The internal State Department Accountability Review Board report being touted by the White House as an “unsparing” investigation into the Benghazi response actually completely spared the two individuals whose actions Republicans want to know about most: President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
There is no mention in the report of the what Clinton or Obama did related to Benghazi. In fact, Obama isn’t mentioned at all in the document, and Clinton only once – in the context of her appointing the Review Board. There is no suggestion that Clinton or Obama were interviewed or even examined by the investigation.
What’s more, Accountability Review Boards are part of statutory State Department process that is not legally permitted to investigate the president.
It’s not even clear that an Accountability Review Board is permitted to probe the Secretary of State. The purview of a Review Board covers “employees” of the State Department who could be subject to discipline by the Secretary of State, who presumably would not be tasked to discipline herself.
Despite all this, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Wednesday suggested the Review Board report exculpates Clinton.
From the briefing:
Q So the White House is confident that Hillary Clinton acted appropriately throughout this process?
MR. CARNEY: We are. And I think I would point you to the Accountability Review Board and what –
Q Which didn’t –
MR. CARNEY: I think I would point you to the report the put out. I would point you to what the two heads of that board, Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen — each highly praised by both sides of the aisle for their long, distinguished careers — put out in a statement this week: “From the beginning of the ARB process, we had unfettered access to everyone and everything, including all of the documentation we needed. Our marching orders were to get to the bottom of what happened, and that is what we did.”
Again, this is an unsparing report done by two career professionals, nonpartisan career professionals, that contain within it very serious recommendations, found shortcomings that needed to be corrected, and the State Department acted immediately on that.
But there is no evidence Pickering and Mullin ever talked to Clinton, or that they even sought to.
Carney dodged a question about whether Obama was interviewed by the Review Board.
Q On the question of the Accountability Review Board, you keep saying it was unsparing and you said they had unfettered access. Did Admiral Mullen and Mr. Pickering interview the President about what he did on the night of September 11th?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I will point you to what Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering said and what the report said, beginning with the fact that — this is useful here. The Accountability Review Board investigation, headed by, as I said, two of the most respected, non-partisan leaders in Washington, found that the interagency response was timely and appropriate and “helped save the lives of two severely wounded Americans.”
Here’s a video of the exchange, in which Carney appears a little flustered.
Note that this is a classic case of press secretary spin, in which the answer contains a litany of facts wholly unrelated to the question and designed to draw attention away from the fact that the press secretary is not addressing the issue that was raised.
In this case, Carney was successful. There was no follow up.