State's IG to review department's Benghazi audit process

The State Department's Office of Inspector General will review the internal audit on the Benghazi attack that cleared top officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDebate of century lives up to its billing Trump offers support for banning gun sales to terror suspects Five takeaways from wild debate MORE, of wrongdoing, The Hill has confirmed.

The IG's office notified the State Department on March 28 that it will be conducting a “special review” of the process that the department's Accountability Review Board (ARB) used to probe security lapses prior to and during the terrorist attack, Fox News first reported. The board issued a report in December that identified “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” but did not recommend anybody be fired because it “did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.”

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Some Republican lawmakers allege that the review board, led by retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, was rigged to protect Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential contender who wasn't interviewed as part of the probe. Doug Welty, a spokesman for the IG's office, said the office is responsive to lawmakers' concerns; he said this is the first time the office will review an ARB process, although it has in the past reviewed how well the State Department has followed through on the recommendations of other review boards formed after security breaches.

The review will examine “the effectiveness and accountability of the process and the resulting implementation of the recommendations,” Welty said. He couldn't specify a time frame, but said the results would be made public: “It will take the time it needs to take to do a reliable job.”

At a State Department briefing last year, Pickering defended the ARB's approach.

He said the panel fixed responsibility “at the Assistant Secretary level, which is in our view the appropriate place to look, where the decision-making in fact takes place — where, if you like, the rubber hits the road.”

Mullen said Clinton's managers “over time certainly didn’t bring [concerns about Benghazi security] to her attention.”

News of the IG review comes as House Republicans are revamping their investigation into the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The House Oversight panel is holding a hearing next week, possibly featuring lower-level State Department witnesses to the attack identified by Republicans as “whistleblowers” who have been threatened with retaliation. The Obama administration denies the allegations and says the Republican hearings are politically motivated.