From the outset, I’ve been cautious in estimating the mega-tonnage of the Raymond Maxwell bombshell. Maxwell is one of the four people at the State Department scapegoated for the Benghazi debacle. He recently spoke to the media about an incident in which he says operatives loyal to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reviewed documents pertaining to Benghazi before they were handed over to Congress, and pulled out the most damaging material. Maxwell says he was initially part of this operation, but after two highly-placed Clinton confidants – her chief of staff Cheryl Mills, and deputy chief of staff Jake Sullivan – dropped by, he decided he “didn’t feel good” about scrubbing those documents, and departed the scene.
The problem facing Maxwell is that he’s currently stuck in a “he said, they said” stalemate against the State Department, and both the Obama and Clinton political machines, which are very accomplished at tearing inconvenient people to shreds. His allegations aren’t likely to go anywhere unless he can back them up with more eyewitness testimony or hard evidence. The Benghazi Select Committee’s work is being wiped from the public radar screen by the new not-war in Syria, and the mainstream press was doing a pretty good job of ignoring it before then. We’ll know if Maxwell is becoming a real menace to Clinton or Obama when we start seeing a bunch of Big Media stories about his personal life, but for right now, he offers an explosive anecdote that isn’t much more than a footnote.
Maxwell does, however, have an important character witness in the form of Peter van Buren, who like Maxwell was a veteran of the State Department with decades of experience, before he blew a much smaller whistle and found himself invited to pursue career options elsewhere. He told his own story in an article he wrote for The American Conservative about Maxwell’s allegations:
My own whistleblowing seems minor compared to something that might alter the race for the presidency. With 22 years at State, I spent 12 months leading two Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq. The staggering incompetence and waste of taxpayer money I saw, coupled with the near-complete lack of interest I found at the Department while trying to “go through channels,” led me to write a book exposing it all. The response was devastating: my security clearance was pulled; my case was sent to the Department of Justice for prosecution; I was frog-marched out of my office and forbidden to enter any State Department facility; I was placed on a Secret Service watch list as a potential threat to Mrs. Clinton; the pension I earned over a long career was threatened; and only after the intercession of some of the lawyers now representing Edward Snowden was I “allowed” to retire. My case appeared in Glenn Greenwald’s column. All over a book that discussed history and named no names.
Van Buren explained why Maxwell didn’t go public with his story for a year after bringing it to the attention of House Republicans (but not the Democrats, who claim they interviewed him extensively and never heard a word about the document-scrubbing party):
For whistleblowers to go public, there is a calculus of pain and gain, and working it out takes time. You try to go through channels: Congressman Jason Chaffetz saysMaxwell first told lawmakers his full story privately some time ago. Then you wait in hopes that the information will come out without you, that someone else might speak up first; you hint at the truth, hoping someone will take the bait, but instead see faux investigations and bleats about “it’s just politics” further bury it.
There was a two-year gap between much of what I saw in Iraq and my public coming out. The same was true for Snowden and other whistleblowers. You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to turn your own life, and that of your family, upside down, risking financial ruin, public shaming, and possibly jail time. It is a process, not an event. You have to wonder what your fate will be once the media grows bored with your story, how far your actions will follow you. Fear travels with you on your journey of conscience. In my case, I was ignorant of what would happen once I blew the whistle. Ray Maxwell had examples to learn from. He likely calculated he needed to retire securely from State before taking Team Clinton head-on.
With that in mind, Maxwell would have been foolish to confide in House Democrats. They’ve been known to maintain very close back-channel relationships with certain agencies of the Obama Administration that can make life very difficult for their political enemies. Just ask former IRS official Lois Lerner, if you happen to bump into her at a cookie bake or animal-rescue event.
Van Buren thinks Maxwell is “credible,” and his account of the document-scrubbing session is both sensational and plausible:
Document reviews at State following a significant event are not unheard of; an affected office needs to recap how it got to where it is. Conducting such a review in secret, on a Sunday, with some of the Secretary’s most senior advisors personally overseeing things, is in fact unheard of. The details of Maxwell’s story ring true, the place, the procedures. Checks of State Department entry and exit records and room use requests should establish the basic facts. Proving what happened at that document review will be much, much harder and will focus in large part on Maxwell’s own credibility.
I have to disagree – no amount of personal credibility will matter if Mazwell remains the sole source for this story. The man could walk on water to enter a laboratory in which he cures ebola, and it wouldn’t make him credible enough, especially since the question of what documents were actually pinched would remain open. By his own account, he left the scrub-a-thon early, so he doesn’t know. There are multiple layers of doubt for Clinton defenders to work with, if they feel the need to disarm this story before it blows up her 2016 presidential campaign.
Van Buren appeared on Greta van Susteren’s Fox News program on Monday night to discuss the Maxwell story, expanding on his point about the security protocols at the State Department building should make it possible to determine whether the secret Sunday meeting took place, and who was in attendance. “The State Department is a secure facility in general, with people coming and going – particularly on a Sunday, which is when this document review is supposed to have taken place,” he explained. “There should be records of who is coming in and out of the building. The document review took place in a very secret facility – underground, if you will – and going in and out of that room is not something that would have been done casually. There would be security involved, and there would be records of who was using the room, and for what purposes. This should not be difficult to establish as something that happened, or did not happen.”
Greta van Susteren, noting that Benghazi Select Committee chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is a former prosecutor, speculated that the Committee would surely follow Van Buren’s advice to establish that the meeting took place, and especially to pin down the highly unusual presence of people like Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to the Secretary of State. Van Buren thought it likely the discussion would be turned to questions of Ray Maxwell’s character, rather than such incontrovertible physical evidence. I’ll once again offer a third possibility: if those security records of the document review exist – and there’s no way someone with Maxwell’s years of experience would spin such a tale without knowing that security records could disprove it – the controversy will shift to what happened in the room, and that’s going to depend entirely on the personal testimony of the people involved, unless some hard evidence about document-scrubbing can be located. That’s when we’re going to find out what sort of books Ray Maxwell reads, what movies he likes to rent, whether he’s ever been within five blocks of a Tea Party rally, et cetera.
With all due respect, I can’t say I like his odds of sailing through that s**t-storm without capsizing. It’ll be a mess for Team Clinton to mop up… but then again everything about Benghazi has been a mess, and it’s been dragged out for so long that people barely remember how it all started.