This group of resignations was initially reported in the manner chosen by the Washington Post: with a headline and introduction implying that State Department personnel were resigning in protest of their new leadership – starting with both President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
WaPo put it this way:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s job running the State Department just got considerably more difficult. The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.
WaPo made sure to get a Trump-critical perspective on the matter:
“It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” said David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry. “Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector.”
But the list of senior people resigning their posts could hardly be more specific. They’re all individuals who had responsibility for Benghazi, acted as spokesmen on the Benghazi issues in congressional hearings, and/or stonewalled Congress about Hillary Clinton’s emails and the State Department records on Benghazi. Some of them, like Patrick Kennedy, fall into all three categories.
Here are the people who resigned their positions “en masse” between 20 and 25 January:
Resigned on Wednesday, 25 January
- Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy
- Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr
- Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond
- Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, Ambassador Gentry O. Smith
Resigned on Friday, 20 January
- Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr
- Director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, Lydia Muniz
Reaction in the rightosphere has been predictably enthusiastic.
But, as Howard Portnoy pointed out, it has also highlighted reporting we might not otherwise catch, from a mainstream outlet not notably friendly to the Trump administration. (In fact, HP detects the usual manner in which CNN, with its headline, has put a reductionist construction on what really happened, in order to put the Trump administration in a bad light.)
CNN is reporting that the Trump administration accepted the resignations, which had been ritually offered:
Patrick Kennedy, who served for nine years as the undersecretary for management, Assistant Secretaries for Administration and Consular Affairs Joyce Anne Barr and Michele Bond, and Ambassador Gentry Smith, director of the Office for Foreign Missions, were sent letters by the White House that their service was no longer required, the sources told CNN.
All four, career officers serving in positions appointed by the President, submitted letters of resignation per tradition at the beginning of a new administration.
The letters from the White House said that their resignations were accepted and they were thanked for their service.
The CNN report indicates there should be no ambiguity of interpretation here:
“Any implication that that these four people quit is wrong,” one senior State Department official said. “These people are loyal to the secretary, the President and to the State Department. There is just not any attempt here to dis the President. People are not quitting and running away in disgust. This is the White House cleaning house.”
CNN points out that Victoria “F**k the EU” Nuland was also asked to resign her post. But the theme of the biggest batch of resignations is clearly connection with the Benghazi debacle of 9/11/12, and the State Department’s foot-dragging and obfuscation during the investigation into it afterward.
As a coda to this development: there are interesting aspects of the Benghazi disaster still to be ironed out. Hillary Clinton is still being sued in federal court by the mothers of Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods, two of the Americans killed in the 2012 attack, and the case against her is proceeding, in spite of Hillary’s efforts to have it dismissed.
This might have the effect of focusing accountability on Clinton herself. But one aspect of the House Benghazi committee’s final report from June 2016 may diffuse that focus – and make the State Department executives most closely associated with it think twice about remaining in easy reach of congressional committees and FOIA requests.
Mainstream and left-wing media outlets were careful to highlight that aspect of the final report:
Final Benghazi report: No ‘smoking gun’ pointing to Clinton
If there’s a smoking gun pointing at someone – well, if you’re a senior at State, you don’t want it to be you.
Could more come up about the events in Benghazi the night of 9/11 to 9/12 2012? That will depend on Trump and the current Congress. Remember that 33 people who were evacuated from Benghazi that night have been under an effective gag order in the years since.
That gag order amounted to the Obama administration exploiting federal law to keep the survivors from talking to Congress – as opposed to allowing them, properly, to tell Congress what they knew. The link clarifies that the law was being exploited in this way: the FBI, which had interviewed some of the survivors, was also prohibited by the administration from providing the transcripts of the interviews to Congress. Nothing in the non-disclosure law that applied to the survivors was applicable to the FBI interviews, which Congress had every right to obtain. But the interview transcripts were withheld anyway.
If that policy changes under the Trump administration, the bill may yet come due on the deaths in Benghazi of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods.