On Fox News Monday night, famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and host Bill O’Reilly zeroed in on the latest twist in Washington scandalmania — why the White House is refusing to answer questions about the 157 times former IRS commission Doug Schulman allegedly visited the White House, a closeness that raises questions about presidential involvement in the agency’s controversial targeting of Tea Party tax-exempt groups.
“This fiction that somehow [the IRS is] totally an independent agency is absurd,” Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal, said. “You say they aren’t answering this question about the 157 visits by the IRS commissioner. They should.”
“President Obama could easily come out through his spokesperson and say this is where Mr. Schulman was. And here are the dates. Here is who he met with,” O’Reilly said. “The fact that the President doesn’t do it, should raise the curiosity of every reporter, Mr. Woodward, every reporter. Yet, as I said, the major network news on television ignored the story last week in its totality. It’s amazing.”
This forces us to ask the uncomfortable question of whether O’Reilly and Woodward have access to Google. Because if they did, they would have the answers to all of these questions, and they may even find a statement from the president’s spokesperson that he is supposedly refusing to give.
“The IRS commissioner, in carrying out his duties, would of course have many reasons to have an appointment to visit the White House,” White House spokesperson Eric Schultz said.
That’s a bit vaguer than what O’Reilly and Woodward are looking for, but the White House doesn’t really have to say any more, considering that all the specifics are already online, available to anyone who looks for them.
The story of the 157 visits originated with the Daily Caller, based on a (sloppy) inspection of White House visitor logs. But as the Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta reported, parsing those very same visitor logs a bit more closely, it turns out that while Schulman — a Bush appointee — was cleared to visit the White House 157 times, he appears to have actually visited only 11 times.
The vast majority of the cleared visits were related to the implementation of Obamacare, in which the IRS plays a key role, and include regularly scheduled weekly meetings with administration officials on the ongoing work. Meanwhile, many people seem to be conflating the presidential mansion itself with other executive office buildings that are organizationally under the “Executive Office of the President ” — all colloquially referred to as “The White House.” They’re all included in the Secret Services’ visitors logs, but it turns out Schulman was rarely cleared to visit the actual White House, more often having permission to go to the Executive Office Building.
You can see where Schulman went, whom he met with and when — all of these mysterious questions the White House refuses to answer — here.
We expect it from O’Reilly, but it’s a bit disappointing from Woodward, who should know better. Still, he’s seemingly been making a subtle drift from impartial reporter to conservative pundit in recent years.
By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, June 4, 2013
“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
Regular readers may recall that I’ve long been fascinated by the trouble President Obama’s detractors have had with understanding what it is about him they dislike. The result is a series of rhetorical attacks that are incoherent and contradictory.
He’s a ruthless Chicago thug and a “wuss.” He’s a bystander who goes golfing too much and an activist president who engages too much. He’s sticking to the Bush/Cheney script on national security and he’s putting us at risk by abandoning the Bush/Cheney national security agenda. He’s cutting cherished entitlement programs like Medicare and he refuses to cut entitlement programs like Medicare. He’s waging a class war against the rich and he’s coddling millionaires.
This week, as much of the political world tries to stick to the dubious line that the White House is engulfed in scandals, we’re seeing the same phenomenon once more. Greg Sargent makes a nice catch this afternoon:
One current storyline has it that all of these stories could converge to create a sense that Obama’s embrace of government activism has shaded into Nixonian abuses of power — revealing that Obama personally harbors a far more intrusive, overbearing, and even sinister approach to governing than he previously let on.
But another current storyline has it that the White House’s pushback on these scandals — the claims of a firewall between the Justice Department and the White House, the assertions of no connection to the IRS abuses — reveal a president who is weak and unable to control the government he presides over.
Good point. Just today, the Washington Post reports that the recent uproars “add evidence” to detractors’ claims that President Obama is a power-hungry leader who “has not acted within the constraints of the Constitution.” And also today, the New York Times reports that the controversies that have captured the Beltway’s attention present President Obama as a helpless “onlooker” who seems unable to “use his office.”
Greg added, “Obviously, these narratives can’t both be true at once. The scandals can’t demonstrate that Obama’s true dictatorial streak has finally been revealed while simultaneously supporting the idea that they’ve shown him to be too weak to control a government that has run amok.”
Ordinarily, I give the “pick a narrative and go with it” advice to the president’s Republican detractors, but in this case, it seems more appropriate to remind pundits and the political media establishment that their own preconceived narratives are just as contradictory.
Indeed, in this case, the critiques are especially incoherent since the so-called “scandals” generating so much chatter about “a White House in crisis” don’t actually relate much to the White House. None of the stories — Benghazi, the IRS, AP subpoenas — points to a tyrannical dictator or a hapless onlooker.
To connect three disparate stories of varying degrees of legitimacy and importance into a mega-scandal is lazy. So, too, is the embrace of competing narratives that cancel each other out.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 16, 2013
The Washington pundits of the moment – a group that includes such blinding lights as Maureen Dowd and Ron Fournier – seem to believe that if only President Obama would provide adequate “leadership,” the partisan polarization on Capitol Hill would evaporate and America’s problems could be solved at last. While the president rightly mocked this notion as a fantasy worthy of Hollywood’s Aaron Sorkin, it does raise the vital question, however obtusely, of what Obama might do as he confronts an oppositional Republican-led Congress.
Whatever the punditocracy may imagine, there is no way for Obama to force his agenda on the Republicans in the House and the Senate, who range from scheming partisans like Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor to Tea Party zealots like Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann. Unlike Abraham Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson, the two brilliant manipulators with whom he is sometimes compared and found wanting, the president is not equipped to bribe, blackmail, or herd in the style of those Machiavellian chief executives. If he were so equipped — and indeed used his power as ruthlessly as Lincoln or Johnson — the same pundits who now complain that he isn’t controlling the agenda would shriek about his misuse of power.
In this journalistic mindset, the president (especially a Democratic president) is always wrong; using power is bad/unethical/cynical, while failing to use power is weak/aloof/naïve. Both ends of this stick have been repeatedly applied to Obama, of course, just as they were constantly used to punish Bill Clinton.
Alternatively, those calling for presidential “leadership” — especially the oh-so-serious Beltway types — want Obama to prove his bona fides by abandoning Democratic programs and principles, even though the Republicans have showed no willingness to cross their redline on taxes. In fact, the president has offered an excess of compromise already, while failing to elicit any fresh initiative from the opposition. Yet somehow, in the pundit mindset, Obama and the Republican leadership are equally at fault.
The president understands that critics who play such jejune Beltway games don’t deserve much of his time or attention, unless they can serve as absurdist foils for a funny dinner speech. The most salient fact in American political life is (and for some time has been) the intransigent extremism of the Republican Party. Any columnist who tries to ignore or excuse that extremism has nothing useful to tell any president.
What Obama evidently doesn’t understand, despite years of bitter experience, is the significance of that right-wing extremism for someone like him, whose nature is to accept differences and seek compromise. Unable to negotiate with a reasonable counterpart on either side of the Hill, he too frequently negotiates with himself – whether over Obamacare, the debt ceiling, the budget, deficit reduction, taxes, or “reforming” Social Security.
Yet whenever he discards a progressive position, such as the public option in health care, or adopts a conservative position, such as reducing Social Security cost-of-living increases, he only succeeds in demoralizing his base. Meanwhile, rejection by the Republicans is preordained.
So what is left for President Obama to do if he wishes to see any of his second-term agenda enacted? By now he ought to have noticed that when he speaks out firmly on behalf of progressive principles, in support of working families, his polling numbers improve and his power increases. (And whenever he vacillates, his numbers diminish and his authority weakens.)
The recent battle over gun background checks indicates that even some of the most reactionary Republicans – like Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey, formerly of the Club for Growth – can be pushed into supporting sensible reform. But that doesn’t mean seeking a “grand bargain” with politicians who want no bargain at all. It does mean mobilizing citizens on the largest possible scale, every day; it means making sure they know that the president is on their side, shares their values, and will uphold his promises to them. It means explaining to the American people, with fearless candor, that the Republican Party is unfit to participate in national governance – and unless that party is defeated decisively next year, no important objective can be achieved.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, May 3, 2013