The surest sign that there is indeed no there there regarding the Benghazi “scandal”? The fact that anonymous GOP staff feeding information to reporters apparently felt the need to edit the White House emails they were onpassing. It’s a bad sign for scandal-mongerers if they feel the need to punch up their supposed evidence.
At issue is the email document trail behind the talking points the administration promulgated in the days after the September 11, 2012 attack at the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Since virtually the first instant of the attack, the GOP has fixated on it as being sort of a scandal, with the currently popular iteration suggesting that the initial administration spin was an effort to cover up the fact that terrorist elements were involved in the attacks.
Last week a Republican operative or operatives leaked what were portrayed as quotes from emails – which the White House had not released – which purported to show that the White House and State Department had nefariously pushed to have references to terrorist involvement expunged from the administration’s talking points.
But on Wednesday the White House released 100 pages of the emails covering the evolution of the talking points (scroll to the bottom to read them yourself, courtesy of the Huffington Post). Then CBS News’ Major Garrett issued a report last night under the headline “WH Benghazi emails have different quotes than earlier reported.” Garrett goes on to detail the differences between the leaked GOP versions of the emails and what was actually written.
On Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote from Rhodes: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.”
But it turns out that in the actual email, Rhodes did not mention the State Department.
It read: “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.”
He goes on to note a similar change in an email then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland sent. The GOP version has her worried about “previous warnings provided by the Agency (CIA) about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.” But the actual email she sent doesn’t mention the terrorist group at all.
As the Huffington Post reports, CBS isn’t the first news outlet to note the differences between the real emails and the versions leaked by Republicans:
The news parallels a Tuesday CNN report which initially introduced the contradiction between what was revealed in a White House Benghazi email version, versus what was reported in media outlets. On Monday, Mother Jones noted that the Republicans’ interim report included the correct version of the emails, signaling that more malice and less incompetence may have been at play with the alleged alterations.
Of course, there’s no reason why malice and incompetence need be competing alternatives. In fact incompetent malice seems likely: This was a ham handed attempt to produce “evidence” of a scandal where there is none.
Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum sums up:
This has always been the Republican Party’s biggest risk with this stuff: that they don’t know when to quit. On Benghazi, when it became obvious that they didn’t have a smoking gun, they got desperate and tried to invent one. On the IRS, their problem is that Democrats are as outraged as they are. This will force them to make ever more outrageous accusations in an effort to find some way to draw a contrast. And on the AP phone records, they have to continually dance around the fact that they basically approve of subpoenas like this.
A sane party would take a deep breath and decide to move on to other things. But the tea partiers have the scent of blood now, and it’s driving them crazy. Thus the spectacle of Michele Bachmann suggesting today that it’s time to start impeachment proceedings.
It’s no wonder that GOP leaders are urging their colleagues to throttle back and let the scandals that flared up this week play out before, like Bachmann, calling for impeachment hearings. The real scandal regarding Benghazi, of course, doesn’t involve talking points but funding streams. As former diplomat Ronan Farrow writes in the Atlantic:
Hillary Clinton waged a losing fight with Congress for embassy security resources over the course of the first Obama administration. Some of the ringleaders of last week’s hearing were among the prominent opponents to that spending, with Representative Chaffetz and Representative Darrell Issa joining to cut nearly half a billion dollars from the State Department security accounts that cover armored vehicles, security systems, and guards. In Fiscal Year 2011, House Republicans cut $128 million from the Obama Administration’s requests for embassy security funding; in 2012, they cut another $331 million. Issa once personally voted to cut almost 300 diplomatic security positions. In 2011, after one of many fruitless trips to the Hill to beg House Republicans for resources, an exhausted, prophetic Hillary Clinton warned that cuts to embassy spending “will be detrimental to America’s national security.” Democrats, like Senator Barbara Boxer in a heated speech this week, have been quick to paint opposition to security funding as exclusively Republican. The truth is, it is a bipartisan failure, repeated through years of both Republican and Democratic control of Congress. In 2010, Democrats cut $142 million from the Administration’s requests for State Department funding.
But why would House Republicans – obsessed as they are with their twin goals of getting Obama and Hillary Clinton and cutting spending – pursue an investigation into dangerous spending cuts pushed by Congress and fought by Secretary Clinton?
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/156800521/White-House-Documents-Relating-to-Events-in-Benghazi-Libya -Courtesy The Huffington Post
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 17, 2013
“Victimhood”: Ignoring One Wrong And Vilifying The Other, Republicans Decide To Care About Big Government Overreach
Government officials and employees responsible for the allegedly inappropriate scrutiny of right-wing groups applying for non-profit, tax-exempt status as “social welfare organizations” (taxpayer subsidized, supposedly non-partisan 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) groups) should be investigated and, if appropriate, disciplined, fired and/or charged under criminal statutes.
Government officials and employees responsible for secretly subpoenaing the phone records of AP reporters ought to similarly be investigated and, if appropriate, disciplined, fired and/or charged under criminal statutes — though it is likely that the government has already given itself legal dispensation to carry out that sort of invasive, seemingly extra-Constitutional, certainly un-American intimidation of whistleblowers and journalists alike.
That said, it’s been predictably amusing over the past 24 hours or so, witnessing the outrage – outrage! – of right-wingers over the very things that they not only didn’t give a rat’s ass about when the same, and often much worse, was carried out by the Bush administration, but that they actively supported at the time.
“They say two wrongs don’t make a right, but ignoring one of those wrongs while vilifying the other is intellectually dishonest and violently hypocritical, among other things,” writes Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter, noting that “Democrats have almost universally condemned the actions of the IRS, as they’ve done when the congressional Republicans and, naturally, the Bush administration used the nearly unlimited might of the government to engage in similar investigations — or worse.”
“Republicans,” he writes, “spent eight years defending, applauding and enabling Bush abuses on this front, while subsequently cheerleading the congressional Republicans as they carry forward the politics of intimidation and government overreach into the Obama era.”
Cesca goes on to list “10 Examples of Bush and the Republicans Using Government Power to Target Critics”, beginning with the Republican-supported Big Government assaults on Planned Parenthood, ACORN (which succeeded in putting a four-decade-old community organization out of business), and on even the ability of perfectly legal American voters to simply cast a vote in their own elections. He also reminds us of the abuse of the Bush Dept. of Justice which, specifically, targeted Democrats for prosecution, and for the firing of U.S. Attorneys without cause, other than they were not partisan enough for the tastes of the Bush White House.
But while the Obama administration deserves appropriate scrutiny and investigation and accountability for whatever its part in both the developing IRS and DoJ/AP scandals, let us not forget some of these certainly-as-bad, arguably-worse scandals related to both the IRS and the DoJ — from during the Bush administration — that Republicans not only didn’t give a damn about, but often applauded for most of the past decade…
6. The Bush IRS Audited Greenpeace and the NAACP. Not only was the NAACP suspiciously audited during Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, but high-profile Republicans like Joe Scarborough had previously supported an audit of the organization even though he’s suddenly shocked by the current IRS audit story. Also in 2004, the Wall Street Journal reported that the IRS audited the hyper-liberal group Greenpeace at the request of Public Interest Watch, a group that’s funded by Exxon-Mobil.
7. The Bush IRS Collected Political Affiliation Data on Taxpayers. In 2006, a contractor hired by the IRS collected party affiliation via a search of voter registration roles in a laundry list of states: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. This begs the obvious question: why? Why would the IRS need voter registration and party affiliation information?
8. The Bush FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force Targeted Civil Rights / Anti-War Activists. In 2005, an ACLU investigation revealed that both the FBI and the JTTF surveilled and gathered intelligence about a variety of liberal groups including PETA and the Catholic Workers, along with other groups that it hyperbolically referred to as having “semi-communistic ideology.”
9. The Bush Pentagon Spied on Dozens of Anti-War Meetings. Also in 2005, the Department of Defense tracked 1,500 “suspicious incidents” and spied on four dozen meetings involving, for example, anti-war Quaker groups and the like. Yes, really. The Bush administration actually kept track of who was attending these meetings down to descriptions of the vehicles used by the attendees, calling to mind the pre-Watergate era when the government investigated 100,000 Americans during the Vietnam War.
10. The Bush FBI Targeted Journalists with the New York Times and the Washington Post. Yesterday, it was learned that a U.S. attorney, Ronald Machen, subpoenaed and confiscated phone records from the Associated Press as part of a leak investigation regarding an article about a CIA operation that took place in Yemen to thwart a terrorist attack on the anniversary of bin Laden’s death. Well, this story pales in comparison with the Bush administration’s inquisition against the reporters who broke the story about the NSA wiretapping program. In fact, the Justice Department considered invoking the Espionage Act of 1917, the archaic sequel to the John Adams-era Alien and Sedition Acts. The Bush FBI seized phone records — without subpoena — from four American journalists, including Raymond Bonner and Jane Perlez. How do we know this for sure? Former FBI Director Robert Mueller apologized to the New York Times and the Washington Post.
I’m delighted, personally, that the Republican Party and its adherents have finally decided to be outraged about actual governmental abuses of power. I’m even more delighted that they may now be focusing some of that outrage on actual abuses (as opposed to all of the pretend “scandals” they’ve been pretending to be outraged about over the past four years). But it will be all too convenient if the only such abuses they ultimately concern themselves with are the ones that affected their own special-interest groups, rather than those that have illegally and/or unconstitutionally affected the interests of all Americans for at least the past decade and more.
It will be a shame if the result of all of this is that the 501(c)(4) and (c)(3) racket that exploded in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United atrocity goes unexamined and un-overturned. As is, the IRS was doing a dreadful job in cracking down on that particularly obvious scam, and it’s almost certain that all of this will only make the appalling taxpayer-subsidized abuse by purely political groups masquerading as non-partisan “social welfare organizations” even worse.
But it will be even more of a shame if the Big Government abuses of power under the Obama administration are dealt with as special cases that occurred in a vacuum. They did not. They have been happening for years, under the Bush administration and now under the Obama administration. (For that matter, the IRS abuses now in question happened while the agency was headed up by George W. Bush’s appointee.) All of those Big Government abuses deserve oversight and governmental action and legislation to ensure that none of them can ever happen again in the future.
Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen in a political atmosphere where one party (the Republicans) and its supporters have chosen “victimhood” as a personal political philosophy and a wartime footing against their perceived enemy (the Democratic Party) as a point of personal pride, rather than displaying any interest whatsoever in actually governing on behalf of the American people or in ending the opportunities for the very Big Government abuses they decry — but only when it affects them.
By: Brad Friedman, The National Memo, May 15, 2013, Originally posted at The Brad Blog
“The Diction Debates”: To Cynical Republicans, “An Act Of Terror Is Different Than A Terrorist Attack”
Marc Ambinder explained this morning that Benghazi is “a debate about post-tragedy diction.” That’s certainly bolstered by recent Republican arguments, nearly all of which have to do with the timing of various choices of words.
If you’re thinking that genuine political controversies are supposed to deal with more meaningful issues than diction, you and I are on the same page, though congressional Republicans and much of the political world are on a very different page.
Take Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example. On Sept. 12, 2012, President Obama described the Benghazi attack as an act of terror. McCain yesterday insisted that those comments don’t count: “The president didn’t call it an ‘act of terror.’ … He condemned ‘acts of terrorism.’”
“The president sent a letter to the president of Libya were he didn’t call it a terrorist attack even when in real time the president of Libya was calling this a pre-planned Sept. 11 terrorist attack,” Issa said. He added, “An act of terror is different than a terrorist attack.”
This is amusing, in a pathetic sort of way, and not just because of Issa’s rhetorical framework. It’s also striking because it’s shining a light on what Republicans consider truly important about this story: which officials used the words Republicans like and when.
Ambinder added, “The Diction Debates aren’t real because the opponent insists he/she knows about the motivation for using/ not using certain key words.” That’s also true — McCain, Issa and others are quite animated over which official used the word “terror” on which day.
But all of this serves to remind us that the political world has defined “scandal” down to a meaningless level. Watergate dealt with crimes committed by a president. Iran-Contra dealt with a White House that sold arms to a sworn enemy to finance an illegal war. The Plame Affair, the U.S. Attorney purge, and illegal warrantless wiretaps dealt with systemic wrongdoing at the highest levels.
In 2013, though, we’re apparently stuck with, “An act of terror is different than a terrorist attack.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 13, 2013
“Panic Is Just What Republicans Want”: Democrats Shouldn’t Take GOP’s Bait On Obamacare Implementation
The notion that Obamacare’s implementation could become a major liability for Democrats in 2014 is gaining widespread currency, and today it’s the subject of a big New York Times piece reporting on confident predictions by Republicans that implementation problems will give them a powerful weapon against Dem candidates. Obama is set to do a series of events designed to educate the public on the challenges of implementing the law, beginning with one on Friday where he’ll promote the law’s benefits for women.
It strikes me that GOP Obamacare implementation triumphalism is a tad premature.
Here is how the Times characterizes the sentiment in Dem circles about the coming war over implementation:
Democrats are worried about 2014 — a president’s party typically loses seats in midterm years — and some have gone public with concerns about the pace of carrying out the law. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, told an interviewer last week that he agreed with a recent comment by Senator Max Baucus of Montana, a Democratic architect of the law, who said “a train wreck” could occur this fall if preparations fell short.
The White House has allayed some worries, with briefings for Democrats about their public education plans, including PowerPoint presentations that show areas with target populations down to the block level.
“There’s clearly some concern” among Democrats “that their constituents don’t yet have all facts on how it will work, and that Republicans are filling that vacuum with partisan talking points,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, head of the House Democrats’ campaign committee. “And the administration must use every tool they have to get around the obstructions and make it work.”
Quotes like these are widely held up as evidence that Republicans are right that Obamacare implementation is shaping up as a major problem for Dems. But this amounts to a fundamental misreading of what it is these Dems are actually saying. Democrats are simply doing exactly what they should be doing — that is, calling for care and caution in the implementation of Obamacare, and calling for a serious effort to educate the public about the challenges and potential pitfalls it entails. This is not tantamount to running away from the law wholesale; nor is it a concession that implementation will amount to a major political albatross.
As Jonathan Cohn has detailed at length, it’s very possible there will be real problems with the health law’s implementation. If that happens, Republicans will relentlessly try to tie Dem candidates to those difficulties, in hopes for a rerun of 2010. But in 2010, public reactions to the new health law were largely suffused with deep anxiety about the severe economic crisis and uncertainty about the new president’s ability to cope with it. Republicans and allied groups made the assault on Obamacare central in 2012, in the presidential race and in many Senate contests, with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Will implementation make things different in 2014? By all means, the problems could be very real, particularly with Republicans intent on subverting implementation wherever possible. Dems should remain vigilant and prepare for turbulence. But they needn’t fret this too much. For one thing, as Josh Barro has noted, implementation is likely to be most keenly felt among those who currently lack insurance, who will naturally see getting insurance as a preferable outcome to nothing at all, even if it proves logistically difficult.
Dem candidates can strike a balance here: They can call for careful implementation and criticize it when it goes awry, while standing squarely behind the law’s overall goal of expanding coverage to the millions of Americans who lack it. What’s more, they can continue to remind the public that Republicans are offering no alternative of their own and simply want to return the country to a pre-reform free-for-all that nobody, particularly the large ranks of the uninsured, wants. This position is the correct one to take, substantively and politically, and it shouldn’t be that hard to get the balance right. After all, whatever the unpopularity of Obamacare, offering nothing in the way of reform isn’t exactly a winning message, either. Major reforms are not easy, and Dems can say so, while pointing to the endless GOP drive to repeal the law to reinforce the notion that Republicans have no interest in actually addressing the country’s most pressing problems.
Dems should refrain from displays of political panic, since panicking is exactly what Republicans want them to do. “A lot of this is psychological warfare,” is how Dem strategist Doug Thornell recently put it. “I would tell Dems not to take the bait.” So would I.
By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 7, 2013
In a recent Pew Poll, 80 percent of respondents said the president and Republican leaders were not working together to address important issues — and, by a two-to-one margin, said the G.O.P. was more to blame for gridlock.
Despite their minority status in the Senate, the people on the right side of the aisle have managed to muck up the works. Their obstructionist repertoire is so extensive that you almost need a field guide to their delaying techniques.
Here’s a start on that guide.
Filibuster Abuse: The practice of halting Senate deliberation is an old one, practiced by both parties, but the current Republican caucus has taken it to new heights. They have filibustered an unprecedented number of President Obama’s nominees. The District Court for Washington, D.C., perhaps the most important appeals court in the land, has four of its 11 seats vacant. The last time the Senate confirmed a judge was in 2006. The Republicans have filibustered all of Mr. Obama’s nominees because Republicans simply don’t want him to appoint any judges to a currently conservative court, which rules on appeals involving federal regulatory agencies, and which has exclusive jurisdiction over national security matters.
Boycotting: Also known as taking your marbles and going home, the most recent example came on Thursday, when Republicans refused to attend a meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee, thereby blocking the nomination of Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. They claimed they were not completely satisfied with her answers to the more than 1,000 questions they dumped on her in the confirmation process. In addition to stymying Mr. Obama, holding up her nomination has the great virtue of hamstringing the E.P.A., which the right thinks shouldn’t exist in the first place. And that leads us to the next G.O.P. tactic:
Denial of services: Some government agencies require a certain number of members, or a permanent chief, to operate. If the Republicans don’t like those agencies, they simply make sure those positions never get filled. For instance, the National Labor Relations Board, which Republicans loathe because it protects workers, requires a quorum to take action. So the Republicans refused to confirm Mr. Obama’s nominees. Then they held fake pro-forma sessions during their vacations to try to prevent him from making recess appointments. He did that anyway and the Republican-packed D.C. appeals court (see above) ruled that the appointments were illegitimate — which could invalidate scores of decisions. The Republicans are playing this same trick with the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in response to the wildly reckless actions that led to the financial collapse of 2008.
Investigate again and again and again: When Darrell Issa, took over the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform after the G.O.P. won the House majority in 2010, he said he wanted to hold “seven hearings a week times 40 weeks.” His supposed reason was that Mr. Obama is “corrupt.” That’s a frequent Republican talking point, but it’s so obviously ridiculous that I wonder if they actually believe it. In any case, the real reason is that endless “investigative” hearings cause trouble and distract administration officials from their actual jobs. The hearings on Benghazi, for example, have revealed none of the impeachable offenses that Republicans claimed would come to light. They have kept Congress and the administration focused on what happened in Libya eight months ago, which was awful, rather than on what is happening there today, which is awful.
Refuse to negotiate: Republicans in Congress used to complain that the Senate Democrats hadn’t produced a budget in the last four years. But recently the Democrats did just that. So the Republicans abandoned their old talking point and are now refusing to form a conference committee to reconcile the Senate budget with the House budget.
By: Andrew Rosenthal, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, May 10, 2013