Republican Claims Not “New”: “Revelation” on Accountability Review Board Already Debunked by IG
WASHINGTON—Republicans are touting as a significant new revelation in their partisan report that the Accountability Review Board (ARB) was not independent because Cheryl Mills, Secretary Clinton’s former chief of staff, was “selecting the ARB members” and “editing the final draft report.”
The Republican report claims: “The decisions to deviate from longstanding processes raise questions about the ARB’s independence, thoroughness, and therefore the fullness of their findings of accountability.”
A press report today repeated this allegation:
A section of the report obtained by POLITICO says the so-called Accountability Review Board did not act independently, as it was supposed to do, and was consistently influenced by Mills. Mills, the report says, helped select members of the panel, gave at least one other State Department official permission to talk to the reviewers, oversaw the production of some documents reviewed by the board and helped edit the final report.
However, the Republican report omits the fact that in September 2013, the State Department Inspector General issued a report that the “Accountability Review Board process operates as intended—independently and without bias—to identify vulnerabilities in the Department of State’s security programs.”
The Inspector General also “found no reason to question the selection of previous ARB members” and noted that “many of those interviewed by the OIG team felt that the increased involvement of Department principals in the selection process would ensure that the proposed ARB membership properly reflects the background and skill sets needed, as well as the appropriate consideration of diversity.”
All members of the ARB told the Inspector General that “they encountered no attempts to impede, influence, or interfere with their work at any time or on any level.”
In June 2013, Ambassador Thomas Pickering explained to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that Ms. Mills did not try to influence the outcome of the report and had no editing rights:
Q: And did you, either when you met with the Secretary—well, when you met with the Secretary, did she try to influence the outcome of the ARB’s findings in any way.
Q: What about her staff Ms. Mills?
Q: And you had said that they did not have editing rights, but that you were open to listening to their suggestions?
A: Yes, as we were with other people who reviewed the report.
The Republican report selectively quoted an email from a Managing Director who assisted with the ARB process, who wrote: “I would appreciate knowing how this ARB is going to work since it is not going in the normal way.”
The Republican report omitted the explanation that the Managing Director provided during her interview with the Select Committee specifically debunking this claim.
Q: So that line about how this isn’t going in the normal way didn’t have anything to do with any impropriety of the ARB process?
A: Of course not. It was my –the normal, as I knew it, and what I had to do next, I was trying to be timely and, you know, thorough, in what I needed to do.
Q: Okay. So your concern was if they didn’t give you the names, you couldn’t meet the deadline for the Federal Registry?
The Managing Director also explained that there was nothing new about the Secretary’s staff getting involved to select certain Board members:
Q: So do you recall if the Nairobi/Dar es Salaam ARB operated in the same manner?
A: It’s my understanding that it did, yes.
Q: Okay. Okay. And do you have any idea why that may have been the case? I believe you described the 1999 ARB and the Benghazi ARB as sort of celebrity ARBs?
Q: Do you have any understanding of why that may have been the case?
A: In my opinion—and I, you know, that’s all I can give you—they were such obvious tragedies, so pointed attacks on our diplomatic missions that it rose to that level, that it was all-consuming in our—you know, the Nairobi/ Dar was the State Department's 9/11, if you will. It was the first instance that we had been attacked to that degree, and it rose to the level of the Secretary’s involvement.
The Managing Director also explained that these officials had “impeccable credentials”:
Q: And when you talk about sort of the celebrity status, can you explain sort of what you mean by that?
A: Well, and I don’t mean to be flip about it, first of all. That’s probably a bad choice of words, but it’s those people who have impeccable credentials, who have served overseas, who know what it’s like to be under the advisory of the security professional in their day-to-day operations. It wouldn’t do the Department any good to choose people who didn’t have that understanding. And I think those are just chosen because of their experience.
Democrats issued their report yesterday along with all the available transcripts so the American people—and reporters—can see the underlying evidence first-hand to ensure the accuracy and integrity of our work.