All-Star Panel: Did Obama break his promise for Benghazi accountability?

All-Star Panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 20, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We all wish there was, you know, some easy answer, just one thing we could have pointed to that would mean today that those four Americans are still here, but we have to let the facts lead where they do. And in this case the secretary took a very thorough look at four people and their situations and made a determination on what their future should look like.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amongst the 20,000 worldwide State Department employees, there's not a single one of them who acted foolishly, stupidly, neglectfully, so much so that they should lose their job over it?

HARF: James, clearly the Accountability Review Board indicated there were deficiencies. Clearly things could have been done better. We have to let the facts lead where they may. And 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.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Well, almost one year from the Benghazi terror attacks, and now the four employees at the State Department who were placed on administrative leave after the Accountability Review Board have been put back into active duty, if you will. They're back at their jobs at the State Department.

Darrell Issa, the chairman of the committee overseeing the investigation, or one of them, had this statement today, quote, "In the course of our investigation, the Oversight Committee learned that the State Department's review with these four individuals did not include interviews with them or their supervisors to either substantiate or challenge allegations. The Oversight Committee will expand its investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attack to include how a supposed Accountability Review Board investigation resulted in a decision by Secretary Kerry not to pursue any accountability from anyone."

So with that, let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Charles Lane, opinion writer for The Washington Post, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, not only has no one lost their job but no one has lost a paycheck.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Look, this is a definition of how to conduct a stonewall. For all the weeks after Benghazi, remember, weeks that took us past Election Day, all administration answers to all questions about the Benghazi fiasco were, "well, we can't talk until the investigation. We're waiting for the ARB." Then you get the ARB report and then everybody afterwards says, well, it is all the ARB report. What did it say? Responsibility stops at the assistant secretary level. These are the people who botched it and they will be put on leave.

Stage three is now, where the new secretary of state looks at this and says essentially these people were not responsible or they don't really carry any accountability. They're back on the job, as you say, without ever missing a paycheck and no one is held responsible.

And remember, in that clip you showed earlier in the show, you had the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifying earlier this year that she wants the law changed so that she should have and would have had the power to fire the four who are now absolved. It looks as if this is a complete, and this was suggested by one of the four accused, Raymond Maxwell, who said it looks as if a way to protect Hillary Clinton. Whatever the intent was, it surely is a Clinton protection operation in effect.

BAIER: Chuck, I should clarify. They're not back at their old jobs.  They're reassigned to new ones, but they're back working at the State Department.

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Right, and I must say, it could be true that Hillary and the current secretary actually do lack the legal authority to fire these people, and maybe that law should be changed.  But having said all of that, I don't think even on the worst view of this affair these are the four people where the buck stops, right? I mean, these are, you know, fall guys at most. And in that sense, I think, there may be some rough justice to what John Kerry has done. Ultimately, these are not the four people who are the maximum responsibility here.

BAIER: But for the people --

LANE: And they did not get much due process in this investigation, if it is really true they weren't interviewed, they weren't cross-examined, they weren't given a chance to say their side of the story --

KRAUTHAMMER: It is rough justice of the four who are not responsible, but it's no justice for those higher up who were and who are being protected. That's the opposite of justice.

LANE: That is correct. But I'm just saying that for these four people, the buck did not stop with them.

BAIER: Yeah. But we should also remember the other four people involved here and their families who are dead and their families are grieving still the loss. Congressman Gowdy, who has been pushing this, had this to say about all of this today.


REP. TREY GOWDY, R – S.C.: If it had been 12 months after Boston and there had been no arrest, no one brought to justice, no understanding of what happened and why, people would be justifiably understandably outraged. But here we sit almost a year after Benghazi and no one has been brought to justice and we can't answer the questions.


BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think that's a very good point. I think you actually are both right. This is clearly the end of a long stonewall. I think we're likely to see it continue in the coming weeks when we have additional scrutiny on what happened and additional hearings with the House Oversight Committee.

I am not sure I would go so far to say it was rough justice, but clearly these were not the people who were making the decisions. Remember, it was a conscious policy decision in the lead up to the attacks on Benghazi to have normalized security posture, which is to say we did not want to look like we had a strong security posture, despite the fact that there had been attacks on Western interest in Benghazi in the lead-up to those events. There was conscious decision made to draw down -- not to increase.

LANE: Light footprint.

HAYES: Light footprint, not to increase.

BAIER: I do feel like we have a review almost every time we do the Benghazi story, we've done it so many times here. But you do have to say about the cables that were sent up through the chain, about -- Chris Stevens' personal cables up saying that the security situation was deteriorating, even on the last day, just hours before he was killed.

HAYES: Right. And what makes this an interesting move and I think in some ways a remarkable move is not that these were the four who were culpable ultimately, but that we are now in a position, as James Rosen's question suggested, where no one is being held to account. Really, is it President Obama's view that nobody made any mistakes given all of that information that we had in the lead up to the Benghazi attacks?

BAIER: Charles, no one held accountable at the State Department so far, no one under arrest so far. They have been indicted from afar. Charged from afar from what we can tell, but we haven't captured anybody or killed anybody.

KRAUTHAMMER: It is remarkable that all this has occurred, and, as you say, no one -- none of the bad guys has even been questioned, let alone arrested, none of the people in the government who were responsible. Remember, in August, this is a month before the attack, the ambassador who was later killed pleaded about the security situation, and there's nobody who is responsible.

Add on to that we still don't know what the president was doing during the eight hours of that attack, where was he, what orders were given, were any of them countermanded. And of course we all know about the cover-up and cover story that went out afterwards as a way to insulate the administration from critique that its story about Al Qaeda on the run, terrorism essentially taken care of was completely false and contradicted by the Benghazi attack.

HAYES: And one person who must not be forgotten in this entire episode is Gregory Hicks who came out and replaced Ambassador Stevens after the ambassador was killed, by all accounts conducted himself heroically in filling in, and helping to keep some sense of calm amid the chaos of that night, had not yet been reassigned. He is still to this day right now in limbo. He does not have a new job despite assurances that he would have that by the State Department. So the one person we can identify publicly as acting heroically who provided testimony has not yet gotten a new job.

BAIER: But the four who were identified as possibly --

HAYES: Culpable.

BAIER: -- culpable have been reassigned.

OK, next up, the Ted Cruz phenomena.

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