The State Department on Monday rejected a report saying that senior officials purposely withheld sensitive documents from the group that was investigating the 2012 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Earlier in the day, the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal reported that senior officials worked to identify and withhold potentially damaging documents from the Accountability Review Board, which was investigating the incident. That story said former Deputy Assistance Secretary Ray Maxwell watched State Department officials and even some top aides to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sift through documents.
US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf on Monday rejected a press report saying key documents about Benghazi were withheld from an investigation. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB
But when asked about that report, State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf rejected the entire story, and said the ARB had open access to all documents.
"The ARB had full and direct access to State Department employees and documents," she told reporters. "Any accounts to the contrary, like that one you mentioned, are completely without merit, completely ill-informed."
"These reports show a complete lack of understanding of how the ARB functioned," she added.
Harf said the ARB had the authority to collect documents directly from "anybody in the department," and said everyone in the department was told to provide documents to the body directly.
"That's what happened," she said, adding that ARB's own cochairmen have said they had "unfettered access to all the information they needed, period."
While State rejected the Daily Signal story, the issue could come up later this week. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has scheduled his first public hearing of the Select Committee on Benghazi, which he chairs.
That hearing will feature a State Department official who deals with diplomatic security, who will testify on his view of the attack that killed four Americans on September 11, 2012.