We’ve heard quite a bit recently from Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and Michael Mukasey, so I suppose it stands to reason that it’s time for Alberto Gonzales to reemerge, too.
The former attorney general has been wise to keep a low profile. In office, he was a national laughingstock. Upon Gonzales’ departure, Andrew Cohen wrote a terrific piece explaining, “By any reasonable standard, the Gonzales Era at the Justice Department is void of almost all redemptive qualities.” He sought a legal job in D.C. but couldn’t find a firm that would hire him, and the last I heard, Gonzales ended up teaching at an unaccredited law school.
The former A.G. nevertheless appeared on MSNBC this morning, apparently ready to address some of the ongoing controversies. He seemed inclined to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt when it came to subpoenaing Associated Press phone logs, but this nevertheless stood out for me.
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recalled on Wednesday a time when he was confronted with a “very serious leak investigation” similar to the one that has embroiled the Obama administration this week. But, he said, he went a very different route and decided against subpoenaing a reporter’s notes.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the seizure of Associated Press phone records, saying the Department of Justice was trying to get to the bottom of a “very serious leak” that “put American people at risk.” Gonzales, who oversaw a massive domestic wiretapping program under former President George W. Bush, acknowledged on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the attorney general is often forced to “make a very hard determination” but when faced with a similar dilemma, his Justice Department “ultimately decided not to move forward.”
Now, I can’t be sure which case Gonzales is referring to, but for the record, let’s not forget that during his tenure as attorney general, the Justice Department “improperly gained access to reporters’ calling records as part of leak investigations.” Indeed, it happened quite a bit.
Unlike the current uproar, we didn’t hear much about this at the time, but if Gonzales wants to give the impression now that his DOJ showed greater restraint when it came to journalists and phone logs, he’s mistaken.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2013
We talked yesterday about last week’s ABC News reporting on emails related to the Obama administration’s Benghazi talking points, which are now very much in doubt. I’ve heard from ABC, so let’s follow up.
ABC’s reporting on Friday, which touched off a major political firestorm, pointed to a top White House official who reportedly sent an email siding with the State Department and recommending the removal of specific references to terrorist organizations and CIA warnings from the talking points. Jake Tapper at CNN reported yesterday that ABC was wrong — the “actual email differs from how sources characterized it” to ABC’s Jonathan Karl.
ABC last night referred me to this statement from Karl.
I asked my original source today to explain the different wording on the Ben Rhodes e-mail, and the fact that the words “State Department” were not included in the e-mail provided to CNN’s Tapper.
This was my source’s response, via e-mail: “WH reply was after a long chain of email about State Dept concerns. So when WH emailer says, take into account all equities, he is talking about the State equities, since that is what the email chain was about.”
As Josh Marshall explained, “I guarantee you Karl had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when he saw that explanation. Because that explanation by reference to earlier comments in the thread is pretty weak. Karl’s follow on piece is entitled ‘More Details on Benghazi Talking Points Emerge’ but the substance is, ‘How the Story Changes When I Realize the Notes I Was Using Weren’t Reliable.’ The answer here is that Karl pretty clearly got burned by his source. But he at least seriously singed himself by making it really, really look like he was looking at the emails themselves when he wasn’t.”
Right. ABC’s Karl originally told his audience that he’d “obtained” White House materials, when in fact he’d seen summaries, apparently provided by a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, which we now know were misleading. Karl received unreliable information, and seems to have been incomplete in how he characterized his direct knowledge of the information.
I wouldn’t ordinarily focus on one flawed report like this — we all make mistakes — but ABC’s coverage on Friday became the basis for a media firestorm, which now appears to have been a mistake.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 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
“Congressional Responsibility With No Accountability”: Why The Green Lantern Theory Of Presidential Power Persists
At today’s press conference, President Obama spent a fair amount of time pushing back on what some of us are calling the “Green Lantern Theory of Presidential Power.” This theory — which seems to hold broad sway over many in the press — holds that presidents should be able to bend Congress to their will, and any failure to do so proves their weakness and perhaps even their irrelevance.
What accounts for the persistence of this theory? The answer, I think, lies in the tendency of reporters and analysts who are trying to remain a neutral, nonpartisan posture to feel comfortable making process judgments, but not ideological ones.
The extent and limits of presidential power were at the center of one of the most interesting exchanges of the day. ABC News’s Jonathan Karl asked this question:
Mr. President, you are a hundred days into your second term. On the gun bill, you put, it seems, everything into it to try to get it passed. Obviously, it didn’t. Congress has ignored your efforts to try to get them to undo these sequester cuts. There was even a bill that you threatened to veto that got 92 Democrats in the House voting yes. So my question to you is do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?
Obama answered that Republicans have the option of cooperating with him to avert the sequester. He also said:
You seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people. So if, in fact, they are seriously concerned about passenger convenience and safety, then they shouldn’t just be thinking about tomorrow or next week or the week after that; they should be thinking about what’s going to happen five years from now, 10 years from now or 15 years from now. The only way to do that is for them to engage with me on coming up with a broader deal. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do is to continue to talk to them about are there ways for us to fix this.
As Jamelle Bouie quipped: “Barack Obama asks press to maybe, possibly, hold Republicans responsible sometime.” Bouie added: “Congressional Republicans have agency, and at a certain point, they need to be held accountable for their actions.”
But here’s the problem: If a reporter or analyst were to call out Republicans for failing to compromise with Obama, that reporter or analyst would be calling on them to adopt a particular policy position, such as moving towards a mix of new revenues and spending cuts to replace the sequester. It would amount to a criticism of the Republican position — i.e., that we should only replace the sequester with spending cuts. This is impermissible for the neutral writer, because it constitutes an ideological judgment. On the other hand, faulting Obama for failing to get Republicans to move his way does not constitute taking any kind of stand on who is right, ideologically speaking. It only constitutes a judgment of Obama for failing to manipulate the process adequately.
This sometimes works against Republicans, too. John Boehner was widely pilloried by commentators for failing to control his caucus during the fiscal cliff fight. But Boehner struggled to do this because many conservatives in his caucus had adopted the extreme and borderline delusional position that taxes must not be raised, ever, no matter what. Criticizing the position of conservatives, however, would constitute an ideological judgment, which is far harder for the nonpartisan writer to make than to claim Boehner just can’t control his Members because he’s ineffective — a process criticism.
This isn’t to absolve Obama of all responsibility to move Congress. Surely presidents have the power to set the agenda and get the public to think more about an issue. But as many others have explained at great length — see Jonathan Bernstein and Kevin Drum on this – the president’s influence over Congress is currently quite limited, historically speaking, for a host of reasons. And in the particular case of guns and the sequester, the Green Lantern argument is even more absurd: Toomey-Manchin wouldn’t have passed even if every Democrat had voted for it; and the sequester cuts can’t be replaced with a compromise of Obama’s choosing because Republicans control the House of Representatives.
The reason all these explanations don’t weigh on the Green Lanternites is the basic process/ideological imbalance identified above. It’s okay for the nonpartisan writer to criticize a president for failing to exert his will (a process judgment), but it’s not okay for the nonpartisan writer to fault Republicans for failing to agree to move in the direction of the policy a president wants (an ideological judgment). Today, for instance, Ron Fournier, to his credit, conceded that Obama was right in describing the limits on his powers. But he added: “Even if you concede to Obama every point of his Tuesday news conference, a president looks weak and defeated when he shifts accountability to forces out of his control.”
Perhaps this is how the public will view Obama; perhaps it isn’t. What is clear, however, is the basic imbalance here. While neutral commentators often hold up compromise, abstractly, as the Holy Grail, the process/ideology dichotomy makes it much easier for those commentators to fault the president for failing to work the process effectively enough to secure compromise than to pillory the opposition for being ideologically uncompromising.
By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, The Plum Line, April 30, 2013
Reading Peggy Noonan got me into a bad mood, and it was just terrible luck that the next cookie on the plate was this earnest Politico piece by Patrick Gavin on the anniversary of the “controversy” over the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. It seems Tom Brokaw has again broken the silence by expressing the quiet angst of the Beltway press corps at the pollution of this hallowed event by Hollywood celebrities:
Tom Brokaw blames it all on Lindsay Lohan.
Last year, Brokaw became one of the biggest critics of the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner after he saw Washington buzzing around and about the troubled Hollywood actress, who was a guest of Fox News’s Greta Van Susteren.
“The breaking point for me was Lindsay Lohan,” Brokaw told POLITICO during a recent interview in his office in the NBC News Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in New York. “She became a big star at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Give me a break.”
Reading the whole article, it’s unclear to me whether Brokaw is primarily concerned about gate-crashing by Hollywood types, or understands that the whole idiotic phenomenon of journalists dressing up like celebrities to schmooze with the rich and powerful people they are supposed to be writing critically about is itself a tad bit sick-making:
“They [the Great Unwashed] were making their own decisions in their own states, in their own communities, and the congressional ratings were plummeting,” he added. “The press corps wasn’t doing very well, either. And I thought, ‘This is one of the issues that we have to address. What kind of image do we present to the rest of the country? Are we doing their business, or are we just a group of narcissists who are mostly interested in elevating our own profiles?’ And what comes through the screen on C-SPAN that night is the latter, and not the former.”
That is exactly right, but it has nothing to do with the admixture of entertainment industry figures in the proceedings. All the borrowed Hollywood glitter does is to make it clearer than ever that if politics is “show business for ugly people,” as the old saying goes, then the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is their red carpet event. Let the stars of E! take over the whole damn thing, and stop pretending it has anything to do with journalism.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 26, 2013