Hillary Clinton appears to have unofficially begun her campaign in Iowa over the past weekend, and the response from the right is loud and clear: “Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.” The right wing Heritage Foundation put out an old, meaningless story by Sharyl Attkisson which made it to the top of Memeorandum thanks to all the right wing blogs repeating it.
Even Glenn Beck’s web site, The Blaze, did a better job of giving the other side of the story:
The State Department on Monday rejected a report saying that senior officials purposely withheld sensitive documents from the group that was investigating the 2012 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Earlier in the day, the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal reported that senior officials worked to identify and withhold potentially damaging documents from the Accountability Review Board, which was investigating the incident. That story said former Deputy Assistance Secretary Ray Maxwell watched State Department officials and even some top aides to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sift through documents.
But when asked about that report, State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf rejected the entire story, and said the ARB had open access to all documents.
“The ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents,” she told reporters. “Any accounts to the contrary, like that one you mentioned, are completely without merit, completely ill-informed.”
“These reports show a complete lack of understanding of how the ARB functioned,” she added.
Harf said the ARB had the authority to collect documents directly from “anybody in the department,” and said everyone in the department was told to provide documents to the body directly.
“That’s what happened,” she said, adding that ARB’s own cochairmen have said they had “unfettered access to all the information they needed, period.”
Otherwise reporting fell along ideological grounds as expected. Fox reported this as being news, and Media Matters debunked the story:
…Attkisson’s report has several flaws. It is based solely on conjecture from Maxwell, who does not claim and cannot prove that any documents were withheld from the ARB in its investigation, but rather only speculates about the fate of the documents that were reviewed.
The State Department has already denied Maxwell’s speculation in a statement to Attkisson — State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach called “the implication that documents were withheld ‘totally without merit,'” emphasizing that the “range of sources that the ARB’s investigation drew on would have made it impossible for anyone outside of the ARB to control its access to information.” Other allegations that the ARB investigation was biased have been repeatedly disproven.
Maxwell himself is a dubious source. He was placed on administrative leave after the Accountability Review Board’s investigation found a “lack of proactive leadership” and pointed specifically to Maxwell’s department, saying some officials in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs “showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues.” A House Oversight Committee report released findings from the classified version of the ARB report, which revealed that the ARB’s board members “were troubled by the NEA DAS for Maghreb Affairs’ lack of leadership and engagement on staffing and security issues in Benghazi.”
Disgruntled over being “the only official in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), which had responsibility for Libya, to lose his job,” Maxwell spoke to The Daily Beast in May 2013 in an attempt to “restore” his “honor.” Maxwell, who had filed official grievances regarding his treatment, expressed anger that Mills — the same staff member Maxwell speculated was involved in hiding potentially damaging documents — “reneged” on a deal to eventually bring Maxwell back to the NEA after his leave.
While Maxwell has previously been interviewed by the ARB, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight Committee, the Daily Beast, and Examiner.com, this is curiously the first time this allegation has been made public. FoxNews.com reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) had confirmed “that Maxwell told him and other lawmakers the same story when they privately interviewed him last year.” The claim is absent from the House Oversight Committee’s Benghazi Attacks: Investigative Update Report on the Accountability Review Board, which was based in part on Maxwell’s 2013 testimony.
Attkisson, too, has been roundly discredited and is well known for her shoddy reporting, both during her time at CBS News and after leaving the network. Attkisson supported CBS’ disastrous Benghazi reporting, for which the network ultimately had to apologize and retract. And CBS executives reportedly saw her as “wading dangerously close to advocacy on the issue.”
Fox’s adoption of this story as a major new development is not surprising given the network’s history of relying on discredited Benghazihoaxsters and using “bombshell” to describe everything but new developments in the story.
There are plenty of real reasons to criticize Clinton, but the right wing is hardly going to criticize her for being overly hawkish, conservative on civil liberties, or for being too cozy with Wall Street. Instead they have to resort to continuing to raise the disproven Benghazi attacks.