WASHINGTON – The four State Department officials put on administrative leave following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi have been allowed back on the job after being cleared by Secretary of State John Kerry to return, in a move one lawmaker decried as a “game of musical chairs.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, vowed Tuesday to investigate how the department decided “not to pursue any accountability from anyone.”
Last December, the officials were removed from their posts after an independent panel criticized the security and “lack of proactive leadership” at the U.S. diplomatic compound. The stinging State report also called out officials in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and said they “showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues.”
The Sept. 11 attack — led by militants who used heavy weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and mortars — killed four Americans, including former Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Following the December report, Eric Boswell, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security resigned from his position. Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant security tasked with embassy security, as well as Scott Bultrowicz, the former director of diplomatic security, were placed on leave by then-Secretary Hillary Clinton. Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, who was responsible for the entire North Africa region, was also dangling in employment limbo.
But a senior State Department official confirmed Tuesday to Fox News that the four employees have been invited back, following a “thorough review.” The official said the internal review “reaffirmed” that no one “breached their duty.”
“In order to implement the (Benghazi report) and to continue to turn the page and shift the paradigm inside the Department, the four employees who were put on administrative leave last December pending further review, will be reassigned inside the State Department,” the official said. The official stressed that no one would “return to the positions they held prior to the (report’s) release and at the time of the attack.”
Bultrowicz testified in a February deposition that he didn’t know why he had been placed on leave after the attacks.
Maxwell told The Daily Beast, which first reported that the employees were being allowed back to work, that he received a memo from the State Department’s human resources department telling him his administrative leave status had been lifted and that he should come into work Tuesday.
“No explanation, no briefing, just come back to work. So I will go in tomorrow,” Maxwell told The Daily Beast, adding that his “overall goal is to restore my honor.”
The workers who were placed on administrative leave were not subjected to any formal disciplinary action.
According to a senior State Department official, Kerry has “been hands-on focused on building the lessons learned from the Benghazi attack to strengthen security at missions worldwide and continue the ARB’s security paradigm shift.”
Kerry came to the decision after asking his senior-level team members to complete a review of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board’s findings.
Kerry “studied their careers and studied the facts,” a senior State Department official said. “Obviously Assistant Secretary Boswell long ago resigned as Diplomatic Security Chief, but none of the four individuals will return to the positions they held prior to the ARB’s release and at the time of the attack.”
Following Kerry’s decision, Issa said the Obama administration broke a promise to the families of the victims to hold people accountable for their actions.
“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,” Issa said in a written 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.”
The development comes amid concern that the U.S. still has not captured those responsible for the attack, nearly a year later.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department filed criminal charges against several suspects in the Benghazi terror attack. One of the individuals charged is Libyan militia leader Ahmed Khattalah. In an interview conducted last October, Khattalah told Fox News that he was at the scene of the attack that night.