How ironic? In what will inevitably invoke comparisons to the 2009 Iranian election protests, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denounced the government’s decision to bar his chief aid from entering the upcoming election. The Associated Press reports that Ahmadinejad will use all his remaining political clout to challenge the right for his confidant, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei to seek candidacy.
Other Iranian reformers with more progressive platforms were also left off the list, including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was removed from contention after government officials feared that his name might spark up renewed uprisings. The recent political strife in Iran has led to a released statement from Iran's police chief, Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam, who was quoted this week by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying it was "permissible to spill the blood" of anyone opposing Iran's system called "velayat-e-faqih," loosely translated as rule of the clerics.
The Iranian president, known for his inflammatory threats against Western views, is desperately attempting to hang on to power as the end of his term nears. According to the AP:
“Ahmadinejad — once seen as firmly within the theocracy's fold — is now viewed by the leadership as a troublesome maverick after trying to challenge the authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad's attempt to expand the presidential reach was a costly miscalculation. It collapsed his standing with Khamenei — who stood by him during the 2009 riots and protests — and greatly undercut his influence. Dozens of his allies have been arrested or politically marginalized.”
Though Ahmadinejad has promised to fight this self-described “injustice”, his only alternative move would be to appeal directly to the Ayatollah—an unlikely strategy following his recent outbursts. And while political analysts believe Ahmadinejad could form his own opposition faction, the party’s views wouldn’t differ much from the status quo, and would be a matter of self-preservation for the weakened president.
The title of “president” in Iran is often misunderstood as the top position in Iran when actually the Ayatollah, elected by an assembly of clerics, maintains the final say in all decisions. The current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his Guardian Council are tasked with whittling down the list of over 600 presidential hopefuls.
Iran is host to a number of diverse political factions from ultra-conservative to liberal leaning, but their voices are seldom heard. The Guardian Council enjoys operating under the guise of a democracy, and will inevitably select presidential nominees that fall in line with their own ideology.
The 2009 Iranian protests marked one of the first times a non-Ayatollah sponsored nominee, a member of the Green Movement, had threatened the balance of power in Iran. The rebellion quieted down after the United States and other Western powers refused to lend support. Ayatollah Khamenei was eventually forced to step in and denied repeated requests for an appeal.
Iran appears to be headed for the same economic woes and acidic foreign policy that have tarnished the countries reputation over the past decade. It’s only fitting that President Ahmadinejad, the man whose government defended him during a rigged election, has decided to accuse them of the very same exploit—reiterating the continued narrative of a dysfunctional country suffering from its own hypocrisy.
Yesterday the head of tax exempt organizations at the IRS, Lois Lerner, made an opening statement before the House Oversight Committee claiming she had "done nothing wrong" and then proceeded to plead the Fifth surrounding the IRS targeting of conservative groups. Now, according to counsel and Chairman Darrell Issa, because Lerner made and opening statement before invoking her Fifth Amendment rights, she effectively waived her right to do so and will be called back before the committee to testify. Lerner is also still under subpoena.
Republican Representative Darrell Issa said on Thursday he will call Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner back to testify before his committee on the IRS-Tea Party scandal after she asserted her constitutional right not to answer questions.
"We are obligated to bring Lerner back because she did not properly take the Fifth (Amendment)," Issa said.
"She clearly chose to make her statements and then not open herself up to even any questioning as to the statement she made," said Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
According to a new Rasmussen Report, the majority of Americans believe other agencies outside of the IRS also targeted conservatives. The report also shows the majority of Americans believe the IRS targeting came from Washington and directly from the White House, not a few "low-level" employees Cincinnati.
Most voters think the Internal Revenue Service’s decision to target conservative groups was made in Washington, D.C. and that it wasn’t the only government agency going after these groups.
Just 20% of Likely U.S. Voters believe the IRS’ explanation thus far that low-level employees at its Cincinnati office made the decision to target the conservative groups. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 65% think the orders came from Washington, with 26% who think the decision was made by someone at IRS headquarters and 39% who believe someone who works at the White House made the call.
Sixty-seven percent (67%) of GOP voters think the decision to have the IRS target these conservative groups was made by someone at the White House, and a plurality (41%) of unaffiliated voters agree. Only 13% of Democrats share that assessment.
Suggesting a very high level of skepticism, 60% think it’s at least somewhat likely that other government agencies also targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups. Just 30% consider this unlikely. This includes 39% who say it’s Very Likely other government agencies were involved and only nine percent (9%) who feel it’s Not At All Likely.
Perhaps most stunning is the fact that 37% of Democrats think it likely that other agencies were used to target conservative groups.
In terms of conservatives being targeted by federal agencies, we already have evidence of that with True the Vote's experience.
The group received an unprecedented level of scrutiny from the IRS since its original application for 501(c3) status was filed in 2010. The IRS sent rounds of questions over several years that went as far as demanding to see each and every tweet Engelbrecht had ever sent out and each and every speech she had ever given.
The IRS did not stop there. They demanded to know who had spoken at the group and to see each and every speech the speakers had given. They demanded to know the identities of all members of the group and who had attended their meetings. The list of probing and outlandish questions was exhaustive.
Soon, the IRS began to audit Engelbrecht’s family business and her personally. And the scrutiny from the federal government did not stop with the IRS.
Two DOJ agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) began to make their presence felt in Engelbrecht’s life as well.
“They [FBI] contacted us, asked questions about one of the people who attended a program," Engelbrecht told Breitbart News. "They asked for us to call if he ever showed back up. They repeated [their calls] over time, but no longer about that individual. They said they were just calling to check up with us. They called to check up with us a great deal and said it was ‘routine."
- The president's job approval rating has dipped underwater at 45/51, an eight-point negative swing since last month. He's at 40/52 among independents.
- Attorney General Eric Holder's job approval has plummeted to 28/40 with approximately a third of voters not knowing enough to answer. This may fuel whispers that Holder may be on his way out.
- Obama's trustworthiness quotient is now split evenly, down from positive territory in the months leading up to the election.
- A whopping 68 percent of Americans believe the federal government is "out of control" and threatening basic liberties. Republicans ought to concentrate on articulating an agenda that speaks to that widespread disaffection.
- More Americans label Obama a "lame duck" president than say he's still effective.
The poll asks a few questions about the scandals themselves, which yielded results not too dissimilar from the WaPo and CNN findings we've highlighted this week. In short, people are concerned, think the stories are legitimate, and want to know more. Fox just released a second tranche of data, which also features some interesting nuggets. On gay marriage, a clear majority (41/52) opposes amending the Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman, down from (58/34) in favor ten years ago. And as much as the trio of current scandals may be weighing down Obama's numbers, there's another big wet blanket draped over his presidency:
22. Do you think it would be better to leave the new health care law in place, or would it bebetter to go back to the health care system that was in place in 2009?
Better to keep law: 34 percent
Better to go back to previous system: 56 percent
Fox's 34 percent support level is nearly identical to Kaiser's figure we reported in April. In the new poll, Obamacare is upside down by double digits on this question among men, women, voters of every age group, Republicans and independents. Only Democrats and non-whites say they prefer the new law to the previous system. By a two-to-one margin, Americans say their families will be worse off under the "Affordable Care Act" than prior to its passage. So much for the president's assurances that the law's roll-out is already over for 90 percent of Americans, who should already be "enjoying" its benefits. Obamacare is toxic, and it's likely to get worse as the logistical "train wreck" of implementation plays out, premiums continue to rise, costs explode, and the tainted IRS kicks off enforcement of the hyper-unpopular mandate tax. It could be that the health law is hurting the president just as much as any of the scandals. John Nolte notes that the president's job approval has sunk below the 50 percent mark in four new surveys, including this one. I'll leave you with one of Philip Klein's five reasons why Obama's scandals aren't prone to backfire on Republicans like Bill Clinton's impeachment saga did:
Clinton’s scandal involved sex - Without re-litigating the entire impeachment debate, it’s fair to say that Clinton’s scandal revolved around his sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. This made it a lot easier for Clinton to appeal to Americans’ sense of forgiveness and portray political opponents as prying into his personal life as opposed to dealing with the nation’s problems. In contrast, though both sides debate Obama’s culpability, the issues at the heart of the current scandals are all very serious — dealing with a terrorist attack on a U.S. ambassador, IRS targeting ideological groups of a certain stripe and the Department of Justice spying on journalists. According to a CNN poll released Sunday, “Americans appear to be taking all three controversies very seriously, with 55% saying the IRS and Benghazi matters are very important to the nation and 53% saying the same thing about the AP case.” So, it’s harder to put Republicans on the defensive for investigating these issues than it was to attack the 1998 GOP for expending so much effort investigating Clinton for lying about oral sex.
Click through for the other four. I wonder how the public's opinion on Benghazi might be impacted by this story, which we mentioned on Tuesday but hasn't quite broken through yet -- particularly in light of this data point from the administration.
If there is no other takeaway from the IRS scandal, it is that our Internal Revenue Service needs a serious organizational attitude adjustment. Two examples from recent days come immediately to mind.
First, there's Lois Lerner's invocation of the Fifth Amendment yesterday. Now, in some situations, it's possible to have sympathy for those who, like Lois Lerner, have invoked the Fifth Amendment -- particularly if they're doing so in the context of a politically-delicate, overzealous federal prosecution of some non-violent offense.
But Lois Lerner's use of the Fifth Amendment yesterday was unbelievably galling -- and here's why. It's about the hypocrisy. Even taking her own words at face value -- that she's innocent -- she's invoking the Fifth because she doesn't want to subject herself to the embarrassing, intrusive, highly personal stress of federal invesigation.Well, guess what her agency -- with her knowledge -- was routinely doing to conservative groups? And that's why her assertion of the Fifth was so contemptible. She's trying to escape herself the same kinds of unpleasantness she (and others at her agency) knowingly inflicted upon innocent people whose only offense was seeking non-profit or 501(c)(4) status.
The second example is the IRS blowing its congressional deadline for producing certain specified emails related to the targeting scandal. Imagine what would happen to you if you decided simply not to comply with demands for documents from the IRS.
The overarching theme of the IRS scandal thus far -- from Lerner, to the obnoxious testimony of Steven Miller, to the flouting of document requests -- has been arrogance. This is what's known as the arrogance of power. Far too much, for far too long, far too many people there have been given too much power with too little accountability. It has bred a culture of entitlement, imperiousness, and contempt for the people government is supposed to serve.
In America, government is not supposed to be the master. Government is the servant. But that's the kind of mentality and service orientation that disappears as soon as government becomes too big and too powerful.
It's time for a thorough reform and rethinking about the tax code and the agency that's supposed to enforce it with justice and humility.
Does concealed carry belong in churches and schools? A trainer, a schoolteacher and security experts help provide answers to one of America’s hottest debates in the June issue of Townhall Magazine. Mark Kakkuri reports.
"Suzanne,” a K-12 teacher in Detroit, Mich., entered the classroom. Students filed in and took their seats. In minutes the lecture would start, followed by a written exam and then a practical exam. Today, however, was a Saturday, and Suzanne was not the teacher, but the student. And this wasn’t her classroom, but that of Rick Ector, a certified instructor for those wishing to obtain a concealed pistol license in Michigan.
As Ector introduced himself and the topic of concealed carry, the discussion naturally turned to recent school shootings. Suzanne raised her hand, and Ector motioned for her to speak. She told the class she was a teacher and shared her concerns over security at her job.
“The school where I teach has almost identical safety measures that were in place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School,” she said. “Paltry measures, such as simply locking the front door, are inadequate because if a bad guy just bursts the door free or if an authorized visitor, such as parent, opens the door— the bad guy still has access.”
While Michigan does not allow concealed carry on school grounds— GOP Gov. Rick Snyder recently vetoed legislation that would have made this permissible—Suzanne said that if she were authorized, she would be willing to carry a handgun on the job.
She’s likely not alone.
In 2012, the FBI reported 19,592,303 National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) “checks,” a procedure that occurs every time a firearms dealer sells a firearm to make sure the buyer is not a felon and therefore ineligible to purchase a firearm. As of March 2013, the FBI reported 7,014,240 NICS checks, which puts 2013 on pace to surpass 2012’s total by more than 10 million. By comparison, the FBI in 2005 reported 8,952,945 checks. Although the NICS system cannot account for every firearm sale, it is often a key measure of such sales in the U.S.
Not only have firearms sales been increasing year after year, but also the number of those carrying concealed handguns has grown as well. Forty-nine of 50 states allow for some form of concealed carry—only Illinois does not— and a 2012 Government Accountability Office report says that as of Dec. 31, 2011, there were about 8 million active permits in the U.S. Prior to the GAO study, previous estimates put the number at around 7 million.
With gun ownership seemingly at historic levels as well as an unprecedented interest in concealed carry, “pro-gun” and “gun control” rhetoric has risen as well. Moreover, as the country acclimates to the nuances of increases in concealed carry—specifically, where guns may be legally carried concealed and where they may not—incidents of violence have drawn some of the debate to the concealed carry status for two key places: churches and schools.
Carrying concealed weapons in churches or schools demands careful consideration of multiple factors.
Brian Gallagher, founder of securityatchurch.com, an online portal devoted to providing church security tips and resources, says the most important issue related to individuals carrying guns at schools or places of worship is training.
“Just because a person is legally authorized to carry a weapon does not mean they have the proper training and judgment to use it during a emergency or crisis,” he says.
So does Salon's reliable lefty Joan Walsh.
Yesterday, both men were seen arriving at the West Wing for, presumably, a new iteration of White House talking points (hey, maybe Walsh was there, too). So we can all assume that President Obama wants Lois Lerner gone.
Why can't he fire her himself? Well, according to Politico,
It appears that no one has been formally reprimanded and a spokesperson for the union representing IRS workers said it hasn’t been called to help any employees yet. Most employees involved in the targeting program are covered by protections for federal workers that could drag out the termination process.
If you want "reforms," this would be a good place to start. Stuff like targeting citizens for their political beliefs should be a no-brainer.
Even so, Lerner seems pretty senior to qualify for routine civil service protections. Presumably, she could be asked for her resignation, just as Steven Miller was. So why is the President stalling, and instead sending pundits out to seek her scalp instead?
Really, when we learn (1) who -- if anyone -- notified an administration member about the internal IRS report before the election confirming the targeting ; and (2) who was involved in slow-walking the IG report until after the election, a lot of these questions may answer themselves.
There was no way Lois Lerner's part in the IRS saga would end quietly, even as she invoked her right to remain silent.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, boldly asserted this afternoon that Lerner "waived" her right to plead the Fifth Amendment when she made an opening statement at this morning's hearing. From POLITICO:
The California Republican said Lerner’s Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination was voided when she gave an opening statement this morning denying any wrongdoing and professing pride in her government service.
“When I asked her her questions from the very beginning, I did so so she could assert her rights prior to any statement,” Issa told POLITICO. “She chose not to do so — so she waived." ...
“The precedents are clear that this is not something you can turn on and turn off,” he told POLITICO. “She made testimony after she was sworn in, asserted her innocence in a number of areas, even answered questions asserting that a document was true … So she gave partial testimony and then tried to revoke that.” ...
“I understand from her counsel that there was a plan to assert her Fifth Amendment rights,” he continued. “She went ahead and made a statement, so counsel let her effectively under the precedent, waive — so we now have someone who no longer has that ability.”
Essentially, he argues, her opening statement, in which she proclaimed her innocence, constituted a forfeiture of Fifth Amendment protection because she spoke on her own behalf about her involvement in the matter. Issa intends to invite Lerner before the committee again in the hopes of conducting a proper grilling, and others--including Rep. Trey Gowdy--agree that she must now give testimony.
"Mr. Cummings just said we should run this hearing like a courtroom, and I agree with him," Gowdy thundered. "[Lerner] just testified. She just waived her Fifth Amendment right. You don't get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross examination — that's not the way it works. She waived her right to Fifth Amendment privilege by issuing an opening statement. She ought to stand here and answer our questions."
However, it's not so simple as that. Legal scholars say that the Fifth Amendment works differently in Congressional fact-finding hearings than in a court of law--one cannot simply conflate the two, as they exist for different purposes. Fifth Amendment expert James Duane gave the following explanation (h/t to Allahpundit for the link):
First, unlike in a trial, where she could choose to take the stand or not, Lerner had no choice but to appear before the committee. Second, in a trial there would be a justifiable concern about compromising a judge or jury by providing them with "selective, partial presentation of the facts." But Congress is merely pursuing information as part of an investigation, not making a definitive ruling on Lerner's guilt or innocence.
"When somebody is in this situation," says Duane, a Harvard Law graduate whose 2008 lecture on invoking the Fifth Amendment with police has been viewed on YouTube nearly 2.5 million times, "when they are involuntarily summoned before grand jury or before legislative body, it is well settled that they have a right to make a 'selective invocation,' as it's called, with respect to questions that they think might raise a meaningful risk of incriminating themselves."
In fact, Duane says, "even if Ms. Lerner had given answers to a few questions — five, ten, twenty questions — before she decided, 'That's where I draw the line, I'm not answering any more questions,' she would be able to do that as well." Such uses of selective invocation "happen all the time."
Unfortunately for Issa and company, it seems Lerner was within her rights to make a statement and then clam up. Of course, drawing greater attention to her silence could, ultimately, help in the investigation of the IRS; if they ask her back and she stonewalls, the public might want to know why. Hopefully, in any event, someone--anyone--will bear some legitimate responsibility for the whole affair, and lose the job they clearly never should have had in the first place.
According to Finney, the fact that Mitt Romney didn't make a huge deal out of the IRS targeting scandal last year is somehow proof that the whole thing is essentially a non-story and wasn't buried until after the election. Where to begin? As a fellow panelist incredulously points out, the revelation of IRS abuse wasn't public knowledge in 2012. It just came out this month. Sure, everyone knew that Congress was demanding answers from the IRS about alleged targeting practices, but there was no public evidence that the victimized groups' suspicions were well-founded. IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman even told Congress under oath that political targeting was "absolutely not" transpiring. That was in March of 2012. In other words, Mitt Romney didn't beat the drum on this major scandal because...the major scandal didn't exist in the public sphere yet. He, like nearly every other American, didn't know about it. Indeed, one purpose of the current investigations and hearings is to determine who knew what, and when.
We know for certain that the IRS' own audit flagged inappropriate targeting in May of last year, and that senior Treasury Department officials became aware of it shortly thereafter. The White House's own timeline has shifted several times in recent days, so they've been tough to pin down. We don't yet know if the president's political or campaign team knew of the IRS scandal before the election (though even some liberals are beginning to admit it's hard to believe they didn't). What's self-evident is that Republicans in Congress and the Romney campaign had no indication that this bombshell was looming and had no concrete proof that a codified political targeting program had been in place at the IRS for years. Finney's point seems to be that Republicans should have made a giant stink about a theory, without any solid substantiation. It's not difficult to imagine how Finney and her cohorts at MSNBC would have reacted if the GOP had adopted such an approach last fall. Her entire "point" here is imbecilic and purposefully disingenuous. It's one thing to try to re-write distant history. It's another to do the same with still-unfolding history. I'm not sure who she thinks she's fooling, aside from those MSNBC viewers who are eager to be fooled, but kudos for at least slipping in the "overreach" talking point. Bravo.
It was wrong-headed to allow Lois Lerner to appear before Government Oversight Committee, made a self-serving statement, invoke the Fifth Amendment once and then withdraw in wounded, arrogant triumph.
But the idea that she can now be forced to answer questions -- on the theory that her statement constituted a waiver of her Fifth Amendment rights -- is, unfortunately in this case, not viable.
First of all, as a legal matter, Fifth Amendment waivers have to be knowing, intelligent and voluntary. What's more, a witness can actually begin answering questions, and then invoke the Fifth. So it's hard to see how just making an opening statement would qualify as an overall waiver.
As a strategic matter, Congress can try to force Lerner to testify, she can refuse, and the whole matter can go into legal limbo for some unspecified time (before Congress would, in all likelihood, lose). Whose strategic interests are served by delay? The IRS" and the administration's. It's almost enough to make you wonder if this isn't just litigation bait.
Wouldn't it just be smarter for the committee to offer Lerner qualified immunity -- requiring her to testify but promising that she cannot be prosecuted with evidence obtained during the hearing?
In fact, this alternative seems best particularly in light of today's revelations that the IRS knew of the targeting scheme through an internal investigation six months before the election. Given the extensive contacts between IRS and the Treasury -- and the White House -- about the roll-out of the IG report (and all the apparent concern for political appearances), it's really worth knowing whether Lerner or anyone else at the IRS tipped off the administration about the results of their own probe back in May of 2012, fully six months before the election.