apart. The State Department is suggesting that Clinton may not testify at all.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today that the ARB is not complete, might not be complete by Dec. 20, and Clinton has not agreed to testify on Dec. 20.
“The Hill has talked about a planning date on the calendar. That presumes that the ARB is finished,” Nuland said. “That’s dependent on all of the work getting done between now and then… The ARB is continuing to do its work, to my knowledge it has not yet completed its work.”
Clinton has agreed to brief the House and Senate foreign relations committees on how she interprets the ARB report, whenever it surfaces.
“After the ARB reports to the Secretary, then she will have consultations with Congress in terms of the conclusions that she draws about how we need to go forward from there,” Nuland said. “I don’t have any dates to announce until we have firm dates on when the ARB is coming forward.”
The Cable asked Nuland if the State Department will share the ARB with Congress at all. Nuland responded that they may not decide to give the actual report to Congress.
“The ARB’s responsibility is to brief the secretary. The secretary has said she will be transparent to Congress,” Nuland said. “What is required, Josh, is that the secretary’s response to the ARB’s conclusions has to go to Congress within 90 days of her receiving the report.”
State is testing the waters to see if it can get away with never delivering the ARB report to Congress. Clinton is testing the waters to see if she can get away with never testifying about the murder of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, the first US ambassador killed in the field since 1979. Pair this up with Ambassador Susan Rice’s sudden withdrawal from consideration to succeed Clinton at State, and it’s clear that these senior administration officials know that they have no good answers to the many valid questions still being asked about Benghazi. If they had good answers, we would have heard them by now. But instead, the administration is using the Accountability Review Board to dodge any actual accountability.