Suit Over Firing Exposes Strife Within Benghazi Panel
The Republican leaders of a House committee who have been in a bitter partisan battle with Democrats are enmeshed in a new fight with one of the committee’s former staff members.
A former investigator for the Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi plans to file a complaint in federal court next month alleging that he was fired unlawfully in part because his superiors opposed his efforts to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in the Libyan city. Instead, they focused primarily on the role of the State Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, he said.
The former investigator, Bradley F. Podliska, a major in the Air Force Reserve who is on active duty in Germany, also claims that the committee’s majority staff retaliated against him for taking leave for several weeks to go on active duty. If true, the retaliation would violate the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which Major Podliska plans to invoke in his complaint, according to a draft that was made available to The New York Times.
The committee firmly disputed Major Podliska’s allegations, saying Saturday that he had been “terminated for cause.”
In a statement, the committee cited Major Podliska’s “repeated efforts, of his own volition, to develop and direct committee resources to a PowerPoint ‘hit piece’ on members of the Obama administration, including Secretary Clinton, that bore no relationship whatsoever to the committee’s current investigative tone, focus or investigative plan.”
“Thus, directly contrary to his brand-new assertion, the employee actually was terminated, in part, because he himself manifested improper partiality and animus in his investigative work,” the statement said. “The committee vigorously denies all of his allegations. Moreover, once legally permitted to do, the committee stands ready to prove his termination was legal, justified and warranted — on multiple levels.”
In countering the complaints, the statement said Major Podliska had “never previously raised any allegation with respect to his work involving Secretary Clinton (other than that he was not allowed to do it) throughout.”
In his complaint, Major Podliska, 41, acknowledges that he was told that he was being fired for three infractions, the most serious of which was mishandling classified information, although he disputes the charge. Major Podliska is seeking compensation for lost wages, reinstatement in his former job if possible and, if not, future wages that he will forgo as a result of his termination. He is also seeking an injunction requiring the committee to follow the uniformed employment law.
The House committee is under increasing criticism for what critics say is the partisan nature of its investigation. In late September, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority leader, rekindled these suspicions when he suggested that damaging Mrs. Clinton’s presidential prospects was a welcome byproduct of the committee’s investigation.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” Mr. McCarthy said on Fox News. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
Major Podliska, a lifelong Republican, holds a doctorate in political science from Texas A & M University and spent more than 15 years working at a federal defense agency, as an intelligence analyst for much of that time.
In September 2014, he began working for the Benghazi committee, on which his role was to investigate the way that various federal agencies in Washington responded to the attack, in which four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed.
But two things changed in March, Major Podliska said. First, after revelations that Mrs. Clinton relied exclusively on a private email server for her State Department correspondence, the committee became preoccupied with the State Department’s role in the controversy surrounding the Benghazi attack and less interested in a comprehensive investigation.
Second, Major Podliska informed his superiors around the same time that he would need to perform 39 days of active duty for the Air Force in Germany in a handful of intervals, beginning with the middle of that month. (The length of the leave later rose slightly.)
According to Major Podliska’s complaint, another senior staff member, Dana Chipman, who had served as the Army’s judge advocate general, questioned whether he “really needs to go to Germany.”
Major Podliska said in an interview that he believed other staffers were skeptical of his obligations as a reservist and annoyed that he would take time off just as the committee had received its biggest break since being formed in May 2014 — the Clinton email revelations.
The committee statement said that as a staff member, Major Podliska had received “repeated counseling for performance and lack of judgment.” The statement also said he “has continued to imagine a variety of new, outlandish, never previously mentioned, allegations since his departure.”
Among them, according to the statement, was a view that his supervisors, including the former judge advocate general of the Army, “somehow manifested an antimilitary animus toward him.”
“We are confident that the facts and evidence give no support to the wild imagination fueling these and any future allegations,” the statement said.
Major Podliska said that when he returned from active duty in late March, much of the committee staff, which had been investigating leads across numerous agencies, had been redeployed to focus primarily on Mrs. Clinton and the State Department.
Despite the change in focus, Major Podliska continued to work on his examination of the response in Washington to the attack, only to meet escalating resistance from his superiors, according to his complaint. In his view, they felt he was not focusing enough on Mrs. Clinton’s alleged mistakes, a criticism he considered odd given that his findings were far from favorable to her.
“My thing was actually related to Hillary — I just wasn’t all in on Hillary,” he said in the interview. “I was finding other officials at other agencies that bore responsibility for the post-attack piece.”
Major Podliska was fired in late June. One of his lawyers ... said the PowerPoint in question was not a “hit piece,” but a presentation about the response in Washington to the Benghazi attacks. He said that an intern for the committee acting on their own had sought to supplement the PowerPoint with a video aggressively attacking the administration. When Major Podliska saw the video, he told the intern it was inappropriate, but proposed adding a separate video element to his PowerPoint.