Throughout President Obama's time in the White House, the one person who has been at the center of nearly every controversy and scandal is Attorney General Eric Holder. Obama continues to stand by Holder with full faith and confidence but liberal radio host Bill Press is calling for Holder to be fired.
Press — a former California Democratic Party chairman who headlines a liberal radio show simulcast on Current TV — on Wednesday told his Twitter followers that Holder needs to be removed in the wake of the AP story.
“I have no confidence in Eric Holder anymore, and you shouldn’t either,” Press wrote. “This AP story from the Justice Dept is too far-reaching. Seizing these phone records is a violation of freedom of the press. FIRE Holder.”
On Thursday, Press renewed his call for Holder’s dismissal, writing, “I still haven’t heard a legit justification for the subpoenaing the AP phone records. They didn’t notify AP, they didn’t narrow search.”
“What ‘breach of national security’ are we talking about re the AP story? It’s BS and Holder should be fired,” Press tweeted. “For people who say that Holder was ‘just doing his job,’ he didn’t ‘do his job’ by going after Cheney or Bush. He left THAT alone!”
As a reminder, nearly 200 members of the House have no confidence in Holder and he was voted in contempt of Congress by both Republicans and Democrats in June 2012. The vote to hold Holder in contempt was supported by the majority of Americans according to a CNN poll.
The emails confirm the ABC News report that the so-called "talking points" written by the CIA on the attack underwent extensive revisions – 12 versions – and that substantial changes were made after the State Department expressed concerns. The early versions of the talking points, drafted entirely by the CIA, included references to the al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia and to previous CIA warnings about terror threats in Benghazi. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland expressed concerns about including those references in the talking points.
In one email, previously reported by ABC News, Nuland said that including the CIA warnings "could be used by Members [of Congress] to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that? Concerned …" After some changes were made, Nuland was still not satisfied. "These don't resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership," Nuland wrote. A senior administration official said that Deputy CIA Director Mike Morrell agreed with Nuland's concerns and made the changes himself. There is no email record, however, showing that Morrell shared Nuland's concerns.
The emails do show that the erroneous "spontaneous demonstrations" talking point was included in the original, CIA-produced drafts. However, references to terrorist involvement and prior security warnings were erased at the behest of the State Department, based on nakedly political considerations. Note, too, that many of these 100 pages were duplicative, and do not cover the key deliberations of September 12th and 13th -- the days immediately following the attack. Amb. Chris Stevens' second in command personally told Sec. Clinton that the Benghazi raid was an orchestrated terrorist attack as it was unfolding on 9/11. An Assistant Secretary of State affirmed that self-evident truth in an email to a Libyan official the next day (skip to 2:05 in that clip). Four days later, Amb. Susan Rice went on five television shows, downplayed and dismissed the terrorism connection, and said the incident was the "direct result" of an obscure YouTube video. Stephen Hayes, who got this ball rolling a few weeks ago, summarized his analysis of the newly-disclosed email trail:
On first read, #Benghazi emails very bad for Carney, State Dept, Clinton, Jake Sullivan, Victoria Nuland. Not good for WH, CIA. Good- Rhodes— Stephen Hayes (@stephenfhayes) May 15, 2013
That's a whole lot of relevant, accurate intel stricken from the record just to save face for the State Department. Allahpundit makes a trenchant observation that gets to the core of State's political calculus in all of this:
Another State Department deputy, David Adams, complained earlier in the evening (page 40) that that fourth paragraph “will read to members like we had been repeatedly warned.” But they had been repeatedly warned: That was the whole point of the initial Benghazi testimony last year from Eric Nordstrom, culminating in his claim that the “Taliban is on the inside of the building” at State because they wouldn’t listen to repeated requests for more security. On the day he died, Stevens sent a cable to State emphasizing his concerns about “growing problems with security” in Benghazi. O’s critics have chased a thousand different strands of this story, but that remains the most egregious element of it. State’s diplomatic team in Libya begged them for more security and were refused. And after it was over, Nuland and Adams fretted that the public might conclude they hadn’t done enough to protect their troops if the talking points were left as is. Heaven forbid.
Nuland, Adams, and...someone else. Check out this screen grab of one of Nuland's emails airing worries about including truthful information in the talking points. She writes, "I just had a convo with [redacted]...on that basis, I have serious concerns about all the parts highlighted below." Those "parts" were the bits about terrorist activity and the recent history of security problems in Benghazi. Nuland writes that she doesn't want to let Congress "abuse" those facts to make the State Department look bad, even though their negligent behavior warranted negative scrutiny. So who was the redacted person with whom Nuland "had a convo" before ramping up pressure to scrub the talking points of politically problematic details? I've got a guess, but the public has a right to know who was driving Nuland's political games. How ironic that the White House keeps accusing truth-seekers on these questions of "politicizing" the issue.
UPDATE - A follow-up to a related story we've been following: CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson says network executives, including president David Rhodes, have been supportive of her Benghazi reporting. It's CBS News' shows/producers that haven't shown much interest.
Earlier today, I posted about William J. Wilkins, the President's man at the IRS, where he was appointed Chief Counsel.
Further scrutiny of the timeline yields more interesting questions for Mr. Wilkins.
According to the IG report's timeline, on March 23 and March 27 of 2012, f IRS officials (Senior Technical Advisor to the Acting Commissioner, Tax Exempt & Govt Entitles Division, and the Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement) discussed media attention surrounding the Tea Party applications. The Deputy Commissioner for SErvices and Enforcement asked the Senior Technical advisor to look into the matter.
On April 23, the Senior Technical Advisor to the Acting Commissioner, Tax Exempt & Govt Entitles Division went to Cincinnati and reviewed half the identified cases. On April 25, the Senior Technical Advisor to the Director of Exempt Organizations provided results of the letter review, including a list of troubling questions (such as the names of donors).
Here's where it gets interesting, on April 25, 2012:
Chief Counsel's office provided additional comments on the draft guidance developed for the Determinations Unit.
In other words, Wilkins' office was fully in the loop about the problem, and as my earlier post notes, he had met on August 4, 2011 about this very issue.
2 Exit Questions
(1) Are we to believe that the White House -- or the Treasury Department, where Wilkins is an Assistant General Counsel, reporting to the Treasury Secretary -- knew nothing about this matter, even as these meetings took place?
(2) How could Wilkins allow members of Congress repeatedly to be assured that no targeting was going on? As Senator Orrin Hatch puts it,
"In fact, after the IRS leadership learned of this, they sent Congress letters saying that the targeting of conservative groups was not happening. Now this was either one of the greatest cases of incompetence that I've ever seen or it was the IRS willfully not telling Congress the truth."
Keep in mind that Acting Commissioner Miller appeared before Congress and denied any targeting had ever occurred on July 25, 2012, three months to the day after Wilkins' office reviewed guidance about targeting.
And yet we're to believe that Wilkins told Treasury and/or The White House nothing? Let's hope for William Wilkins' sake that he's got written records. Otherwise, I hear the rumblings of an oncoming administration bus headed his way.
A round up of Attorney General Eric Holder's many "I don't know" statements from his testimony yesterday in front of the House Judiciary Committee.
It's rigorous work keeping pace with all of these scandals, as House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer discovered earlier this week, but we're doing our best nonetheless. On the IRS targeting issue, we covered a lot of ground yesterday and earlier, but the "fun" never ceases. It will come as a surprise to no one that IRS employees lean heavily Democratic. Their livelihoods depend on the existence of big, complicated government, so of course they'd vote blue. In the 2012 cycle, during which their agency's abusive methods were in place, IRS employees donated to Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by more than a 2-to-1 margin. What did the political contribution break-down look like in Cincinnati -- where the tax exemption office is based? Cough:
The Cincinnati office where the political targeting took place is much more partisan, judging by FEC filings. More than 75 percent of the campaign contributions from that office in the past three elections went to Democrats. In 2012, every donation traceable to employees at that office went to either President Obama or liberal Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
One. Hundred. Percent. The office's director is an Obama donor, too. The undue logistical hoops through which conservative groups were forced to leap are being document left and right; this one's especially egregious. Even as the president expresses (feigns?) outrage over the IRS' victimization of groups he's demonized throughout his presidency, and even after the IRS admitted wrongdoing, some liberals are still trying to justify the agency's actions. Some say the Tea Party deserved it because they're racist terrorists; others say their brought it on themselves through their "persecution complex" and attempts to abide by the law, or something. Meanwhile, Fox 19 in Cincinnati explored the significant local angle to this story and mined this juicy quote, which further eviscerates the IRS' "it was basically just two local guys" fable:
These four IRS workers claim "they simply did what their bosses ordered". Keep in mind, as FOX19 reported on Tuesday, the report by the Office of Inspector General states that senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting Tea Party groups as early as 2011.
One more piece of the hierarchy puzzle, via the Wall Street Journal: "The IRS is many things, but 'independent' isn't one of them. It is formally part of the Treasury Department and is headed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, who is appointed by the President. The Commissioner is accountable to the President reporting through the Treasury Secretary." So much for all that "totally independent" pablum we've been spoon-fed in recent days.
Yesterday, I outlined some questions raised by the IG report on the IRS.
More probing reveals more questions.
On the time line (page 36), there is the following entry for August 4, 2011:
Rulings and Agreements office personnel held a meeting with Chief Counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue [of developing new criteria for identifying which applications to send to specialists for more scrutiny].
In other words, the Chief Counsel of the IRS was informed about the issue on August 4, 2011. So who is this Chief Counsel?
America, meet Obama appointee William J. Wilkins -- briefed on the political targeting of conservative groups as of 8/4/11. Did he tell The White House about it at the time? Not that Jay Carney is aware of, as he told a skeptical press corps yesterday:
Q And just one more thing. The report also says that on August 4th of 2011, that the chief counsel at the IRS -- I believe that’s William Wilkins, appointed by President Obama in 2009; this is one of only two political appointees at the IRS -- that the chief counsel was briefed on this back in 2011. Did he share that information with the White House?MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to look at that. I don’t know that that’s the case. I would point you to the Treasury Department for more information about I think the meeting that we’re talking about or that is represented in that.Q But shouldn’t he have? This is one of the President’s political appointees, chief counsel.MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is what I said yesterday: The President found out about this through media reports on Friday. That’s how I found out about it. . . . .Q The purpose of briefing the chief counsel, according to the IG, was so that everybody would have the latest information on the issue. As the President’s political appointee over there, shouldn’t there have been an effort for him to brief you?MR. CARNEY: Well, you can say what should have been or shouldn’t have been. What I can tell you is what to my knowledge I’m aware of.
Two exit questions:
(1) Is it credible that William J. Wilkins, a well-trained lawyer with a history of counseling 501(c)(3)'s, would have learned of the political targeting of groups and not informed The White House?
(2) How is it that the systematic harassment of conservative groups continued at the IRS even after President Obama's man at the IRS knew of the previous targeting as of August 4, 2011? For example, the timeline entry for January 25, 2012 reads as follows:
The BOLO ["be on the lookout"] criteria were again updated. The criteria was revised as "political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement."
Update: A member of Congressman Nunes' staff reached out to clarify that the DOJ seized phone records, not from the cloakroom itself, but from the Capitol. Even so, it is problematic from a separation of powers standpoint for the Executive branch to be monitoring the activities of a co-equal branch of government -- which, to the extent it's hoping to trace conversations between the press and Members of Congress, is exactly what it's doing.
HH: The idea that this might be a Geithner-Axelrod plan, and by that, the sort of intimation, Henry II style, will no one rid me of this turbulent priest, will no one rid me of these turbulent Tea Parties, that might have just been a hint, a shift of an eyebrow, a change in the tone of voice. That’s going to take a long time to get to. I don’t trust the Department of Justice on this. Do you, Congressman Nunes?
DN:No, I absolutely do not, especially after this wiretapping incident, essentially, of the House of Representative. I don’t think people are focusing on the right thing when they talk about going after the AP reporters. The big problem that I see is that they actually tapped right where I’m sitting right now, the Cloak Room.
HH: Wait a minute, this is news to me.
DN: The Cloak Room in the House of Representatives.
HH: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
DN:So when they went after the AP reporters, right? Went after all of their phone records, they went after the phone records, including right up here in the House Gallery, right up from where I’m sitting right now. So you have a real separation of powers issue that did this really rise to the level that you would have to get phone records that would, that would most likely include members of Congress, because as you know…
It's not entirely clear to me whether Congressman Nunes means that the telephone in the Cloak Room was one of the numbers for which the DOJ sought a subpoena in the AP matter and wiretapped, or whether the DOJ subpoenaed Cloak Room phone records (this latter explanation seems most likely). But in a broad sense, I'm not sure the distinction really matters.
The fact is that The White House knowingly sought and obtained confidential information from a place where Congressmen have a reasonable expectation of privacy. That constitutes a serious separation of powers issue, as the President has no business seeking or obtaining confidential information pertaining to the inner workings of a co-equal branch of government conducting its business. And whether it was simply phone records of calls made or received or the actual recording of calls, it is difficult to fathom how the administration could have gathered the kind of information it was seeking without significant intrusion and gathering of inside knowledge of the workings of Congress.
Now the question has to be whether any of the information thus garnered was used (or rather, misused) for political purposes. With the crew in this administration, anyone care to lay any bets?
The Associated Press isn't the only media outlet livid over Justice Department spying and snooping. The New York Times editorial board has written a scathing response to revelations of secret monitoring, calling it a fishing expedition to intimidate whistleblowers.
The Obama administration, which has a chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers, has failed to offer a credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.
We are not convinced. For more than 30 years, the news media and the government have used a well-honed system to balance the government’s need to pursue criminals or national security breaches with the media’s constitutional right to inform the public. This action against The A.P., as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press outlined in a letter to Mr. Holder, “calls into question the very integrity” of the administration’s policy toward the press.
The records covered 20 phone lines, including main office phones in New York City, Washington, Hartford, and the Congressional press gallery. The guidelines for such subpoenas, first enacted in 1972, require that requests for media information be narrow. The reporters’ committee said this action is so broad that it allowed prosecutors to “plunder two months of news-gathering materials to seek information that might interest them.”
The Obama administration has indicted six current and former officials under the Espionage Act, which had previously been used only three times since it was enacted in 1917. One, a former C.I.A. officer, pleaded guilty under another law for revealing the name of an agent who participated in the torture of a terrorist suspect. Meanwhile, President Obama decided not to investigate, much less prosecute, anyone who actually did the torturing.
The Justice Department is pursuing at least two major press investigations, including one believed to be focused on David Sanger’s reporting in a book and in The Times on an American-Israeli effort to sabotage Iranian nuclear works. These tactics will not scare us off, or The A.P., but they could reveal sources on other stories and frighten confidential contacts vital to coverage of government.
Yesterday during testimony on Capitol Hill, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to comment on this case saying it was an "ongoing investigation" and that he "knows nothing" because he "recused himself early on."
The question remainining is, did the Department of Justice only target AP reporters? Or did they secretly monitor reporters and editors from other outets as well?
Last night President Obama made a statement to the country promising to hold those responsible for inappropriate targeting of conservative groups at the IRS. He announced that his Treasury Secretary had asked and received the resignation for Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller. Sounds great right? Wrong. Apparently Miller was leaving anyway...at the end of June. Not to mention, Miller had only been in his position as acting director since November 2012. Six months after the election and two years of harassment toward conservative groups.
In an email to IRS employees, Miller claimed he would only be leaving next month because his assignment would be over.
'It is with regret that I will be departing from the IRS as my acting assignment ends in early June,' Miller wrote. 'This has been an incredibly difficult time for the IRS given the events of the past few days, and there is a strong and immediate need to restore public trust in the nation’s tax agency.'
Accountability! The question now is whether Miller will receive a full pension and how many others will be "held accountable." The real people to be looking at are:
-Douglas Shulman: he was in charge of the IRS as Commissioner until November 2012 and lied to Congress about ongoing harassment of tea party groups
"Yes, I can give you assurances [tea party groups aren't being targeted]" -March 2012
-Lois Lerner: the director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS and the woman who admitted to and apologized for inappropriate targeting of tea party groups last week. By the way, she received $42,000 in performance bonuses.
Lois Lerner, the senior executive in charge of the IRS tax exemption department and the federal employee at the center of the exploding scandal over the IRS targeting of conservative, evangelical and pro-Israel non-profits, was given $42,531 in bonuses between 2009 and 2011.
-Nan Downing: the director of Examinations for the Exempt Organizations division of the IRS
UPDATE: As Ed Morrissey points out, Miller isn't totally innocent here and served as the deputy commissioner for Services and Enforcement before taking the position as acting commissioner in November 2012. He knew about harrassment of tea party groups in May 2012, but didn't say anything about it.