At least someone in the MSM covers Benghazi
Jay Carney insists Benghazi, Libya, is not a scandal, but then he doesn't admit to having misled the media about the origin of the attacks. The administration now tells CBS News, "We're portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots. It's actually closer to us being idiots." It would be nice if the source specified what part(s) of the administration were idiotic and why it's "closer" but not all attributable to incompetence.
The problem with claiming incompetence is two-fold. First, it raises the question as to where the president was on Sept. 11, 2012, and whether former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, because of sins of commission or omission, is among the "idiots." Second, if they did screw up badly, then the prevarication after the fact makes more sense.
The report from CBS News tells us that at least on background some in the administration acknowledge:
The list of mea culpas by Obama administration officials involved in the Benghazi response and aftermath include: standing down the counterterrorism Foreign Emergency Support Team, failing to convene the Counterterrorism Security Group, failing to release the disputed Benghazi "talking points" when Congress asked for them, and using the word "spontaneous" while avoiding the word "terrorism."
And, of course, at the time there were no U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) forces in the area. Moreover, neither the CIA (which had the lion's share of the forces in Benghazi) nor the State Department had adequate security in place.
Many of these reflect on the failure to take seriously the growing menace of al-Qaeda in North Africa and President Obama and Clinton's failures to organize their underlings and set strategy. And, both in the aftermath played up the anti-Muslim video which we now know as a "non-event" in Libya.
Would the people who spoke to CBS News testify under oath, and why haven't those who did testify admitted any of this? They should, and that includes White House national security advisers who were in the thick of this.
Bob Woodward says, "I would not dismiss Benghazi," as the president has tried to do. Blanket announcements by the media or the White House that it is a made up scandal with no attempt to wrestle with the nitty-gritty facts, the executive inattention and the strategic negligence aren't compelling. For one thing, it is cause for concern when the administration can admit in private such gross errors yet no one will admit that publicly. If nothing else, it is a scandal that we still don't know what the president was doing, how we left our people as sitting ducks and why so many people who should have known better could have come up with a cock and bull story, for which, by the way, they never came forward to tell us that what they had said had been wrong.
Come to think of it, there is one big difference between Benghazi and Watergate. In the latter, the press was interested and determined to get to the truth, not content to say, "Nixon has enemies." In the former, the lack of curiosity if not skepticism is a sign how far we've come from a truly aggressive, independent media to act as a check on government.
The 10 most bizarre things about the IRS scandal
If you have been following the Internal Revenue Service scandal over the past 24 hours or so, you may be reeling, just a bit. And if you haven't, you've missed an out-of-body experience in which the IRS, the administration and Democrats seem to think Americans are a bunch of dopes.
1. At his contentious hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, Steven T. Miller, the IRS's outgoing acting commissioner, denied anything illegal was done. He denied targeting groups. But yes, groups with "tea party" and other conservative flags got different treatment. It was bad, what they did, he allowed. No buzz word like "progressive" was used to flag liberal groups. And he wants a bigger IRS budget. (Honestly, you can't make this up.)
2. The IRS did not reveal the scandal before the 2012 election. The IRS falsely informed Congress the targeting wasn't going on. Even NBC's Lisa Myers could figure out, "Imagine if we -- if you can -- what would have happened if this fact came out in September 2012, in the middle of a presidential election? The terrain would have looked very different."
3. Miller said this was a matter of "horrible customer service."
4. Miller asserted that the woman who ran the group that engaged in this behavior and is now running the Obamacare unit is a "superb civil servant." (Right about now, you might think he was pulling our leg, but he was sincere.)
5. Miller can't identify who thought up the scheme.
6. Yesterday, the president, when asked if the White House knew about the scandal before it was revealed, would only say he didn't know about what was in the Inspector General's report until the report was released. If anyone in the White House was aware of the misconduct and kept it from coming out before the election, this will be one really big problem for them.
7. Some House Democrats on the committee repeatedly sought to blame the Citizens United case, which ruled about dollar limits on third-party groups, including those at issue in the IRS scandal. That is a bit like blaming the tax code for Al Capone's tax evasion.
8. However, some Democrats, maybe sensing that this looks really, really bad, expressed outrage and agreed there needs to be more investigation. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said that when it turned out there had been targeting the IRS was obligated to inform Congress. Officials then did not do so.
9. Miller smirked, rolled his eyes and repeatedly refused to answer questions to the obvious dismay of Republicans trying to figure out what the heck went on.
10. The IRS may have leaked confidential tax information from one group to other, according to some of those singled out by the IRS. But it is not yet clear this occurred. (This would definitely be illegal, Mr. Miller.) Recall that during the campaign the Obama team referred to the Koch brothers tax returns. We don't know if that is related to this scandal. Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Republicans raised an instances in which this was reported, including one involving the National Organization for Marriage.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the hearing, ""What we don't know at this point is whether it jumped the fence from the IRS to the White House. But we do know this: We can't count on the administration to be forthcoming about the details of this scandal — because so far they've been anything but."
Those who imagine the federal government is both dishonest and incompetent had their worst suspicions confirmed over the last couple of days.
Five questions about the AP surveillance
As is their pattern, defenders of the president offer a straw man in regard to the subpoena of Associated Press phone records: Shouldn't we investigate leaks?
Duh, yes. The entire question, however, revolves around the extent of the probe and its necessity. Only the Richard Nixon fan club would argue, for example, that it is okay to willy-nilly conduct surveillance of the press on a leak that wasn't actually a threat to national security.
The AP issue revolves around several issues.
Did the AP endanger national security?
For five days, reporters at the Associated Press had been sitting on a big scoop about a foiled al-Qaeda plot at the request of CIA officials. Then, in a hastily scheduled Monday morning meeting, the journalists were asked by agency officials to hold off on publishing the story for just one more day.
The CIA officials, who had initially cited national security concerns in an attempt to delay publication, no longer had those worries, according to individuals familiar with the exchange. Instead, the Obama administration was planning to announce the successful counterterrorism operation that Tuesday.
In this vein the investigation looks like a peevish retaliation against the A.P. for ruining the administration's bragging when it finally published after the all-clear advisory. It looks even worse for the administration when you consider:
When the journalists rejected a plea to hold off longer, the CIA then offered a compromise. Would they wait a day if AP could have the story exclusively for an hour, with no government officials confirming it for that time?
The reporters left the meeting to discuss the idea with their editors. Within an hour, an administration official was on the line to AP's offices.
The White House had quashed the one-hour offer as impossible. AP could have the story exclusively for five minutes before the White House made its own announcement. AP then rejected the request to postpone publication any longer.
Under these circumstances, it is hard to believe that the AP's release of the story on Monday threatened national security. In fact, the news organization was explicitly told at that point that it did not. Foiling the ability of the administration to chest-thump is not the same as endangering national security.
What direction did the White House give?
We know this administration is leak-obsessed. It has prosecuted more leaks than any administration while self-leaking favorable data on the Osama bin Laden assassination to the dismay of then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Was there a standing order (or one given in this case) to go after leaks without regard to First Amendment concerns and in contravention of standing Department of Justice rules for limiting the scope of investigations invading reporters' privacy? Did the president ever make clear (as he has in self-serving speeches after the fact) that there had to be a balance between First Amendment rights and national security?
What's up with Eric Holder?
He needs to fess up about what actions he took before allegedly recusing himself, whom he put in charge, what direction that person was given, how others in DOJ were made aware of the recusal and whether that recusal was compromised in any way.
What was the deputy attorney general James Cole thinking?
As detailed in their letter to Cole and Holder, about 50 news organizations assert that DOJ did not follow legal guidelines on investigations that impair First Amendment rights:
Subpoenas of the news media for testimony and evidence are governed by the Attorney General's guidelines found at 28 C.F.R. 50.10 and incorporated into the U.S. Attorney's Manual (See 9-13.400). These guidelines were enacted in 1972 and were expanded specifically to cover telephone records in 1980. They were developed to accommodate both the interests of the government in prosecuting crime and the First Amendment interests in reporting on issues of public concern. We know this to be true because the Reporters Committee played a role in their promulgation. In this instance, where the department subpoenaed two months of records related to 20 telephone lines, including records from major AP bureaus and the home phone and cellphone records of individual journalists, the department appears to have ignored or brushed aside almost every aspect of the guidelines.
The news organizations then detailed the ways in which the A.P. investigation did not conform to the guidelines designed to protect the First Amendment. Cole's reply was as amateurish as it was unilluminating. He claims narrowing the time period to two months was sufficient. He said the massive surveillance was taken after 550 interviews, but says he can't say anything more. Why should we trust him? His squirrely response includes no mention of the negotiation with the AP described above.
With whom did Cole consult, and did the White House have knowledge about spying on the AP?
It is hard to fathom that a deputy attorney general would take on an unprecedented intrusion into a news organization on his own without consulting anyone. It is important to know with whom he consulted and if any political appointees inside or outside of the DOJ were involved.
The Justice Department obviously can't and won't investigate itself. This is precisely the reason for an independent prosecutor to be appointed. Otherwise a gross abuse of power and Holder's own testimony can't be investigated.
Congress can certainly conduct hearings, but I suspect Holder et. al won't cooperate.
There is another way of getting at this: Sue the Justice Department. That's right. In the Bivens case from 1971, the Supreme Court found there was an implied right of action for individuals to sue authorities who violated their Fourth Amendment rights. Bivens was subsequently held to apply to a variety of other constitutional violations, including the First Amendment. This is precisely the sort of case in which a Bivens action against Holder, Cole and/or others can be used both to remedy the wrong done to the AP and its employees and to conduct discovery into what occurred. I am sure attorneys would line up around the block to take the case pro bono.
In short, the AP case is serious and an affront to a free press. If the president won't appoint a prosecutor independent from the Justice Department and won't cooperate with Congress, the AP and/or the affected reporters and editors should take to the courts. Indeed, I would suggest it is their ethical obligation to do so.
Holder is at it again: Do these guys ever tell the truth?
When Attorney General Eric Holder appeared at a Judiciary Committee hearing this week, most of the attention was on Benghazi. My colleague Glenn Kessler reports on a less widely remarked upon exchange this week between Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Holder during the fiery hearing. The issue concerned the contempt citation issued by Congress with regard to Holder's refusal to turn over documents regarding the Fast and Furious debacle.
Asked if Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, made his own decision regarding whether to prosecute Holder for criminal contempt of Congress, Holder said:
I did not order Mr. Machen not to do anything with regard to — I won't characterize it — the contempt finding from this Congress. He made the determination about what he was going to do on his own."
But that was false. As Glenn explains, Holder's deputy James Cole (the same one who subpoenaed the Associated Press's phone records) wrote to Machen even before the contempt citation reached the U.S. attorney's office telling Manchen that the DOJ "has determined that the Attorney General's response to the subpoena issued by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform does not constitute a crime."
Whoa. The Justice Department is preemptively telling the U.S. attorney to forget about enforcing the contempt citation? And Holder said the DOJ didn't have anything to do with it. "From this record, it is pretty clear that Machen did not make the decision on his own, as Holder asserted," Glenn concludes.
Well, get this: Holder's offices says the AG "misspoke." The DOJ claimed, ""Since he had not been involved, he did not recall the details." So instead he made something up at the hearing. Got it.
How many times have we seen this routine from the administration? There is a screw-up, a conflict of interest or an instance of overreach (e.g. Benghazi, IRS, AP). Then comes a misstatement (no higher ups at the IRS knew about targeting opponents; the Benghazi incident stemmed from a spontaneous demonstration; the Health and Human Services secretary didn't shake down health-care companies; the sequester will be a cataclysmic event) or a simply unbelievable assertion (Holder recused himself from the AP case with no evidence of having done so). Then comes a claim of ignorance (the president knows nothing about anything; Holder didn't know about communications on the contempt citation or about the AP records request). They do it again and again.
You can buy this routine once or twice. But when the prevarication repeats over and over again, followed by more prevarication about the original falsehoods ( We said it was terrorism right away!), you get the sense the truth doesn't matter. What matters is keeping Congress and the media at bay, ducking accountability and wielding power over other branches of government, the press and political opponents.
This is how the public and, belatedly, the mainstream media get to the point at which they trust nothing coming out of the administration. Virtually nothing said is the whole truth; the trick is in finding out what part is false and trying to determine whether the falsehood is intentional or not.
The president's defenders increasingly sound like an "Onion" headline ("Obama Supporter Has Perfectly Improbable Explanation Absolving President From Blame For Scandals"). But if you've been paying attention, it's no longer possible to conclude this crew is leveling with us.
The week the dam broke for Obama
This was arguably the most consequential week of President Obama's second term, maybe of either. What changed?
The insanity of allowing the Internal Revenue Service to implement and police Obamacare reached its apex when ABC News reported:
The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation.
Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS' Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.
Her successor, Joseph Grant, is taking the fall for misdeeds at the scandal-plagued unit between 2010 and 2012. During at least part of that time, Grant served as deputy commissioner of the tax-exempt unit.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a terse reaction Thursday evening: "Stunning, just stunning."
Mainstream reporters and a good chunk of the punditocracy have turned against the president. When everyone from Jon Stewart to Bob Schieffer is ragging on Obama for his feigned cluelessness about multiple scandals, you know there has been a shift in the political landscape.
The president's every utterance is now viewed with heightened skepticism, and Republicans' complaints on everything from Benghazi to Obamacare look a whole lot more credible. (Being on the money will do that for you.)
Media Matters beclowned itself in defending the Justice Department's snooping on the Associated Press and reminded us how many liberal media figures simply follow its talking points, no matter how silly.
Jay Carney's serial misstatements on Benghazi caught up with him when he upped the ante and falsely denied making inaccurate representations to the media (e.g. only "stylistic" changes in the talking points, he said).
No one can be certain we've seen the last of the scandals. The IRS, Department of Justice, HHS (shaking down health-care companies for "contributions" to Obamacare) and now the EPA ("The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general will review claims the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refuses to waive public records fees for conservative groups while granting the waivers for environmental organizations") give the impression that there is widespread misuse of power in the Obama administration. Every agency whistleblower in town and every oversight committee will be piling on if they find similar instances of harassment of the president's political opponents.
In 2013, it is becoming as toxic as being associated with George W. Bush in his second term and scrambles expectations about 2014 and 2016. Both could very well be change elections rather than "endorse Obama" and "give him a third term," respectively.
The argument for Republican control of the Senate got a whole lot stronger, and the one for Democratic control of the House got a whole lot weaker. Oversight, oversight, oversight. Democrats who were asleep at the wheel and who rubber-stamped Obama nominees better look alert and not be seen as running interference for him. If the Democrats aren't going to be a check on the executive, then the GOP should have control of Congress, the argument goes.
The public takes this stuff very seriously, and Obama risks losing his perpetual advantage in approval over Congress. Gallup reports: "Most Americans agree that both of these situations are serious enough to warrant continuing investigation, with little difference in views of the two — 74% for the IRS matter and 69% for Benghazi. Americans place similar importance on these two issues despite the administration's appearing to give more weight to the IRS situation." And that's with more than half of Democrats trying to pay as little attention as possible (sort of like the president!) to the scandals.
In other words, this week really was a game-changer.