President Obama visited the State Department to share some holiday cheer and thank the diplomatic corps for their service to the country Wednesday night — the same day four State Department officials resigned their posts in the wake of a critical report over the diplomatic agency’s handling of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
An independent panel concluded that the State Department showed “a lack of proactive leadership and management ability” preceding the assault that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Despite the awkward timing of his visit, Mr. Obama made no mention of the Benghazi report and instead praised outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling her “tireless and extraordinary.”
“We can’t wait to have her back,” he added.
The annual holiday reception at the State Department, he told the group of international diplomats, is a “chance for me to express my appreciation for the cooperation and partnership between our countries.”
Then, turning somber, he spent the remainder of his remarks thanking different countries for reaching out in support of the victims of Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“We’re still grieving and reeling from the unspeakable violence that took place at Newtown,” he said, thanking those present for the expressions of sympathy their leaders and people all over the world have shown, including makeshift memorials at U.S. embassies and consulates and one with 26 crosses on a beach in Brazil.
The leaders of the panel that reviewed the Benghazi assault, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Admiral Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have laid the responsibility for the lack of security at the consulate and the attack at the assistant secretary level.
Mr. Mullen specifically said it is “not reasonable” to conclude that Mrs. Clinton had “a specific level of knowledge” about security failures leading up to the storming of the compound.
Mrs. Clinton was set to testify Thursday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee but has since said she is unable to be there because of the concussion. Deputy Secretaries William J. Burns and Thomas R. Nides will be there to face the inevitable grilling.
In letters submitted along with the panel’s report on Dec. 18, Mrs. Clinton said she took responsibility for the safety of every diplomatic employee at the State Department, but she did not assign blame for Benghazi to herself or anyone else.
The State Department accepted the resignations of four individuals Wednesday with three of their names widely reported: Eric Boswell, assistant secretary for diplomatic security; Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary in charge of security at U.S. embassies around the globe; and Raymond Maxwell, a deputy assistant secretary who had responsibility for the North Africa region.