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State Department won't fire employees over Benghazi

By Jill Dougherty, CNN
updated 5:53 PM EDT, Tue August 20, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Four employees had been on administrative leave since December
  • Official: John Kerry reaffirmed the report's findings that no one should be fired
  • The report had found failures in the run-up to the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans
  • Lawmakers have criticized the administration, saying security warnings were ignored

Washington (CNN) -- Four State Department employees placed on leave after last year's deadly terror attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, won't be fired, a decision that irritated key congressional Republicans insisting on accountability for security and other shortcomings.

A senior State Department official said the employees would be assigned to different jobs, and an agency spokeswoman followed up by saying that an independent review of the matter found problems and raised questions but did not conclude any breach of duty.

"Clearly things could have been done better. I think that's patently obvious to everybody who's followed this for almost a year now," said Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. "We have to let the facts lead where they may, and these are people with real lives and real careers, and we can't just take action that's not warranted against them just to make us all feel better."

The sanctioned employees included Eric J. Boswell, who the State Department said had resigned from his post as assistant secretary for diplomatic security but remained with the department while on leave. The other three were not identified.

It was not clear what new responsibilities Boswell and the other three would be given.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who has pressed the State Department to punish employees who lawmakers contend ignored security warnings in advance of the attack last September 11, reacted sharply to the decision by Secretary of State John Kerry.

"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.

He said his committee would expand its investigation to include how the independent analysis of events by the Accountability Review Board resulted in Kerry deciding "not to pursue any accountability from anyone."

The four employees were placed on leave after the review board in December uncovered bureaucratic failures at the State Department before the attack.

Lawmaker: If CNN can interview suspect in attack, why can't FBI?

Kerry ordered a review the board's report and studied the workers' careers. In the end, he affirmed the board's finding that no one should be fired, the senior State Department official said.

Why Benghazi matters

Issa criticized the department's review of the four employees, saying on Tuesday that it "did not include interviews with them or their supervisors to either substantiate or challenge allegations."

The Benghazi incident involved scores of militants using rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons against the U.S. diplomatic compound and a nearby predominantly CIA-run annex. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The attack has become a flashpoint in the partisan-fueled climate in Washington with Republicans, especially, criticizing the Obama administration's handling of security beforehand and botching the response after.

Benghazi attack timeline

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, told CNN's Jake Tapper in an interview on 'The Lead' that someone has to be held accountable.

"There is not a single thing that was done to protect of fortify that facility, nor did (Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton do anything to give them more personnel," he said.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "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."

CNN's Evan Perez, John King, Elise Labott, Jamie Crawford and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.

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