A former State Department official has accused staffers loyal to Hillary Clinton of privately removing politically damaging documents from material sent to a panel investigating the Benghazi, Libya attack, Fox News reported. The news surfaced as the House Select Committee on Benghazi prepares to hold its first hearing this week.
Raymond Maxwell, former head of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), was one of four State Department officials disciplined in the wake of the 2012 Benghazi attack, in which four Americans were killed. After being placed on administrative leave, he spoke out numerous times about being scapegoated in the aftermath of the event.
First published in The Daily Signal, Maxwell's account was confirmed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, on Monday, who said that Maxwell had told him and other lawmakers the same story when they privately interviewed him last year about the attacks.
On a weekend before documents were supposed to be turned over to the review board, Maxwell walked in on an "after hours" gathering of officials in a basement room of State Department headquarters, he told the Daily Signal, a publication backed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
An office director, who worked for him but hadn't informed him about the assignment, allegedly told Maxwell that the group was there to separate Benghazi documents that might put anybody in the Near Eastern Affairs front office of the "Seventh Floor" - where Clinton worked - "in a bad light."
Maxwell said he "didn't feel good about it" and left a short time later. However, he did not know if any damaging documents were withheld, New York Daily News reported.
Cheryl Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff, who reportedly was responsible for Maxwell's suspension, along with Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan, were cited to be overseeing the operation, according to Fox News.
"For Hillary Clinton's personal chief of staff and deputy chief of staff to be making a concerted effort to hide documents, make sure that the Accountability Review Board and Congress did not see those documents is unbelievable and absolutely wrong," Chaffetz said.
Following the attacks, the State Department's handling of security at the consulate had harshly been criticized by the Accountability Review Board, who blamed the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens' and three others at the U.S. Consulate on "systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels."
Clintons, however, escaped from getting implicated in those failures.
The Daily Signal quoted Maxwell as wondering whether the Accountability Review Board received "a scrubbed set of documents with the most damaging material missing."
Meanwhile, Maxwell's latest accusation was deemed "without merit" by the State Department, who claimed that the review board had received all the documents it requested during the course of the investigation.
"That allegation is totally without merit. It doesn't remotely reflect the way the ARB actually obtained information," Alec Gerlach, State Department spokesman, told Fox News in an email, further explaining that an "all-points bulletin"-type request went out department-wide instructing "full and prompt cooperation" for anyone contacted by the ARB, and urging anyone with "relevant information" to contact the board.
"So individuals with information were reaching out proactively to the Board. And, the ARB was also directly engaged with individuals and the Department's bureaus and offices to request information and pull on whichever threads it chose to. 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," Gerlach said. He further noted that the leaders of the ARB have claimed they had unfettered access to information and people.
Maxwell was previously "interviewed by two publications, and gave testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight Committee and the Accountability Review Board. This marked the first time he has publicly claimed the documents might have been scrubbed," according to New York Daily News.