In the aftermath of an internal investigation into Benghazi that found "systemic failures and leadership deficiencies at senior levels," four State Department officials were placed on administrative leave last year. But now, after reviewing each case, Secretary of State John Kerry has cleared all four officials to return to work, leaving Republicans largely scalpless as the one-year anniversary of the attack on the diplomatic compound nears.
"Obama administration officials repeatedly promised the families of victims and the American people that officials responsible for security failures would be held accountable," Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Tuesday. " 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."
A State Department official did not immediately respond for comment.
Back in December, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton placed Diplomatic Security Chief Eric Boswell, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Maghreb Region Raymond Maxwell and security officials Charlene Lamb and Scott Bultrowicz on administrative leave following the internal Accountability Review Board (ARB) investigation.
A State Department release on Tuesday said Kerry studied the ARB report and "reaffirmed its finding that no employee breached their duty or should be fired but rather that some should be reassigned."
For many Republicans, who remain upset that more senior-level officials were not disciplined for security failures in Benghazi, the re-instatement of the few officials who were placed on leave is particularly vexing.
"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," said Issa. "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 State Department said all four employees will return to work but did not specify their new assignments. That includes Boswell, who resigned his position in December 2012. Of the officials who received administrative leave, one of the most high-profile cases was Maxwell's, who opened up to The Daily Beast in May about what he felt was a baseless punishment. "I had no involvement to any degree with decisions on security and the funding of security at our diplomatic mission in Benghazi," he said at the time.
Republicans, at this point, are not contesting the individual cases of the four, but would like someone to be punished for security failures that contributed to the deaths of four Americans including Amb. Chris Stevens. "I don't understand how this administration will ensure accountability at one of our most vital government departments without disciplining those who fail in their duties," Sen. Bob Corker, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday afternoon. Issa vowed to stay on the issue. "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," said Issa.