The Nixon Administration? Really? That’s the Administration Obama’s people have chosen to emulate? Chosen is the key word here, and while we can’t imagine that they have chosen to emulate the Nixon Administration, they are sure doing a superb job of imitating the 37th President’s Administration. They have, again and again, been making what can only be described as very Nixonian judgments, and that’s a huge disservice to the President and to the country.
The Administration’s people are protesting mightily that it’s not at all as it seems. But they have become sitting ducks for well-deserved criticism, and these ducks walk, talk, swim and quack like ducks no one wants to see or hear from again.
Now, we know a president, any president, can’t realistically be held responsible for every dumb, inept, malicious or incompetent judgment or decision made by members of his or her Administration. But he (or she) is always accountable and, sadly, this president has experienced a cascade of dumb, inept, malicious and incompetent judgments and decisions for which he is accountable. The Obama Administration’s grand mal imbroglios — Benghazi spin control, IRS illegal heavy-handedness, Justice Department grabbing journalists’ telephone records and emails…we all saw this movie enough during the past forty years and no one wants to watch yet another rerun. Not ever.
The credibility of President Obama’s protests of righteous indignation over the missteps of his own people diminishes in direct proportion to the frequency with which his own people make judgments that require him to protest.
With respect to Benghazi, we’ll leave the assessments of military judgment to others. But the spectacle of clumsy attempts to spin an absurd narrative that served political imperatives at the expense of candor and truth was, and continues to be, appalling.
Then there’s the IRS mess. The Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven Miller, resigns over the agency’s systematic profiling, (yes, that’s exactly what they were doing) during the last election cycle, of conservative non-profit applicants seeking tax-exempt status.
The initial cover story was that no one in Washington knew anything about it, not at the White House, not at IRS headquarters, not even at the supervisory level in any of the field offices. It was, the initial cover story went, apparently someone so low in the pecking order somewhere in the Cincinnati field office that, to this day, no one seems to know who was responsible. The culprit was, seemingly, some anonymous loner who must have reported to the janitor in the basement of the Cincinnati field office (our apologies to the janitor). Well, not quite, it seems IRS Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois G. Lerner (who, last week, pled the 5th Amendment) had known of the profiling practice for the past two years even though she initially claimed she had only just heard of the problem through recent news reports. She (and Miller) also claimed IRS began profiling applicants as an efficiency measure in response to a great increase in applications for tax-exempt status following the Supreme Court’s Citizens’ United decision. Not true! A subsequent Washington Post analysis revealed that the profiling of conservative applicants began well before the Citizens’ United decision. After comparing Ms. Lerner’s statements to the facts, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker awarded her “a bushel of Pinocchios”.
Then more bad news erupted last week. Denis McDonough, White House Chief of Staff admitted to knowing about IRS targeting of conservatives back in April, as did White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler, but apparently neither of them thought it was anything about which they needed to inform the President. President Obama, we are told, only learned about the IRS profiling scandal when it broke in the press. Somehow, a presidential version of I only know what I read in the papers just seems to stretch credulity.
Sadly, the scandal seems to get worse by the hour. Among the latest revelations we learn that top aides sent to investigate the bedlam in Cincinnati informed departing IRS Chief Steven Miller over a year ago (just as the Obama re-election effort was moving into high gear) that IRS was engaging in “a substantial bias against conservative groups.”
The White House was in damage control mode on the Sunday talk circuit. Dan Pfeiffer, a senior advisor to the President said on ABC’s “This Week” that the question of whether any laws were broken is “irrelevant” to the fact that the agency’s actions were wrong and unjustifiable. “The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped and it needs to be fixed to ensure it never happens again.” Well, better late than never.
We have no particular problem with all applications for tax-exempt status being subjected to responsible review. But IRS should be the last agency that profiles tax filers for special treatment. Profiling airline travelers by ethnicity or religion is strictly verboten, but profiling organizations that call themselves “Patriots” or “Tea Party” or Citizens for More Responsible Government, well, that’s a different matter. We don’t think so.
We were, initially, inclined not to belabor the Justice Department’s unusual subpoena of Associated Press reporters’ telephone records and emails, given the security issues with which the Department was dealing. However, the spectacle of Attorney General Holder testifying that he knows nothing about anything because he recused himself given that the matter is under investigation sounded to us a bit like a clock striking thirteen. You just know there’s a problem when a clock does that. And indeed, there does seem to be a real problem. Justice’s heavy handedness went far beyond looking at telephone toll records to see who called whom. As journalist Michael Izikoff reported on MSNBC last week, “this is much more intrusive than most people realize.” Attorney General Eric Holder personally signed off on the search warrant that led to the seizure of Fox News reporter James Rosen’s private emails, according to NBC’s Izikoff. Talk about a clock striking 13!
According to Gregg Leslie, legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Justice Department lawyers went to great lengths to justify their subpoenas of telephone records and private emails. “This is the first time a reporter (James Rosen of Fox news) has been classified as an unindicted co-conspirator or a participant in an alleged crime for seeking information,” Leslie said.
The search warrant affidavit, dated May 28, 2010, seeks contents from Rosen’s e-mail account, stating that “there is probable cause to believe that the reporter has committed or is committing a violation…. an aider and abettor and/or conspirator to which the materials relate.”
“It’s incredible,” Leslie said. “It’s the first time we have seen something like this.” Well, not quite. There was the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, which was used to arrest twenty-five journalists, of which eleven were tried and ten were convicted. But that was then and this is now.
Derigan Silver, a journalism professor at the University of Denver, agreed with Leslie. He said the Obama administration made a “bold” move by suggesting in the affidavit that Rosen may have broken the law. Silver called the Justice Department’s methods in its monitoring of Rosen “echoes of the George W. Bush administration’s stance that journalists could be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act, which makes it a crime for an unauthorized person to receive national defense information or transmit it to others.”
The reader will remember that George Bush’s Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, was lambasted when he raised the possibility that journalists could be prosecuted for publishing national security information. No reporters were ever prosecuted, but journalists and some government watchers raised the alarm that the move would have a chilling effect on whistle blowers wanting to speak out on wrongdoing within the government and could dissuade journalists from serving their watchdog role. “What they (the Obama administration) are doing is no different than what the Bush administration did, and that was something that everyone got up-in-arms over,” said Silver, who has studied the government’s ability to prosecute journalists over possession of classified materials.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to comment to reporters specifically on whether Rosen committed a crime by obtaining classified information.
News organizations, however, are already complaining that the revelation of Justice Department’s monitoring is having an effect on news-gathering. “Officials that would normally talk to us and people we talk to in the normal course of news-gathering are already saying to us that they’re a little reluctant to talk to us,” AP President Gary Pruitt said in an interview with his news agency. “They fear that they will be monitored by the government.” This is spooky stuff.
Executive management is more, much more, than eloquent speechifying. Speeches are not synonymous with policy. As David Axelrod said in a television interview, the President can’t be expected to know what is going on in every agency. Fair enough. But the President is expected to set the tenor of his Administration.
The Benghazi absurdities, IRS profiling conservatives, Justice Department tracking phone calls and snooping into journalist’s emails…Nixon’s cohorts must be grinning from ear-to-ear.