Questions Raised About Independence of Benghazi Review Ahead of Clinton Hearing

Clinton chief of staff at State Department in contact with review board

Gutted U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after Sept. 11, 2012 attack / AP
October 22, 2015

As Hillary Clinton prepares to testify before the House Benghazi on Thursday, newly released testimony from a senior Clinton aide reveals efforts to influence the conclusions an independent board that earlier investigated the State Department’s handling of the 2012 attack.

The Benghazi Accountability Review Board was formed after the assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. It issued a report in December 2012 questioning the leadership at the State Department but ultimately faulted just four mid-level employees.

Republicans and others have previously questioned the independence of the review board, noting that its leadership was reporting on details of the investigation to senior State Department officials during the course of the probe.

Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills told the House Benghazi Committee in September that she was in contact with the review board regarding witness selection and decisions about what to include in its final report, according to testimony released on Wednesday.

'As they were preparing their report, they reached out to say, ‘We have a draft of the report,’" Mills told the committee. 'They shared that draft with me. I shared back my observations of instances where there were issues or facts that I thought were relevant for their consideration. They took them, or they didn't. Ultimately, they had to make that judgment."

Mills testified during a closed-door hearing and her statements were initially expected to remain private. Democrats on the Benghazi Committee released the full transcript on Wednesday, arguing that Republicans had been selectively leaking parts of the testimony out of context.

Politico reported last month on Mills’ testimony, but did not include direct quotes from the transcript.

Mills said she does not recall which changes were implemented, but she had multiple exchanges with the review board about her proposed edits.

'I remember having engagements with [review board staffer] Uzra Zeya about the changes, not about how per se they were coming," said Mills. 'But it was quite plausible that could have happened. I just don't remember that."

The former Clinton aide also appeared to corroborate a statement from Admiral Michael Mullen, the vice chairman of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, who said he tipped Mills off about a potentially problematic witness.

'I don't recall it, but I would have no reason to believe that he wouldn't be accurate about that," said Mills.

Although she said she didn’t remember the content of the conversation, she said she was 'sure that if that's his memory that he would be accurately reflecting what he recalls."

Mills also said she and Clinton were briefed by the review board about its assessments, but not its accountability conclusions, during the investigation.

'In the course of their investigation, we had one briefing where they stepped through where they were in their process—and, by that, the other person who was briefed was the secretary—that they stepped through where they were in their process and that they anticipated being on time and what their own assessments were, but that they had not come to conclusions yet about accountability," said Mills.

Democrats on the House Benghazi Committee have accused their Republican colleagues of running a partisan investigation as Clinton prepares to testify on Thursday. Democratic members of the committee published a 'spending tracker" on their website to monitor the taxpayer funds spent on the allegedly 'partisan attack against Secretary Clinton and her campaign for president."

The chairman of the committee, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.), defended the panel’s work during an interview with CBS on Sunday and said he was focused on the attack in Libya as opposed to adjacent controversies about Clinton’s private email server and her handling of classified information.

"The classification, Clinton Foundation, you name it—I have zero interest," said Gowdy.

Published under: Benghazi , Hillary Clinton