WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry is reassigning four officials put on leave after criticism of their conduct in connection with the deadly attack on a U.S. facility in Libya almost a year ago, according to Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman.
Kerry decided after his own review to end their paid administrative leave and reassign the State Department officials to different positions, Harf told reporters in Washington.
The department determined “that there was no breach of duty by these four employees,” and that appointing them to new jobs was “the right answer,” Harf said.
While Kerry’s actions were consistent with a State Department Accountability Review Board’s finding that no one should be fired over the September attack at the U.S. facility in Benghazi, Republican lawmakers leading a House investigation criticized the decision as part of a “charade.”
“Instead of accountability, the State Department offered a charade that included false reports of firings and resignations and now ends in a game of musical chairs where no one misses a single day on the State Department payroll,” Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Tuesday in a statement.
“It is now clear that the personnel actions taken by the department in response to the Benghazi terrorist attacks was more of a public relations strategy than a measured response to a failure in leadership,” he said.
Susan Collins, R-Maine, also criticized the decision Tuesday.
“Last year, as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, former Senator Joe Lieberman and I conducted an investigation into the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. In our bipartisan report, we found that the State Department downplayed the terrorist threat in Benghazi despite numerous attacks on Western targets, ignored repeated requests for additional security, and insufficiently fortified a woefully ill-protected American compound which should have been closed until either security was strengthened or the threat abated,” Collins said in a statement.
“For Secretary of State John Kerry to reinstate all the employees who were placed on administrative leave without holding anyone else, including higher-level officials like Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary of State for Management, accountable for the problems identified in our report and the Accountability Review Board (ARB) is shocking. After the ARB identified systemic failures and leadership deficiencies that contributed to the grossly inadequate security in Benghazi, it is unacceptable for the State Department to hold no one responsible for the broader mismanagement that occurred prior to the attack,” Collins said.
The four State Department employees were put on leave last year by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after a critical assessment of their performance before and during the attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.
“These are people with real lives and real careers, and we can’t just take action that’s not warranted against them just to make us all feel better,” Harf said.
The Accountability Review Board appointed by Clinton concluded that performance shortcomings weren’t serious enough to justify firing the individuals, who were put on paid administrative leave pending further review.
The four are Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security; Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security; Raymond Maxwell, deputy assistant secretary for the Maghreb affairs; and one other security official.
“I am highly disappointed that no one at the State Department will be held accountable in any real way over the failures that led to the tragedy in Benghazi,” said Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement.
Harf said the administration is “focused on bringing to account those that are responsible for this tragedy in Benghazi — and that means finding the terrorists who actually perpetrated this horrible tragedy.”
Questions about the Obama administration’s handling of the attack have become a partisan issue, particularly on whether scrutiny should have extended to the upper levels of the State Department including actions or failure to act by Clinton and other top administration national security officials.
Along with Issa’s investigation, some Senate Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona, have called for creation of a select Senate committee to pursue further investigation of the incident.