In the middle of the other “scandals,” i.e. Benghazi and the Internal Revenue Service, that the Obama Administration has to deal with – and which may change the general direction of politics in America at the next general election – there is also the Department of Justice going after the Associated Press in a criminal investigation into leaks of classified information.
The real “news” for us on this last one is that it is no scandal, even though the media are spinning it that way.
Why? Simple: They want to continue getting – from “leakers” inside government – classified information and then publishing it. To them, it’s just another “hot story,” while for the people actually involved in the situation, it may mean risking their lives or the failure of an operation that could jeopardize our national security. In short, it sells us all out.
This is also why, in our Constitutional form of government, there is absolutely no right or protection for anyone to publish national security information – and “anyone” includes the media and press. Not only that, let’s say that a classified document is stolen or taken from an authorized government facility and given to a reporter. In this situation, the government clearly has the right – and even the obligation – to investigate the disappearance of the document and retrieve it by any legal means. This includes getting warrants for telephone records, wiretaps and even carrying out physical searches. And this same logic applies in the digital world.
Is it “legal” for the Justice Department to go after the AP as part of a criminal investigation into the loss or unauthorized disclosure of classified information? Absolutely, and the suggestion of a “scandal” is a massive deflection by the media. Again, the First Amendment simply does not “allow” the publication of national security information – never has, never will.
For some international perspective: We may be the only democracy in the world not to have what is called an “official secrets act,” a law that makes it a crime to publish national security information. This explains why we rarely – if ever – see similar situations arise, for example, in Canada, the United Kingdom or most other European countries. In these countries, their media simply do not – under penalty of criminal law – publish their classified information, much less actively seek it out, as they do here.
Do we need such a law here? Again, it is simply impossible to get an objective discussion of this question because of the emotional “freedom of the press” arguments, which begin from the false premise that there is somehow a constitutional right to publish government secrets. There is no such “right.”
On the other hand, does the government classify way too much information and keep it classified way too long? Yes. However, this problem has been addressed and readdressed over the years by rules that limit the number of “classification authorities,” by periodic reviews of classified information and by limitations on the number of years information can be classified. Of course, because of the immense damage some information could cause if it were released, there have to be exceptions – but this is the very nature of national security related information.
Ultimately, it is the president, as commander in chief, who is responsible for establishing, protecting and eventually releasing this kind of information – not the media.
Accordingly, when I was bi-partisan General Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), I drafted this rather innocuous provision for inclusion in the fiscal 2001 Intelligence Authorization Act:
Whoever, being an officer or employee of the United States, a former or retired officer or employee of the United States, any other person with authorized access to classified information, or any other person formerly with authorized access to classified information, knowingly and willfully discloses, or attempts to disclose, any classified information acquired as a result of such person’s authorized access to classified information to a person (other than an officer or employee of the United States) who is not authorized access to such classified information, knowing that the person is not authorized access to such classified information, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
Was there “method to my madness”? Sure, however, it was also surprisingly easy for me to get bipartisan agreement to the language in both Houses of Congress – and also agreement from the White House in a “SAP,” a “Statement of Administration Policy.” And, after all, who could possibly disagree with it? It was “motherhood and apple pie,” as they say in Washington. I held my breath.
Then some media lobbyist must have actually read the legislation and the whole media industry came unglued and went to “general quarters” to defeat actual enactment of the law. So, notwithstanding that the law had already passed both Houses of Congress with bipartisan support, they got to Bill Clinton with an enormous and personal effort: And, Clinton vetoed the law in his final days as president.
At least the Washington Post – one of the world class publishers in this country, along with the New York Times, of leaked U.S. classified information – showed its “true colors” in this vapid editorial about the legislation:
“We don’t pretend to be neutral on this subject. Newspapers publish leaked material; our reporters solicit leaks. And some of the leaked material we publish is classified. But it is a mistake to imagine that all leaks of classified information are bad.” Editorial, The Washington Post, Aug. 24, 2001
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any newspaper editor deciding whether to declassify presumptively sensitive national security information – they simply have no business doing it, regardless of how “hot” the story is or how well connected their “leaker” source is.
Hopefully, it’s this sad fact of political life in Washington that has the Obama Administration actively going after classified “leakers” – more than any administration has ever done. But far more effective would be some form of an “official secrets act” to better protect our nation.
Stated simply: It should be against the law to publish national security secrets – the First Amendment does not protect such irresponsible “journalism,” no matter how salacious the story might be. And, in this respect, we should be no different than our Canadian or British friends – no one there dares publish their national security secrets and no one here should dare publish ours.
By: Daniel J. Gallington, U. S. News and World Report, May 20, 2013
This morning, Eric Rosengren, chief executive of the Boston Federal Reserve, cautioned lawmakers against further fiscal retrenchment, lest they slow the recovery. As he said at the Global Interdependence Center’s Central Banking Conference in Italy: “Given the economic realities I would urge policymakers to consider scenarios where some elements of fiscal rebalancing take effect only after the economy has more fully improved.”
He’s right, in large part because Congress has already done a fair amount of deficit reduction. Beginning in 2011, with unemployment still high and the economy on a long, slow climb out of recession, Congress — led by a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives — moved to make big cuts in medium-term discretionary spending. It slashed $1 trillion with the Budget Control Act of 2011, and followed that with hundreds of billions more in spending cuts and tax increases with the fiscal cliff deal and sequester.
Now, as a result of this deficit reduction, the Congressional Budget Office projects a $642 billion budget deficit for fiscal year 2013, down $200 billion from its projection at the beginning of the year, and the lowest level of deficit spending since President Obama entered office. The near-term deficit projection also shows improvement; the CBO estimates a 2015 deficit of $378 billion. For Washington’s deficit hawks, this is cause for celebration. It’s a sign the federal government is on its way to a more sustainable debt load.
But this rapid deficit reduction is far less of a boon for most Americans, who have to live in an economy that’s been largely stalled by Congressional inaction. At 7.5 percent, unemployment is still too high, and there’s little sign of rapid improvement. According to most projections, joblessness won’t reach pre-recession levels for another three years.
Congress’ push for deficit reduction has a lot to do with this. As noted in the New York Times last week: “The nation’s unemployment rate would probably be nearly a point lower, roughly 6.5 percent, and economic growth almost two points higher this year if Washington had not cut spending and raised taxes as it has since 2011.”
To put that in more concrete terms, 1.5 million more Americans would have jobs if not for Washington’s decision to pursue deficit reduction in the midst of a sluggish economy.
Unfortunately, news of successful deficit reduction is unlikely to result in any respite from new cuts or tax increases. The Obama administration still has its Social Security cuts on the table — as part of a potential “grand bargain” — and Congressional Republicans are gearing up to demand still more spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
Will Washington avoid endangering the still-fragile recovery with further deficit reduction? If the refusal to end or replace the sequester is any indication, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, May 16, 2013
Washington tax lawyer Celia Roady acknowledged that at the behest of the IRS, she asked a question at a May 10 conference that would ignite the controversy over inappropriate targeting of conservative groups.
Four days before a damning Inspector General’s report was due to be released, the IRS wanted to get out ahead and potentially defuse some of the backlash.
Roady serves on the IRS Advisory Committee on Tax-Exempt and Government Entities. She asked the planted question to Lois Lerner, the IRS’ director of the tax-exempt division. Within minutes, it sparked shock and a firestorm that the IRS had revealed it inappropriately targeted certain groups, particularly with the words “Tea Party” and “patriot” in their title.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, the firm that employs Roady, released a statement on her behalf explaining her role in asking the question:
“On May 9, I received a call from Lois Lerner, who told me that she wanted to address an issue after her prepared remarks at the ABA Tax Section’s Exempt Organizations Committee Meeting, and asked if I would pose a question to her after her remarks. I agreed to do so, and she then gave me the question that I asked at the meeting the next day. We had no discussion thereafter on the topic of the question, nor had we spoken about any of this before I received her call. She did not tell me, and I did not know, how she would answer the question.”
Outgoing Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller confirmed during testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday that the question had been planted.
That led to intense questioning from members of Congress, who wondered why Lerner did not reveal the news during testimony before the committee on May 8, two days before the conference.
Miller said that the plan had been to simultaneously notify Congress after Lerner’s public admission, but acknowledged that “didn’t happen.”
“She has been directly involved in this matter,” Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said on Friday. “She failed to disclose what she knew to this committee, choosing instead to do so at an ABA conference two days later.
“This is wholly unacceptable.”
By: Bret LoGiurato, Business Insider, May 18, 2013
Testifying in front of the House Ways and Means Committee, acting IRS commissioner Steve Miller apologized for his agency Friday.
“I want to apologize on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service for the mistakes that we made and the poor service that we provided,” Miller said. “The affected organizations and the American public deserve better.”
Agents at the IRS decided to take a shortcut in 2010 that has created an uproar, “centralizing” a number of factors that could raise suspicions that these fledgling non-profits might not be focused primarily on ”social welfare.” One of those factors — and here’s where they made their biggest mistake — was focusing on groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names. Later they revised this policy to focus on “political action-type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement,” according to the IRS Inspector General’s report.
The result? Some 300 groups were identified for extra scrutiny — among them, 70 were Tea Party groups. It’s not clear how many groups were turned down, yet it’s clear at least one Democratic group was.
Miller — who is stepping down from his position at the request of the administration — insisted that the actions were not intended to target conservatives.
“I think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection,” he said. “The listing described in the report, while intolerable, was a mistake, and not an act of partisanship.”
Under questioning by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Miller pointed out that though progressive groups were not identified by name, the IRS actually collected more information on left-leaning groups than Tea Party groups. The lifelong bureaucrat even rejected the notion that his agency was “targeting” anyone, insisting that was a pejorative term to describe the “listing” the agents were doing.
Republicans continually tied the scandal to attacks on the IRS in general, often citing audits by their supporters as proof of the agency’s overreach.
“The reality is this is not a personnel problem. This is a problem of the IRS being too large, too powerful, too intrusive and too abusive of honest, hardworking taxpayers,” said Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI).
But Miller had another explanation for why his agents pursued such questionable practices — funding. The commissioner asked the committee to increase funding to his agency, citing budget constraints as a major reason why agents sought shortcuts to identify questionable applications.
“In the last 10 years, the budget of the IRS, adjusted for the size of the population and inflation, has come down 17 percent,” according to tax expert David Cay Johnston.
Committee members offered several examples of groups being denied 401(c)(4) status or delayed endlessly. However, there’s no evidence that suggests Republican spending was hindered by this IRS’s shortcut.
“Of the 21 organizations that received rulings from the IRS after January 1, 2010, and filed FEC reports in 2010 or 2012, 13 were conservative,” writes OpenSecretsblog‘ Robert Maguire. ”They outspent the liberal groups in that category by a factor of nearly 34-to-1, the Center for Responsive Politics analysis shows.”
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, May 17, 2013
Now that we know a GOP congressional aide misleadingly edited — intentionally or not — Obama administration emails on the Benghazi attack, one wonders if he or she will face repercussions. There’s some precedent here. Former GOP Rep. Dan Burton used to hold Darrell Issa’s job as Chairman of the House Oversight Committee and used it to aggressively go after Bill Clinton on a host of controversies of various degrees of merit, much as Issa is doing now.
In 1998, as Burton was investigating alleged campaign finance violations from Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, his office released a doctored transcript of an audiotape of a former Clinton aide. Burton’s top aide took the blame for the deception and resigned, as the New York Times reported on May 7, 1998:
The top investigator for the House inquiry into President Clinton’s 1996 campaign finance practices resigned under pressure today, amid growing bipartisan criticism of his role in releasing edited tapes of Webster L. Hubbell’s jailhouse conversations. The aide, David N. Bossie, has been for 18 months the point man and alter ego of the inquiry’s chairman, Representative Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who heads the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. But since Mr. Burton released transcripts of some of Mr. Hubbell’s prison conversations late last week, the lawmaker has weathered intense attacks by Democrats maintaining that exculpatory information was edited out of the transcripts.
The situation is a good analog for the Benghazi emails in that Republicans made some small alterations to otherwise accurate raw information which fundamentally changed the meaning to advance their political agenda.
The difference is that other Republicans joined Democrats in expressing outrage at the misleading editing 15 years ago. Burton even had to apologize to fellow Republicans after then-Speaker Newt Gingrich said Burton was running the investigation like a “circus.”
Today, at least so far, Republicans have been mum on the apparent tampering of White House emails for political gain by one of their own. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the GOP staffers who leaked the Benghazi emails made an honest mistake when transcribing emails they were shown in a closed-door briefing with intelligence officials, but no one has come forward with an explanation and a mea culpa.
Meanwhile, Democrats were not satisfied with Bossie’s resignation. They noted that Burton himself released the transcript, and they called on the congressman to resign as well. “A committee staff member should not be made the scapegoat for Chairman Burton’s mistakes, missteps and misdeeds,” then-House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt said. Indeed, Burton himself said, “I take responsibility for those mistakes,” but never resigned or faced censure.
We still don’t know the full story of the edited Benghazi emails, but if someone intentionally fabricated information and then leaked it to reporters, that would seem to undermine the credibility of the entire investigation. Obama has fired someone for less this week.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 17, 2013