Given all of the new developments that seem to be occurring regarding Obama administration scandals, it’s a safe bet that five minutes after this blog post gets published, it will be out of date. But at least we can record the state of the administration’s scandals for the moment … until we discover, of course, that things are a lot worse than we thought they might be.
First off, it’s worth noting anew that when it rains, it pours:
When two storms collide, the weather gets hairy. For President Obama, the IRS and Benghazi stories converged this weekend for a self-inflicted tempest that threatens his credibility.
His people can’t get their stories straight.
Internal Revenue Service officials denied for months the targeting of conservative political groups for reviews of their tax exempt status. With investigators poised to expose the chilling operation, a high-ranking IRS official acknowledged it late last week and apologized for it.
The agency blamed low-level employees, saying no high-level officials were aware. That appears to be untrue. The Associated Press reported Saturday that senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting tea party groups as early as 2011, according to a draft of an inspector general’s report.
Politicizing the IRS threatens the integrity of an agency entrusted with Americans’ secrets and the taxes that fund government. It also fuels the paranoia of conspiracy theorists.
“This is outrageous,” said Democratic consultant Chris Kofinis. “The administration and the president need to condem this and act immediately. This is not a right-left issue.”
Several other Democratic allies of the White House expressed similiar sentiments while refusing to be named out of fear of retribution. Kofinis, who specializes in political communications, said the White House needs to explain itself. “Your first response can’t be to say the IRS is an independent agency,” a claim the White House has made, he said.
Later, at a White House news conference, Obama forcefully denounced the IRS actions as “outrageous” and said people will be held accountable.
On Benghazi, the president’s U.N. ambassador said five days after the Libya attack that the incident grew out of a street protest rather than a terrorist attack. Caught fudging the facts in the middle of a presidential campaign, a race in which Obama’s anti-terrorism record was a major selling point, the White House blamed Ambassador Susan Rice’s statement on “talking points” concocted by the CIA in virtual isolation.
Obama’s team stuck with that story until the truth was exposed amid a GOP congressional investigation. Emails leaked to news organizations last week show that both the White House and State Department were directly involved in scrubbing the CIA talking points of any mention of past threats and al-Qaida involvement. That is the exact opposite of what the Obama White House had claimed.
Inexplicably, White House spokesman Jay Carney refused late Friday to acknowledge the contradiction.
Even worse, Obama himself ignored his administration’s obfuscations today, and instead called the debate over shifting explanations “a sideshow.” At the news conference, he turned the tables on GOP critics and accused them of playing “political games.”
Concerning Benghazi, Glenn Kessler is forced to give the president four whole Pinocchios for his claim that he called the attacks in Benghazi “an act of terrorism.
Now, let’s turn to the IRS scandal. As has been noted many a time, Joe Klein has been an Obamaphile since Barack Obama first emerged on the national scene. But lately, Klein has had trouble defending the president:
Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government. And the President should know this: the absence of scandal is not the presence of competence. His unwillingness to concentrate — and I mean concentrate obsessively — on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.
Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.
Oh, lest you think that we are finished with the IRS scandal, behold:
The IRS acting chief acknowledged Tuesday that the agency demonstrated “a lack of sensitivity” in its screenings of political groups seeking tax-exempt status, but he said those mistakes won’t be repeated.
In his first public comment on the case, Steven Miller said there was “a shortcut taken in our processes” for determining which groups needed special screening.
Miller has emerged as a key figure in the controversy over the IRS’ singling out of conservative groups for extra scrutiny. President Barack Obama said Monday that if the agency intentionally targeted such groups, “that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it.”
In an opinion piece in Tuesday’s editions of USA Today, Miller said conceded that the agency demonstrated “a lack of sensitivity to the implications of some of the decisions that were made.” He said screening of advocacy groups is “factually complex, and it’s challenging to separate out political issues from those involving education or social welfare.”
“The mistakes we made were due to the absence of a sufficient process for working the increase in cases and a lack of sensitivity to the implications of some of the decisions that were made,” Miller wrote.
Miller said the agency has implemented new procedures that will “ensure the mistakes won’t be repeated.”
On Monday, the IRS said Miller was first informed on May, 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were inappropriately singled out for extra scrutiny. Congress, though, was not told tea party groups were being inappropriately targeted, even after Miller had been briefed on the matter.
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 disclosing that tea party groups had been targeted. On July 25, 2012, Miller testified before the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee, but again did not mention the additional scrutiny — despite being asked about it.
Miller’s op-ed, however, did not address why he did not inform Congress after he was briefed.
The same Internal Revenue Service office that singled out Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny also challenged Israel-related organizations, at least one of which filed suit over the agency’s handling of its application for tax-exempt status.
The trouble for the Israel-focused groups seems to have had different origins than that experienced by conservative groups, but at times the effort seems to have been equally ham-handed.
A leader of one of the organizations involved, Lori Lowenthal Marcus of Z Street, said Monday that she was convinced the added attention her group got was no accident.“I can’t believe it was just about Z Street, because it’s a tiny organization,” Lowenthal Marcus said of the group, which has been critical of President Barack Obama for being too cozy with left-leaning Jewish groups like J Street and with pro-Palestinian entities.
Maybe this story regarding Larry Conners’s claims is filled with falsehoods. But how many of you are willing to cavalierly dismiss it?
Larry Conners, a veteran local news anchor at KMOV Channel 4 in St. Louis, says that the Internal Revenue Service has been targeting him since an April 2012 interview he conducted with President Obama — a fact that he dismissed as coincidence until the recent reports about the IRS targeting conservative groups.
“Shortly after I did my April 2012 interview with President Obama, my wife, friends and some viewers suggested that I might need to watch out for the IRS. I don’t accept ‘conspiracy theories’, but I do know that almost immediately after the interview, the IRS started hammering me,” Conners wrote on his Facebook page late Monday night.
And this story serves as a hilarious momentary coda to the IRS scandal.
Things have now gotten bad enough with the IRS scandal that the Department of Justice has been forced to investigate. But the Department of Justice has its own problems:
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.
In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt said.
There is a background to this latest scandal that is worth mentioning:
President Barack Obama came into office pledging an unprecedented commitment to government transparency. During his first days in the Oval Office, Obama issued an executive order and two memoranda that were supposed to create a new climate of openness in Washington. One of the memos instructed government officials to “adopt a presumption in favor” of releasing information.
Nine months later, Obama needs to reread his own instructions. A federal shield law for journalists that had been moving forward with broad support is now bogged down in the Senate Judiciary Committee due to limitations on information sought by the administration.
The Free Flow of Information Act strikes a reasonable balance between the public’s right to know and the government’s responsibility to protect the citizenry. It recognizes a reporter’s right to protect confidential sources in limited circumstances, as 36 states - including Texas - do.
The measure, however, would also compel journalists to disclose their sources in cases of imminent threats to national security or critical infrastructure and when the safety or welfare of individuals is at stake. In such cases, the government would take its arguments in favor of disclosing a reporter’s confidential sources before an impartial judge.
The administration initially supported this equitable process. Recently, however, it has decided it wants to be the arbiter of national security and its judge and jury. With White House opposition, the federal shield law legislation is now in danger of foundering in the Senate or being weakened to the point of ineffectuality.
This story is from three years ago. I guess it should have served as a warning of sorts. More:
Reporters across The Associated Press are outraged over the Justice Department’s sweeping seizure of staff phone records — and they say such an intrusion could chill their relationships with confidential sources.
In conversations with POLITICO on Tuesday, several AP staffers in Washington, D.C., described feelings of anger and frustration with the DOJ and with the Obama administration in general.
“People are pretty mad — mad that government has not taken what we do seriously,” one reporter said on Tuesday. “When the news broke yesterday … people were outraged and disgusted. No one was yelling and screaming, but it was like, ‘Are you kidding me!?’”
So, that’s a lot of scandals, and a lot of news about scandals. Which makes this
At Rep. Steny Hoyer’s weekly meeting with reporters on Tuesday, the Maryland Democrat was asked if he was concerned about the DOJ seizing phone records from Associated Press journalists working in the House press gallery in the Capitol building.
Hoyer’s answer was well-delivered: Articulate, clear, firm and precise.
One problem: He responded to the wrong scandal.
“The IRS activity was inappropriate, inconsistent with our policies and practices as a country, very concerning, needs to be reviewed carefully,” Hoyer, one of the top-ranking House Democrats, said in response to a question from Fox News’ Chad Pergram about the DOJ. “We need to ensure that this does not happen again, and we need to find out how long it continued, when it was stopped. It is my understanding—there was a front-page story on this at the [Washington] Post—it’s my understanding that [IRS official] Lois Lerner, who was apparently overseeing this, at some point in time found out about this and said …”
When Hoyer named Lerner, Pergram interrupted.
“We’re talking about two things,” Pergram, who apparently had not heard the first mention of the IRS, said from across the table, “You said Lois Lerner and the IRS.”
Another reporter sitting closer to Hoyer, Public Radio International’s Todd Zwillich, learned over and said softly, “He’s talking about the AP story.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, excuse me,” Hoyer said, pausing briefly. “Whatever happened, we need to find out why it happened. But clearly it should not have happened. I don’t know enough about whether there was a warrant sought.”
Boom. He nailed it!
But Hoyer wasn’t finished.
“I don’t know fully the rationalization or justification that was being used, but the president’s statement that it was outrageous, that there was no place for it and that they have to be held fully accountable is a statement in which I agree,” Hoyer went on to say.
The only problem is that President Barack Obama didn’t comment about the DOJ story. And he certainly didn’t call it “outrageous.” In fact, the White House has declined to say much of anything about the DOJ investigation. Was he talking about the IRS story again? Yup.