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
With a special investigator soon to be appointed by the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, the ethics cloud hovering over Rep. Michele Bachmann could quickly become a major problem for the Tea Party hero, experts tell Salon.
“This is very serious,” said Craig Holman, a government ethics lobbyist at liberal-leaning watchdog group Public Citizen. “It’s not Watergate, or at least not yet, but these are a series of allegations that are each serious on their own, and when you put them all together, this could be a career ender for Michele Bachmann.”
Ken Boehm, chairman of the conservative-leaning National Legal and Policy Center, told Salon that we should wait to see what investigators find — indeed, no wrongdoing has been reported so far — though he acknowledged the escalating scrutiny could be a major headache for the congresswoman down the line.
The Iowa investigation, looking into whether the campaign improperly paid a state senator, is just one of at least three different probes examining a range of allegations related to Bachmann’s failed presidential campaign, including charges that she improperly used campaign funds to promote her book, that her campaign “launder[ed]” money, and that one of her staffers stole an email list from a home-school organization.
Two former staffers, including her former chief of staff, have agreed to testify against Bachmann, which Holman said is “very unusual” and something that will push investigators at the Federal Elections Commission and the Office of Congressional Ethics, each of which reportedly has its own investigations into the campaign, to take the matter seriously.
OCE can’t issue penalties itself, but instead refers matters to the House Ethics Committee, where the range of potential punishments is huge, from a letter of censure to expulsion from the House, though the committee has a reputation for partisan gridlock and could easily sidestep the matter. FEC violations, meanwhile, come with civil fines, but the commission is even more notoriously ineffectual than the Ethics Committee.
The real punishment, even if no wrongdoing is found, would likely instead come in November of next year, when Bachmann will face off against Democrat Jim Graves, whom she beat by less than 4,500 votes in 2012. The race presents real challenges for Graves, as turnout will be lower without a presidential race, and the district remains the most conservative in Minnesota.
But Professor Larry Jacobs, who runs the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at University of Minnesota, says the ethics questions are a “big problem” for Bachmann. “There are a lot of things a conviction politician like Michele Bachmann can withstand, and being attacked by Democrats is definitely one of them. But the kind of krypton that will disable her is having her convictions challenged,” he told Salon.
Some supporters will no doubt stick by her, and refuse to believe the veracity of any charges (see: Glenn Beck), but others may not. “These charges are particularly damaging because they cut to the core of her greatest strength among her followers, which is her authenticity. This cloud of questions has now enveloped her in the ‘usual politics’ label and what I’ve heard from her supporters — and this is obviously not a scientific sample — is, ‘she’s just like the rest of them,’” Jacobs added.
For his part, Graves isn’t ready to make an issue of the ethics questions — yet. “We aren’t going to make any assumptions,” he told Salon. “We’re confident in the bipartisan process responsible for investigating this matter. The truth will set you free — or otherwise. I’m just disappointed at how long this issue has had to go on, creating another distraction from the real needs and concerns of Minnesotans.”
Bachmann’s core supporters will probably never vote for a Democrat, but they might stay home, which could be trouble in a low-turnout race like midterms generally are. Still, Jacobs guesses that Bachmann hangs on for another cycle, but barely. And if the ethics questions get worse, that prediction might change.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 2, 2013
“Making Governing As Miserable As Possible”: Republicans Discover Sequester Budget Cuts Are Politically Unpopular
Back in February, a Pew Research Center poll showed that while Americans like the abstract idea of “spending cuts,” they don’t support reducing actual spending on, well, anything. Foreign aid very nearly (but not quite) achieved a majority in support of cuts, but for every other government activity – including education, entitlements, environmental protection and infrastructure – Americans are loathe to reduce the level of investment.
The GOP recently seems to have taken the public’s position to heart. Exhibit A is Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who took to the House floor last week to decry the so-called “sequester” because it “breaks everyone’s heart” to see services such as Head Start and Meals on Wheels cut. “There are numerous Republicans that voted against the sequestration because we knew all of these calamities were in the future,” Bachmann said. “Didn’t you know this was going to happen? We knew it. That’s why we voted against this bill.”
As the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler ably details, Bachmann is significantly rewriting history by claiming that she was against the sequester because it cuts too much from key services. At the time, she very publicly explained that she was against it – and other far more severe budget plans – because it did not cut enough.
But this trend goes far beyond Bachmann. Take, for instance, the GOP’s latest debt ceiling gambit. Come the fall, the federal debt limit will have to be raised again, and Republicans are already making noise about which policy concession they hope to wring out of the White House this time.
Unlike previous episodes, though, it seems that the GOP won’t demand entitlement cuts, but has instead decided that a revenue-neutral rewrite of the tax code (which would do nothing to reduce the deficit) will be the price of avoiding a self-induced economic calamity.
The reason for this shift is Republicans fear that embracing entitlement cuts such as those included in the president’s most recent budget “would be political suicide.” As New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait puts it, “Oh! So you threaten to melt down the world economy unless Obama agrees to cut spending on retirement programs, and then he offers to do that, and then you decide it’s too unpopular?”
The only GOP goal at the moment seems to be making governing as miserable as possible for the Obama administration. That leads to a lot of heated rhetoric about the threat of the deficit and the imminence of a debt crisis, scaremongering about the U.S. turning into Greece and creating the impression that there are gobs of taxpayer dollars being flushed down some bureaucrat’s toilet somewhere, thus playing off the public’s fear of a budget deficit that it doesn’t understand but knows it doesn’t like.
But when push comes to shove – and people are actually living with the effects of government spending cuts as they, for instance, try to travel by air – the GOP’s true colors show. So we wind up with a cockamamie budget discourse in which one party doesn’t really want to cut spending but offers to do so anyway, while the other demands spending reductions but then turns them down when the president agrees. (Unless, of course, those cuts affect discretionary spending on the poor, in which case, the GOP does nothing to stop them, but, ala Bachmann, wants none of the credit.) And all the while, the economy sputters along without the support it so desperately needs.
By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, April 30, 2013
Dorsey Shaw noted late yesterday that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has had a “horrible, no good, very bad week.” It’s true — even by Bachmann’s awful standards, the ignominious congresswoman has had it rough lately.
Her CPAC speech was ridiculous, and left in tatters by fact-checkers. Asked for an explanation, Bachmann literally fled from a reporter confronting her with her own words. Bill O’Reilly invited her on to get back on track, but when Bachmann refused, he turned on her.
This, however, was the moment that arguably mattered most.
“Let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens,” Bachmann said on the House floor. “Let’s not do that. Let’s love people. Let’s care about people. Let’s repeal it now while we can.”
I’m sure this probably makes some sense to Bachmann, but for those of us living in reality, it’s just crazy.
She went on to say, “What [President Obama] demanded and insisted upon is that the government have 100 percent control over health care,” Bachmann said. “100 percent control? The American people lose control? What did they get? They get health care — health insurance, I should say — that is more expensive than anything they’ve ever paid for before. And they get less for it. Well what a deal, Mr. President, Mr. Speaker. What a deal.”
For anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the issue, this is complete gibberish. Under current law, government doesn’t have “100 percent control over health care,” but rather, private insurers have a key role providing coverage for tens of millions of people. What’s more, consumer costs are lower, not higher, and they have more expansive coverage, not less.
It’s almost as if Michele Bachmann, after having been caught saying ridiculously untrue things, has no qualms about making matters worse, bringing a new round of shame to her and her constituents.
Of course, she can at least take some comfort in the fact that the House Republican leadership kept her on the House Intelligence Committee, inexplicably giving this deeply strange and unhinged lawmaker access to the nation’s most sensitive, highly-classified secrets.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 22, 2013
The current intramural squabbling on the right is just too delicious for words. At least for nice words.
Senator John McCain called the far-right darlings Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Justin Amash “wacko birds” earlier this month. (McCain later apologized for that burst of honesty and candor.)
Ann Coulter used her Conservative Political Action Conference speech to take a shot at New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, who was not invited to speak this year. Coulter quipped: “Even CPAC had to cut back on its speakers this year, by about 300 pounds.” What a lovely woman.
Also at CPAC, the half-term ex-governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, took a whack at Karl Rove, challenging him to run for office himself. “Buck up or stay in the truck,” she said with her usual Shakespearean eloquence. Rove shot back that if he were to run and win, he’d at least finish his term. Ouch.
Donald Trump took to Twitter recently to call the conservative blogger Michelle Malkin a “dummy” who was “born stupid.” It’s hard to know whom to side with when two bullies battle.
But all this name-calling, as fun as it is to watch, is just a sideshow. The main show is the underlying agitation.
The Republican Party is experiencing an existential crisis, born of its own misguided incongruity with modern American culture and its insistence on choosing intransigence in a dynamic age of fundamental change. Instead of turning away from obsolescence, it is charging headlong into it, becoming more strident and pushing away more voters whom it could otherwise win.
Andrew Kohut, the founding director of the Pew Research Center, pointed out in The Washington Post on Friday that the party’s ratings “now stand at a 20-year low,” and that is in part because “the outside influence of hard-line elements in the party base is doing to the G.O.P. what supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did to the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s — radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.”
And too many of those hard-liners have a near-allergic reaction to the truth.
A prime example is Michele Bachmann, the person who convened the Tea Party Caucus in Congress and a Republican candidate for president last year.
She burst back on the scene with a string of lies and half-truths that could have drawn a tsk tsk from Tom Sawyer.
PolitiFact rated two of her claims during her CPAC speech last Saturday as “pants on fire” false. The first was that 70 cents of every dollar that’s supposed to go to the poor actually goes to salaries and pensions of bureaucrats. The second was that scientists could have a cure for Alzheimer’s in 10 years if it were not for “a cadre of overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators.”
She also said during that speech that President Obama was living “a lifestyle that is one of excess” in the White House, detailing how many chefs he had, and so on.
The Washington Post gave that claim four Pinocchios, and pointed out that “during last year’s G.O.P. presidential race, Bachmann racked up the highest ratio of Four-Pinocchio comments, so just about everything she says needs to be checked and double-checked before it is reported.”
And in a speech Thursday on the House floor, she said of the federal health care law:
“The American people, especially vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens, now get to pay more and they get less. That’s why we’re here, because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”
Factcheck.org pointed out that her “facts” didn’t match her hyperbole.
Last year The Washington Post quoted Jim Drinkard, who oversees fact-checking at The Associated Press, as saying, “We had to have a self-imposed Michele Bachmann quota in some of those debates.”
It’s sad when you are so fact-challenged that you burn out the fact-checkers.
People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.
When all the dust settles from the current dustup within the party over who holds the mantle and which direction to take, Republicans will still be left with the problem of what to do with people like Bachmann.
And as long as the party has Bachmanns, it has a problem.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 22, 2013