3 scandals and 3 scandals-in-waiting: The Obama Administration’s very bad week


Media supporters of the Obama Administration have long said there is a lack of scandal in the Obama Administration. Joe Klein of Time did so last week in a post hammering the IRS for investigating “Tea Party” and “Patriot” groups:

The President has been very proud of the absence of scandal in his Administration, and rightly so. The inability of his opponents to find any significant corruption in the historic $800 billion stimulus package was a real achievement, given the speed of the payout. None of his top aides have been caught up in taking bribes while in office — although their race through the revolving door into lucrative private-sector positions is well beyond nauseating.

Well, even the most ardent backer of President Obama can no longer say that. Consider just the last week:

  1. We now know the Administration made multiple changes to the “talking points” used after the Benghazi disaster – despite White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s claim to the opposite only days ago.
  2. Obviously, the IRS has admitted to giving special investigative attention to “Tea Party” and other groups that tend towards conservative leanings.
  3. The Department of Justice tapped the Associated Press’ phone lines last year.

Next, the “scandal-in-waiting” department:

  1. Think Progress provides an update on how and why the FBI thinks it can read your e-mails without a warrant.
  2. Top ABC, CBS, and CNN executives have relatives working as advisors in the White House.
  3. The ACLU wanted information on warrantless text snooping by the federal government. One FOIA request later, they got their answer…15 pages of redacted information.

From the top, what’s going in each of these situations:

As is well-known by now, Benghazi has been a disaster for the Obama Administration – one the mainstream media is finally picking up on. The reason it’s been ignored? Many in the media assumed it was a right-wing conspiracy, a misconception that is finally beginning to end.

To quote George Will:

We know that Mr. Hicks, the night of the attack, speaking from Libya, said pretty much what it was, an armed interaction, not a movie review conducted with rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

Five days later on this program and on four other Sunday morning programs, the idea of an exceptionally boisterous movie review was still the administration’s position.

And then, 14 days after the attack, at the UN, it was the same thing.

We started out with three arguments. Was security lax in Benghazi? Demonstrably. Could forces have been there to rescue them? Doubtful. Has the nation been systemically misled? Certainly.

Regarding the IRS, on Friday one Lois Lerner said the efforts were limited to “low-level” employees in Ohio. Yet, according to The Washington Post, officials in D.C. and California were also involved:

IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations, while officials in the El Monte and Laguna Niguel offices in California sent similar questionnaires to tea-party-affiliated groups, the documents show.

Of course, the President has said this is unacceptable – three days after the IRS brought this to light, and only when pressed at a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Meanwhile, it turns out the acting IRS Commissioner knew about these investigations a year ago, even going so far so as to mislead Congress on the goings-on:

At least twice after the briefing, Miller wrote letters to members of Congress to explain the process of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status without revealing that tea party groups had been targeted. On July 25, 2012, Miller testified before the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee but again was not forthcoming on the issue — despite being asked about it.

At the hearing, Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Texas, told Miller that some politically active tax-exempt groups in his district had complained about being harassed. Marchant did not explicitly ask if tea party groups were being targeted. But he did ask how applications were handled.

Miller responded, “We did group those organizations together to ensure consistency, to ensure quality. We continue to work those cases,” according to a transcript on the committee’s website.

He added, “It is my hope that some of the noise that we heard earlier this year has abated as we continue to work through these cases.”

Earlier, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., had raised concerns with the IRS about complaints that tea party groups were being harassed. Boustany specifically mentioned tea party groups in his inquiry.

But in a June 15, 2012, letter to Boustany, Miller gave a generic response. He said that when the IRS saw an increase in applications from groups that were involved in political activity, the agency “took steps to coordinate the handling of the case to ensure consistency.”

He added that agents worked with tax law experts “to develop approaches and materials that could be helpful to the agents working the cases.”

Bonus: in case you’re curious, Pajamas Media has the list of people who head the IRS’ department for non-profits.

Next up is the Department of Justice’s tapping of the Associated Press’ phone lines. But don’t worry – the President didn’t know about this one, either:

The Obama administration has aggressively investigated disclosures of classified information to the media and has brought six cases against people suspected of providing classified information, more than under all previous presidents combined.

The White House on Monday said that other than press reports it had no knowledge of Justice Department attempts to seek AP phone records.

“We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department,” spokesman Jay Carney said.

This maneuver is getting a bipartisan smackdown as well:

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the investigative House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on CNN, “They had an obligation to look for every other way to get it before they intruded on the freedom of the press.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an emailed statement: “The burden is always on the government when they go after private information, especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources. … On the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden. I am very troubled by these allegations and want to hear the government’s explanation.”

The American Civil Liberties Union said the use of subpoenas for a broad swath of records has a chilling effect both on journalists and whistleblowers who want to reveal government wrongdoing. “The attorney general must explain the Justice Department’s actions to the public so that we can make sure this kind of press intimidation does not happen again,” said Laura Murphy, the director of ACLU’s Washington legislative office.

Think Progress reports the Administration – I mean, the Department of Justice, independent from the Administration proper – went after the Associated Press because an article last year may have endangered a CIA agent:

AP learned of the plot a week before publishing, but “agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately” due to national security concerns. But, by reporting the CIA’s involvement in foiling the plot, they put[Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] on notice that the CIA had a window into their activities. The AP’s reporting also led to other stories involving an operative in place within [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], and details of the operations he was involved in. That operative, it was feared, would be exposed and targeted by AQAP as retribution for siding with the United States.

The Associated Press’ President’s blistering letter to the DOJ can be seen here, and the DOJ’s statement here. (H/T to Ed Morrissey for both links.

On to the scandals-in-waiting. First, regarding the media, it turns out the Presidents of ABC and CBS have siblings working on “foreign policy issues” related to Benghazi in the White House. A higher-up at CNN is married to a former Clinton deputy at the State Department. While it is doubtful absolute proof can be found that this is why these organizations have largely ignored Benghazi, these organizations should have been forthright in their links to the White House, and vice-versa.

Otherwise, nasty suspicions and concerns can start popping up, like whether they ignored Benghazi to help their siblings.

Next up, Think Progress has an update on a long-standing FBI policy of reading e-mails without permission. While this is not an issue solely on the back of the Obama Administration, it is an issue that should have been dealt with by any number of Administrations, including the current one.

And, finally, the most transparent administration ever is not so transparent. Reason Foundation has the short, if depressing, story, on how the ACLU’s information quest regarding text message snooping was, to quote National Review’s Kevin Williamson, “not from The Onion, which lacks sufficient imagination.”

The Administration is under a ton of fire for the three big scandals above. Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow slammed it for the IRS scandal last night, and Morning Joe hit the Administration for the Associated Press wiretapping earlier today. And Josh Feldman of Mediaite pointed out that the Tea Party, as is its nature, does not really have a true leader around which everyone has coalesced – making it the perfect piñata for targeting by the Administration and its media allies.

While the President may have won re-election partially thanks to the IRS not making its scandal public, and the media’s shameful silence on Benghazi, these scandals may cripple his second term, at the very least because they distract his efforts from his legislative agenda (speaking of which, let’s not let these scandals distract us from the immigration bill in the Senate) and may prove valuable in 2014.

Oh, and the silver lining here? The Tea Party is no longer seen as paranoid or radical all of a sudden. Now, we are the victims of a government we have been warning about for four years. This is especially relevant considering it was this President who said the following just last week:

They’ll warn that tyranny always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

A final note on the IRS scandal that really puts everything into context: According to Ed Timperlake – a former Marine fighter pilot and the first Assistant Secretary for Congressional & Public Affairs, and Public and Intergovernmental Government Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs when it became a Cabinet-under President George H.W. Bush– the IRS’ original story last Friday about the Tea Party investigations was false not only because agency outlets in California and D.C. were involved, but because of the use of the term “low-level” in the claim.

The term “low-level” is entirely dishonest spin. To head a local branch of the IRS, you are usually a GS-15 or possibly a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES). A GS-15 is the military equivalent of a Navy Aircraft Carrier Captain and an SES ranks at the US Military General Officer equivalent. That’s not low-level at all.

I can’t wait to see which “low-level” people are responsible for Benghazi, the AP wiretaps, Fast & Furious, etc. Attorney General and Secretary of State are “low-level” positions, right?