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Rep. Cummings: Maxwell Never Mentioned Sifting by State Dept. (Update: Sharyl Attkisson on Rep. Cummings' Denial)

[Several important updates below. Skip to the last one for my attempt to untangle this knot.]

Ray Maxwell reportedly told Congress about the State Department’s sifting of Benghazi documents a year ago. However, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Elijah Cummings tells Dave Weigel he never heard about it. Something doesn’t quite add up.

Yesterday Sharyl Attkisson published a genuine blockbuster story related to Benghazi. Raymond Maxwell, one of the four employees who was disciplined by the State Department, revealed he had witnessed individuals with close connections to Hillary Clinton sifting damaging documents before turning the remaining documents over to the Accountability Review Board. If accurate, this would obviously be a major blow to the credibility of the ARB and to Hillary Clinton.

After the story broke, Dave Weigel wrote a piece relating the basic claims in Attkisson’s report but also expressing a bit of incredulity that Maxwell sat on the story for so long.

That’s what makes the new story so baffling. If it’s true, Maxwell has
been sitting for at least 18 months on a story that puts Hillary
Clinton’s political advisers at the center of a conspiracy to conceal
documents that could be damaging to the 2016 presidential frontrunner.

It’s perhaps worth noting that all four of the disciplined employees were eventually called back to work in August 2013. Perhaps Maxwell was waiting to see how things worked out before going public with his most explosive claim. But rather than return, Maxwell chose to resign.

In any case, Attkisson noticed Weigel’s take on the story and praised it on Twitter. But she also added a bit of information that hadn’t been clear before.

After Weigel responded, Attkisson expanded on this in a 2nd tweet:

And here is where things get really interesting. Maxwell was interviewed by the Oversight Committee on May 30, 2013. We know because some of what he said in that interview appeared in a Majority Staff Report published in September. If Maxwell told Congress about the sifting more than a year ago, that would likely have been when he did so. If so then one of the people who would be expected to hear about his claim is the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings. But Weigel reports this morning that Cummings says Maxwell never brought it up:

What are we to make of this new wrinkle? I can see several possibilities. One, Maxwell may not have told Congress a year ago as he claims. That would mean he misled Attkisson and would cast doubt on his entire story. It would also be at odds with the poetry (yes, he wrote poetry) which suggested in 2013 that he had something on the Department.

Another possibility is that Maxwell revealed the information to the Majority of the Committee but that it was somehow withheld from the Minority. Maxwell (or Rep. Issa?) may have believed Cummings was only working to kill the story and couldn’t be trusted with the damaging information.

The third possibility is that Cummings is denying knowledge of something he has known about for some time as way to discount the story. This seems unlikely since Rep. Issa would presumably have a transcript somewhere.

If Maxwell told Congress that certainly reinforces the credibility of his story and of Attkisson’s report. What we still don’t know is how Cummings could have missed something this significant for an entire year.

Update 11:15AM PST: Dave Weigel has a new post expanding on his earlier tweet. Here is Rep. Cummings full answer to a question about what Maxwell told the Oversight committee last year:

Maxwell was interviewed by our committee, the Oversight and Government
Reform Committee,” said Cummings. He was called by Chairman Issa as a
witness. And he never talked about this. He had plenty of opportunities
to do it…But again, Mr. Maxwell did not bring those
allegations to our attention when we interviewed him extensively.
Extensively.

There is more to come on this I suspect. It’s too important for either side to ignore.

Update 12PM PST: Sharyl Attkisson has kindly responded to my inquiry about this on Twitter. I think I now understand what is going on here. Simply put, Maxwell had a separate meeting with Rep. Chaffetz and Rep. Gowdy in which he leveled these accusations a year ago. However, he did not disclose this during his Oversight Committee interview last year. And that is what Rep. Cummings denial was (narrowly) about. Here’s Attkisson:

I hadn’t seen the clip but Rep. Chaffetz did appear on Fox and said he had a meeting with Maxwell during which Maxwell told him this story a year ago.

 Back to Attkisson:

As to why Maxwell told Chaffetz but not the Oversight Committee (including Rep. Cummings) during his interview with them:

In fact I did put in a call to Rep. Cummings office this morning to ask if he was denying any such conversation had happened or that he’d heard of it happening. His office promised to get back to me but, so far, has not done so.

If you carefully re-read Rep. Cummings denial (previous update), you’ll see he was not saying that no such sifting happened. He also was not saying that Maxwell never told this story to anyone last year, nor even that he had never heard it before. All Rep. Cummings really said is that Maxwell didn’t bring it up during the Oversight Committee interview. Again, here’s Sharyl Attkisson:

So that seems to be what is happening here. Rep. Cummings is trying to cast doubt on Raymond Maxwell’s story, one which is potentially a genuine Benghazi blockbuster and a serious problem for Hillary Clinton. Cummings is not denying the facts of the story per se, he’s just trying to cast doubt on it by pointing out that Maxwell didn’t tell Oversight this during his interview last year. But the more important fact is that Maxwell did voluntarily tell Rep. Chaffetz (and Rep. Gowdy) about this incident last year.

Finally, though this is not directly relevant to the questions raised above, it does suggest where this will likely be heading. Get ready for silly partisan excuses to ignore Ray Maxwell’s story:

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