“Sorry, Republicans, Nobody’s Getting Impeached”: GOP Can’t Resist Elaborately Feigned Theater That Blows Up In Their Face
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when every jackleg news organization in Washington — that is, virtually all of them — was feeding out of Kenneth Starr’s soft little hand like a Shetland pony.
Having recently left the country for a few weeks of media deprivation therapy, I returned to find excited pundits comparing President Obama to Richard M. Nixon on the basis of three transparently bogus White House “scandals” that make Starr’s fabled “Whitewater” investigation look like the crime of the century.
Once again, the word “impeachment” is in the air, as excited GOP congressmen dream of driving a Democratic president from office. Once again, the nation appears to be headed for a fun-filled summer of televised hearings, elaborately feigned indignation, and predictions of dramatic revelations that either never materialize or blow up in their sponsor’s faces.
With luck we might even see something as funny as the day in 1995 when a partisan S&L regulator who’d planned to market Hillary Clinton-themed “Presidential BITCH” t-shirts from her government office fainted dead away under cross-examination. The witness had to be carried from a Senate hearing room, never to be heard from again.
Deeply committed to Whitewater humbug, the New York Times, Washington Post and TV networks contrived not to notice.
The good news is that couldn’t happen again. Today, the ill-fated L. Jean Lewis’s swoon would be all over YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Sure, she’d get her own Fox News talk show, but rationally consequent citizens wouldn’t have to watch. The Internet has lessened the ability of scandal entrepreneurs in the Washington media to control the flow of information to the rabble.
Sure, the Internet empowers crackpots. But it also enables in-house bloggers like Paul Krugman and Ezra Klein to bring facts and arguments into the online pages of the high-dollar press that could be censored out of the “mainstream” as recently as the Clinton administration.
So nobody’s getting impeached on this tripartite nonsense, OK?
Anyway, let’s take them one at a time:
One: Regarding IRS “targeting” of right-wingers, I’m planning to rename my little one-man cattle operation “Tea Party Patriot Farm.” With that on my Schedule C, the IRS won’t dare to audit my tax returns. I’ll be free to deduct not only feed bills and veterinary expenses, but pizzas, movie tickets, six-packs, whatever. My recent train ride across France? Studying French cattle husbandry techniques at 180 mph.
But see that’s the thing. Contrary to a thousand indignant screeds and editorial cartoons, no aggrieved Tea Partiers got audited, fined, or jailed. Instead, they saw their applications to turn their political hobbies into tax-free scams — oops, charities — delayed for a few months, on the quite reasonable assumption (from an IRS functionary’s point of view) that an organization named for a political party might actually be one. Boo hoo hoo.
The IRS was politically idiotic, no doubt. But until somebody tracks this to the White House, it’s a big nothingburger.
Meanwhile, my man Charles Pierce quotes the Nixon White House tapes to remind us how a real crook uses the IRS: “Now here’s the point, Bob: please get me the names of the Jews, you know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats,” Nixon said. “Could we please investigate some of the [unprintables]?”
Two: Then there’s The Great Benghazi Cover-Up. As this column pointed out last December, it’s largely a matter of selective quotation. Nobody at the CIA or State Department who had a hand in preparing Susan Rice’s “talking points” on the Sunday shows knew with any certainty who organized the attack.
And it’s worthwhile pointing out that they still don’t know.
However, if “extremist elements with heavy weapons” doesn’t say “terrorist” to you, Rice got more specific on CBS’s Face the Nation: “Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself,” she said, “…is one of the things we’ll have to determine.”
In the interest of keeping this phony scandal alive, everybody’s pretended for months that Rice never said that. Meanwhile, CBS News’ Major Garrett has reported that partial CIA emails leaked to him by Republican sources turned out — after the originals were released — to have been doctored to cast suspicion upon the State Department and Hillary Clinton. He didn’t identify the leakers.
But when people resort to faking documents it’s a good clue that no real evidence of wrongdoing exists. The end.
Three: As for the Associated Press flap, the Los Angeles Times reports that its “disclosure of a counter-terrorism operation in Yemen last year compromised…an informant who had earned the trust of hardened terrorists.”
If true, that’s perilously close to treason. In which case the Justice Department had every reason to subpoena AP phone records after other means of finding the leaker’s identity failed. Sorry, but journalists have no rights that trump those of ordinary citizens in a serious criminal investigation.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, May 22, 2013
“Why Scandal Politics Don’t Work”: Perhaps Republicans Should Focus On A More Effective Use Of Their Time
A president’s critics can’t help themselves when the whiff of scandal is in the air. Yet more often than not, the obsessive pursuit of scandal fails to lift the political prospects of the opposition party.
Republicans might want to pause and ask themselves: Is flogging Benghazi, the IRS, and the Associated Press really the best way to get the majority back?
Every party on the outside of the White House envisions replicating Watergate — forcing a president out of office and riding the aftermath to an Election Day triumph. But the post-Watergate scandal-mongering record falls far short of that holy political grail.
The Iran-Contra affair may be a blot on the Reagan record, but it didn’t propel Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis into the White House. During his convention speech, he tried to tar then-Vice-President George H. W. Bush for “sit[ting] silently by when somebody at the National Security Council comes up with the cockamamie idea that we should trade arms to the Ayatollah for hostages.” A few days later, Dukakis also tried to make hay with a less-remembered scandal involving fraudulent procurement in the Pentagon. “A fish rots from the head first,” said Dukakis, in some of his harshest words of the campaign. His emphasis on ethics were soon drowned out with a barrage of attacks regarding his views on national security and crime.
Ten years later, with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office, Republicans took scandal-mongering to new heights. Charging the president with perjury and obstruction of justice to cover up his extramarital affair, the House Judiciary Committee advanced articles of impeachment one month before the 1998 congressional midterm elections. The opposition party historically gains seats at the “six-year itch” point of a president’s tenure. But the backlash from the impeachment obsession allowed Democrats to pick up five House seats. Speaker Newt Gingrich was compelled to quit Congress. House Republicans barreled ahead and formally impeached Clinton anyway. Clinton’s approval rating then spiked above 70 percent.
During George W. Bush’s first term, Democrats sought to drive outrage surrounding the Abu Gharib torture scandal and, to a lesser extent, the outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. Michael Moore sought to spark a scandal with his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which characterized Bush’s foreign policy and energy policy as flowing from a scandalous relationship with Saudi Arabia. John Kerry’s acceptance speech, delivered one month after the movie was released, called for “an America that relies on its ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi royal family.” A well-financed independent group, The Media Fund, aired a series of ads criticizing Bush’s Saudi ties. Bush ended up winning the popular vote (unlike 2000).
As for President Obama — the conservative cries of “Solyndra” and “Fast and Furious” failed to interrupt his march to a second term.
Why do scandal politics usually fail? Of course, some scandals fizzle out because the charges lack merit or import. But as you see above, even more significant scandals can lack political punch. Perhaps that is because by attempting to quickly topple the president and short-cut a path the White House, the attackers end up distracting themselves from their own primary mission: discrediting the president’s ideology and substantive agenda in the eyes of the public, and elevating their own.
A more plausible objective, short of impeachment or electoral gains, would be to consume a White House with scandal management and distract the administration from executing the president’s agenda. But for today’s Republicans, that objective doesn’t make much sense. Obama’s main legislative goal this year is shared by leading Republicans: immigration reform.
In fact, pro-immigration Republicans may be stoking the fires about Benghazi, the IRS and the AP not to distract the president, but to distract fellow conservatives who otherwise would rally the Tea Party base to pressure Congress and undermine the bipartisan Senate bill. As the Daily Caller’s Mickey Kaus told BuzzFeed: “I think these distracting scandals actually help its chances of passing. Every time [the bill] is at center stage, its chances of passing go down.”
And note that some of Obama’s chief antagonists on Benghazi — Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham — are also Obama’s key shepherds of immigration reform.
For those conservatives more deeply opposed to President Obama’s agenda, they should ask themselves: Do we really think any of these “scandals” seriously threaten President Obama’s hold on the Oval Office? And if they don’t, might there be a better use of our time?
By: Bill Scher, The Week, May 16, 2013
There’s a not-so-subtle theme in much of the day’s political coverage, which is tough to miss.
House Republicans say they will not overreach on probing the Obama administration, having learned lessons from investigating the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton administration.
The most pressing question for Congressional Republicans is no longer how to finesse changes to immigration law or gun control, but how far they can push their cases against President Obama without inciting a backlash of the sort that has left them staggering in the past.
Republicans are worried one thing could screw up the political gift of three Obama administration controversies at once: fellow Republicans. Top GOP leaders are privately warning members to put a sock in it when it comes to silly calls for impeachment or over-the-top comparisons to Watergate. They want members to focus on months of fact-finding investigations — not rhetorical fury.
As a strategic matter, this certainly makes sense. Congressional Republicans don’t have any real incentive to overreach — much of the media is already eagerly running with the “White House in crisis!” narrative; the GOP base is already riled up; the stories can be dragged out for months with investigations and hearings; and all of this happening despite no evidence of wrongdoing from anyone at the White House.
Indeed, Republican leaders have every reason not to overreach. It’s easy to imagine the Democratic base rallying in response to a perceived effort to tear down President Obama, without cause, thanks to dubious scandals embraced by the GOP and the Beltway media. It is, after all, what happened in 1998, so there’s recent precedent to be aware of.
What’s more, don’t underestimate the potential for a backlash from mainstream voters outside either party’s base, who may also have a limited appetite for endless investigations. Incumbent Republicans running in the 2014 midterms should probably be cautious about telling voters, “I ignored job creation, but vote for me anyway because I participated in 11 Benghazi hearings.”
And yet, despite all of this, many congressional Republicans are already overreaching and the advice about caution is already being ignored.
I can appreciate the image GOP leaders are eager to convey: congressional Republicans are being serious and deliberate, seeking answers to legitimate questions without flying off the handle and making wild, baseless accusations. The more Americans see a reasonable and methodical process, the less likely they are to perceive an unhinged partisan vendetta.
But aren’t we well past that point? Can anyone seriously characterize congressional Republicans as “serious and deliberate” when it comes to alleging Obama administration wrongdoing?
TPM ran a list the other day of GOP lawmakers who are already speaking publicly about possibly impeaching President Obama. Has the president committed any high crimes? Well, no. In fact, none of the current controversies seem to relate to the White House at all. But the list of Republicans throwing around the “I” word is already pretty long. Indeed, Republicans can’t seem to make up their minds as to why they should impeach the president, but they seem to enjoy talking about it anyway.
It’s against the backdrop that Boehner & Co. are urging caution and hoping to avoid overreach? I think it’s a little late for that.
Update: GOP lawmakers have spent the last couple of days trying to argue that the IRS mess is a good reason to undermine the Affordable Care Act. That’s foolish, but more importantly, it’s also a good example of overreach.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 17, 2013
“The Old Failed Gang Is Back Together”: After Spectacular Failures And Unprecedented Abuses, Pretending To Have Credibility
Several prominent officials from the Bush/Cheney era have been in the news lately, largely as a result of ongoing controversies, but many of them — Robert Gates, retired Adm. Mike Mullen, retired Gen. David Petraeus — are under fire from the right for not toeing the party’s anti-Obama line.
There are, however, plenty of loyal Bushies stepping up to launch rhetorical attacks. Indeed, they seem happy to pretend they still have credibility and are compelling messengers to express their party’s contempt for the president.
Former Attorney General Mike Mukasey was on Fox News this morning accusing Obama of abusing the power of the executive branch (no, seriously); former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is making the rounds on conservative talk radio; and former Vice President Dick Cheney is, well, doing what Dick Cheney does.
“They lied. They claimed it was because of a demonstration video, that they wouldn’t have to admit it was really all about their incompetence,” Cheney told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Monday. “They ignored repeated warnings from the CIA about the threat. They ignored messages from their own people on the ground that they needed more security.”
“I think it’s one of the worst incidences, frankly, that I can recall in my career … if they told the truth about Benghazi, that it was a terrorist attack by an Al Qaeda-led group, it would destroy the confidence that was the basis of his campaign for reelection,” Cheney added. “They tried to cover it up by constructing a false story.”
As a substantive matter, much of what Cheney said is ridiculous and wrong, as is often the case. If the failed former V.P. has proof of White House lies and a cover-up, he’s welcome to share it, but the fact that preliminary intelligence out of Benghazi was wrong isn’t evidence of either.
But more to the point, does Dick Cheney, of all people, really want to have a conversation about national security lies, ignored warnings about terrorist threats, and covering things up by constructing false stories? Because that’s largely a summary of his eight years of spectacular failures and unprecedented abuses in office. Indeed, I’m not sure whether to find it funny or sad that he, Rumsfeld, and Mukasey feel comfortable showing their faces in public again.
As for Cheney seeing Benghazi as “one of the worst incidences” that he “can recall,” I’m not going to play a game of ranking the seriousness of terrorist attacks, but I’m curious if Cheney recalls 9/11. If he doesn’t think that counts — and there’s some evidence to suggest he doesn’t — and he only wants to focus on attacks on American outposts abroad, I wonder if Cheney might also recall the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut that left 241 American servicemen dead, right before Reagan cut and ran.
Any of this ring a bell, Dick?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 14, 2013
“When The IRS Targeted Liberals”: Outrage Only Occurs When Lines Between Politics And Social Welfare Are To GOP’s Liking
While few are defending the Internal Revenue Service for targeting some 300 conservative groups, there are two critical pieces of context missing from the conventional wisdom on the “scandal.” First, at least from what we know so far, the groups were not targeted in a political vendetta — but rather were executing a makeshift enforcement test (an ugly one, mind you) for IRS employees tasked with separating political groups not allowed to claim tax-exempt status, from bona fide social welfare organizations. Employees are given almost zero official guidance on how to do that, so they went after Tea Party groups because those seemed like they might be political. Keep in mind, the commissioner of the IRS at the time was a Bush appointee.
The second is that while this is the first time this kind of thing has become a national scandal, it’s not the first time such activity has occurred.
“I wish there was more GOP interest when I raised the same issue during the Bush administration, where they audited a progressive church in my district in what look liked a very selective way,” California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on MSNBC Monday. “I found only one Republican, [North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones], that would join me in calling for an investigation during the Bush administration. I’m glad now that the GOP has found interest in this issue and it ought to be a bipartisan concern.”
The well-known church, All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, became a bit of a cause célèbre on the left after the IRS threatened to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status over an anti-Iraq War sermon the Sunday before the 2004 election. “Jesus [would say], ‘Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine,’” rector George Regas said from the dais.
The church, which said progressive activism was in its “DNA,” hired a powerful Washington lawyer and enlisted the help of Schiff, who met with the commissioner of the IRS twice and called for a Government Accountability Office investigation, saying the IRS audit violated the First Amendment and was unduly targeting a political opponent of the Bush administration. “My client is very concerned that the close coordination undertaken by the IRS allowed partisan political concerns to direct the course of the All Saints examination,” church attorney Marcus Owens, who is widely considered one of the country’s leading experts on this area of the law, said at the time. In 2007, the IRS closed the case, decreeing that the church violated rules preventing political intervention, but it did not revoke its nonprofit status.
And while All Saints came under the gun, conservative churches across the country were helping to mobilize voters for Bush with little oversight. In 2006, citing the precedent of All Saints, “a group of religious leaders accused the Internal Revenue Service yesterday of playing politics by ignoring its complaint that two large churches in Ohio are engaging in what it says are political activities, in violation of the tax code,” the New York Times reported at the time. The churches essentially campaigned for a Republican gubernatorial candidate, they alleged, and even flew him on one of their planes.
Meanwhile, Citizens for Ethics in Washington filed two ethics complaints against a church in Minnesota. “You know we can’t publicly endorse as a church and would not for any candidate, but I can tell you personally that I’m going to vote for Michele Bachmann,” pastor Mac Hammond of the Living Word Christian Center in Minnesota said in 2006 before welcoming her to the church. The IRS opened an audit into the church, but it went nowhere after the church appealed the audit on a technicality.
And it wasn’t just churches. In 2004, the IRS went after the NAACP, auditing the nation’s oldest civil rights group after its chairman criticized President Bush for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the organization. “They are saying if you criticize the president we are going to take your tax exemption away from you,” then-chairman Julian Bond said. “It’s pretty obvious that the complainant was someone who doesn’t believe George Bush should be criticized, and it’s obvious of their response that the IRS believes this, too.”
In a letter to the IRS, Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel, Pete Stark and John Conyers wrote: “It is obvious that the timing of this IRS examination is nothing more than an effort to intimidate the members of the NAACP, and the communities the organization represents, in their get-out-the-vote effort nationwide.”
Then, in 2006, the Wall Street Journal broke the story of how a little-known pressure group called Public Interest Watch — which received 97 percent of its funds from Exxon Mobile one year — managed to get the IRS to open an investigation into Greenpeace. Greenpeace had labeled Exxon Mobil the “No. 1 climate criminal.” The IRS acknowledged its audit was initiated by Public Interest Watch and threatened to revoke Greenpeace’s tax-exempt status, but closed the investigation three months later.
As the Journal reporter, Steve Stecklow, later said in an interview, “This comes against a backdrop where a number of conservative groups have been attacking nonprofits and NGOs over their tax-exempt status. There have been hearings on Capitol Hill. There have been a number of conservative groups in Washington who have been quite critical.”
Indeed, the year before that, the Senate held a hearing on nonprofits’ political activity. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, the then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the IRS needed better enforcement, but also “legislative changes” to better define the lines between politics and social welfare, since they had not been updated in “a generation.” Unfortunately, neither Congress nor the IRS has defined 501(c)4′s sufficiently to this day, leaving the door open for IRS auditors to make up their own, discriminatory rules.
Those cases mostly involved 501(c)3 organizations, which live in a different section of the tax code for real charities like hospitals and schools. The rules are much stronger and better developed for (c)3′s, in part because they’ve been around longer. But with “social welfare” (c)4 groups, the kind of political activity we saw in 2010 and 2012 is so unprecedented that you get cases like Emerge America, a progressive nonprofit that trains Democratic female candidates for public office. The group has chapters across the country, but in 2011, chapters in Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada were denied 501(c)4 tax-exempt status. Leaders called the situation “bizarre” because in the five years Nevada had waited for approval, the Kentucky chapter was approved, only for the other three to be denied.
A former IRS official told the New York Times that probably meant the applications were sent to different offices, which use slightly different standards. Different offices within the same organization that are supposed to impose the exact same rules in a consistent manner have such uneven conceptions of where to draw the line at a political group, that they can approve one organization and then deny its twin in a different state.
All of these stories suggest that while concern with the IRS posture toward conservative groups now may be merited, to fully understand the situation requires a bit of context and history.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 14, 2013