Early last week, the President of the United States exhorted Ohio State graduates to "reject" the "cynical" voices of those who warn against government abuse and tyranny. He imparted that advice on May 5. Less than two weeks later, his administration is aflame with scandal. Feeding the conflagration is evidence of the executive branch exploiting the levers of government to bully its political opponents and secretly monitor the free press. These revelations are uniquely suited to stir precisely the sorts of concerns the president attempted to belittle and marginalize in Columbus. At the risk of engaging in cynicism, let's examine the latest developments in all four concurrent scandals:
(1) The Internal Revenue Service Deliberately Targeted Conservative Groups Through Two Election Cycles - The IRS' story is falling to pieces. When Lois Lerner revealed on Friday that the agency had engaged in "inappropriate" investigative tactics against conservative organizations, she claimed the practice was (a) the doing of "low-level" operators in Cincinnati, and (b) not politically motivated. Neither assurance was true. As Katie noted this morning, the Washington Post has learned that IRS officials in three other locations were also in on the scheme, including Washington, DC -- from which the entire enterprise may have emanated. "IRS employees in Cincinnati told conservatives seeking the status of 'social welfare' groups that a task force in Washington was overseeing their applications," the Post reported last night. Emphasis mine.
ProPublica -- a non-profit hub of investigative journalism -- has announced that the very same IRS division responsible for wrongly scrutinizing right-of-center organizations also leaked them confidential documents from nine different conservative groups. Mary Katharine Ham compiles a round-up of at least four other recent instances when sensitive and private tax documents from conservative-aligned organizations were mysteriously leaked to the press and hostile liberal groups. The suggestion that none of this was motivated by political bias is risible and insulting.
As for the "who knew what, and when?" time line, the original story has completely disintegrated: The politicized monitoring commenced in March 2010 (just as the national debate over Obamacare came to a head, coincidentally) and the aforementioned Lois Lerner, who runs the IRS division in charge of tax exempt groups, discovered what was happening in 2011. As did the IRS' chief counsel. The practice continued deep into 2012 (a presidential election year), when IRS acting Commissioner Steven Miller became aware of the practice. Miller's predecessor, Douglas Shulman, had testified under oath several months earlier that no such targeting was taking place (video HERE). Miller then "repeatedly failed to tell Congress" about what he knew, according to the Associated Press. It also appears as though the IRS was looking into certain pro-Israel organizations as well. This is an actual quote from Politico's story on the matter:
Z Street filed a lawsuit against the IRS in 2010 alleging that one of its attorneys were told its application for tax exemption was delayed and sent to a “special unit…to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the Administration’s public policies.”
President Obama claimed yesterday that he first found out about the IRS' malfeasance along with the rest of the country, via media reports. But administration spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the White House counsel was brought into the loop more than three weeks ago. Did no one tell the president? Are we expected to believe that? This saga is far, far from over, and may have real political legs and is drawing umbrage from commentators who are typically very protective of the administration.
(2) The Obama Administration Overhauled the Benghazi Talking Points to Mask Failures and Misdirect the Public on the Terrorist Attacks - It's beyond dispute that (a) the White House's false talking points were revised 12 times, (b) that high-ranking State Department officials were concerned that the accurate original talking points might make them look bad, and (c) final edits were made at a White House meeting on September 15. The "useless" finished product was rejected by the then-CIA director and slammed as "jaw-dropping" and "embarrassing" by the Amb. Stevens' second-in-command in Libya. In spite of black-and-white evidence to the contrary, both the president and spokesman Jay Carney continue to assert that the White House wasn't involved in any substantive changes to the "official" story, which they still claim was based on the "best assessment" of the intelligence community at the time. Both of these statements are demonstrably false. Last November, this is what Carney told reporters:
The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because ‘consulate’ was inaccurate.”
On Friday, he hedged a bit, leaving open the possibility that State -- but certainly not the White House -- had dirtier hands than he'd previously let on. Yesterday, a State Department spokesperson (who might seem familiar) frantically passed the buck again, repeatedly placed all responsibility for the talking points on the CIA:
"These Were CIA Points. They Were CIA Edited. They Were CIA Finalized."
This is profound dishonesty. The CIA presented finalized talking points to the administration, which proceeded to revise and scrub them a dozen different times, with many of the most politically-calculated edits triggered by State Department bigwigs. The original assessment represented the best intel. The finished product was unrecognizable. Pinning that on the CIA is a shameless and risky proposition. And the president is playing with fire with false claims about his own forthrightness; he was just awarded Four Pinocchios by the Washington Post for Benghazi-related statement he made at yesterday's press conference.
(3) The Obama Justice Department Secretly Monitored Dozens of Journalists' Phone Records for Months - With the mainstream media warming to the task of covering the previous two scandals, Monday evening's compounding bombshell couldn't have dropped at a worse time for the White House. Because it's a jarring affront to press freedom, journalists are likely to take it personally. Indeed, many in the Washington press corps are friendly with the reporters and editors whose work and personal phone records were quietly culled by the federal government. Gasoline, meet fire. It appears the DOJ's aim here was to identify and plug an administration leak, which they sought to accomplish by resorting to a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into the business of a very wide swath of journalists -- who by definition aren't the ones doing the leaking. The Associated Press' write-up explains why the Justice Department's heavy-handed and surreptitious action in this case was exceptional:
The Justice Department lays out strict rules for efforts to get phone records from news organizations. A subpoena can be considered only after "all reasonable attempts" have been made to get the same information from other sources, the rules say. It was unclear what other steps, in total, the Justice Department might have taken to get information in the case. A subpoena to the media must be "as narrowly drawn as possible" and "should be directed at relevant information regarding a limited subject matter and should cover a reasonably limited time period," according to the rules. The reason for these constraints, the department says, is to avoid actions that "might impair the news gathering function" because the government recognizes that "freedom of the press can be no broader than the freedom of reporters to investigate and report the news." News organizations normally are notified in advance that the government wants phone records and then they enter into negotiations over the desired information. In this case, however, the government, in its letter to the AP, cited an exemption to those rules that holds that prior notification can be waived if such notice, in the exemption's wording, might "pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation."
It would appear that Eric Holder made all sorts of exceptions to existing rules and protocols in this case. And yes, per DOJ guidelines, the Attorney General himself must sign off on operations like this. Jay Carney referred reporters' questions to the Justice Department and said the White House didn't know about this situation until the news broke publicly -- a familiar and dubious refrain. The Attorney General's priorities have worked hand-in-glove with the president's agenda for nearly five years. No one at the White House got a heads-up on this story?
(4) HHS' Coercive "Donations" Drive Pressures Healthcare Companies to Finance Obamacare Implementation - Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander has asked the Government Accountability Office to review the legality of Sec. Sebelius' unorthodox and ethically-suspect fundraising efforts. Alexander suspects the scheme "could violate Congress' power to direct policy through appropriations." This isn't the first time Sebelius has been accused of violating the law by testing the boundaries of her official duties. As an aside, don't forget which fine federal agency is slated to enforce Obamacare.
With the gale-force winds of four separate scandals howling in the background, the president had the temerity to offer yet another lecture on "cynicism," this time blaming Rush Limbaugh for all that ails Washington. This analysis came at a posh celebrity-dotted fundraiser in Manhattan. Obama senses heightened distrust and dysfunction, and instinctively fingers his critics -- rather than, say, any of the items detailed above. Parting quotation - a relevant flashback: