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“Enter Oliver North”: The GOP’s Bergdahl Backlash Has Slipped Into Farce

If you were to think of the person least qualified to criticize the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap, it would have to be someone who oversaw an even more controversial prisoner exchange. Throw in an illegal weapons sale, multiple felony charges, and bingo, you’ve got a guy with basically zero credibility to throw stones on this issue.

Enter Oliver North.

Yes, the former Reagan aide best known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair is miffed about the Bergdahl deal. North exhibited a complete absence of self-awareness Tuesday by baldly insisting, without evidence, that the Obama administration or one of its allies paid a hefty price to grease the deal.

“Someone paid a ransom,” he told Newsmax, estimating that it was probably around $5 million or $6 million.

“And if a ransom was paid, either at our behest or with American tax dollars,” he later told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “it means this government is causing to be funded a criminal enterprise that kills Americans.”

North even had the gall to boast that he was uniquely qualified to discuss the brouhaha because he knows “a lot about hostage negotiations.”

Indeed, he does. North and other Reagan officials orchestrated illegal arms sales to Iran to rescue American prisoners, and then used the proceeds to finance a secret war in Central America. North was convicted of multiple felonies, though an appeals court later reversed the rulings.

So yes, it’s safe to say North knows a thing or two about hostage negotiations.

North’s foray into the debate would be merely laughable if it weren’t part of the GOP’s larger pattern of gleeful political opportunism on the issue.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — himself a former POW freed in a mass prisoner exchange — called the swap a “mistake.” Months earlier, he said he was “inclined to support” such a deal. Other Republican lawmakers who’d previously called for Bergdahl’s release have suddenly changed their tune as well. Some even deleted from digital media their praise for the administration’s handling of the situation.

Meanwhile, a GOP strategist raced to line up critics of Bergdahl who served with him, an act that smacked of swiftboating. And the National Republican Campaign Committee, perhaps predictably, has already begun using the scuttlebutt to fundraise for the party.

To be sure, there are several legitimate questions that can be asked about the swap. Perhaps most significantly is the concern raised by many lawmakers, including some Democrats, that the administration did not properly keep Congress abreast of the negotiations.

But we’ve seen the GOP go down this path too many times before, seizing on every scandal, manufactured or not, to paint the administration as untrustworthy, lawless, and basically evil. It is the latest #Benghazi for the GOP to flog mindlessly and endlessly in hopes of somehow alchemizing campaign gold from their outrage.

Rather than focusing on whether Bergdahl deserted his troops, or whether the Taliban prisoners handed over were too dangerous to set free, the GOP has instead focused the bulk of its energy on re-upping the exaggerated portrait of Obama as a reckless, incompetent “emperor” who needs to be impeached.

Trotting out Oliver North of all people to tsk-tsk the administration moved the backlash from over-the-top whinging to outright farce, and revealed for the umpteenth time that there’s no bottom the GOP won’t scrape.


By: Jon Terbush, The Week, June6, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Prisoner Exchanges | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s All They’ve Got”: The GOP Hunt For A Watergate-Scale Scandal Continues

It was no surprise that White House spokesperson Jay Carney spent a healthy portion of his press briefing today talking about the latest White House email on Benghazi that has conservatives on the attack once again. As you’d expect, Carney described the whole thing as “an attempt by Republicans to politicize a tragedy,” adding: Like so many of the conspiracy theories that have promulgated by Republicans since the beginning of this, this one turned out to be bogus.”

Republicans, however, see it very differently. “We now have the smoking gun” on Benghazi, says Sen. Lindsey Graham. And the press is echoing this view. If you do a news search on “Benghazi smoking gun” you’ll come up with hundreds of articles from the last 24 hours. We’re talking about an email by national security adviser Ben Rhodes, written just after the attack in September 2012 and just released. As Dave Weigel demonstrates at length, there isn’t any smoking gun here.

But while the email doesn’t actually demonstrate anything criminal or corrupt, it does show that the silliness of spin goes all the way up near the top — on both sides.

This email is actually interesting, if not for the reasons Republicans want you to believe. The section of Rhodes’ email, written two days after the attack, that has people interested is some bullet points under the heading of “Goals”:

  • To convey that the United States is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad;
  • To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy;
  • To show that we will be resolute in bringing people who harm Americans to justice, and standing steadfast through these protests;
  • To reinforce the President and the Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.

What follows is a series of answers to potential questions about the attack and the administration’s response, always stressing the President’s strength and steadiness and steadfastness and statesmanship. Yes, this is what some of our top White House officials spend their time on.

Now, spinning, and advising others on proper spin, is part of Rhodes’ job. Is there something a little unseemly about that? Well, you might think so. But it’s a bipartisan endeavor, one undertaken in every White House and every member of Congress’ office, where communication staff spend their every waking moment wondering how they can make sure their boss looks good no matter what.

But to Republicans, when the White House does it, it’s not just unseemly, it’s downright criminal. They believe that because they are convinced that Barack Obama and everyone who works for him are corrupt down to their very core. And one of their great frustrations of the last five years is that this president, whom they loathe with such intensity, has not been caught actually doing anything that would warrant his impeachment, at least to that portion of the American public not scanning the skies for black UN helicopters coming to take their guns and force their kids to gay marry a Marxist Kenyan abortionist.

Over the last year and a half since the attack occurred, I’ve gone back and forth on what conservatives really think about Benghazi, in their quiet moments. At times, it has seemed like they genuinely believe that this was one of the worst cases of presidential malfeasance in American history. When I compared it to other genuine scandals, I can’t tell you how many wingnuts have poured into my Twitter feed with, “How many people died in Watergate? Huh? Huh?” When I attempted to patiently explain what Watergate was actually about and why it was such a big deal, they were unconvinced.

But at other times, I’ve gotten the sense that they’re making whatever they can out of Benghazi not because they really believe that they’ll find some criminality if they keep searching, but just because it’s all they’ve got. To their chagrin, this administration hasn’t had a major scandal on the scale of Watergate or Iran-Contra. While scandals like those got more and more serious the more they were investigated, the opposite happened with the ones in this administration: the closer we looked, the more it became apparent that we were talking about simple screw-ups, not corruption and malfeasance. That’s what happened with every one of the mini-scandals, from Solyndra to the IRS to Benghazi. The administration even managed to dispense $787 billion of stimulus money without so much as a hint of theft or double-dealing, which was a pretty remarkable achievement.

If Republicans had anything better to work with to show America that Barack Obama really is the pulsing heart of evil at the center of an administration riven with criminal wrongdoing from top to bottom, they wouldn’t be crying wolf at every new Benghazi email they get their hands on. Even after all this time, the “cover-up” they claim occurred wasn’t actually covering anything up, which is kind of the whole point of a cover-up. Yes, the White House was spinning in those first few days when it was still unclear exactly what had happened in Libya, spinning for all it was worth, to show how “resolute” and “strong” they were. They wanted to make sure no one thought there was any “broader failure of policy.” And did they mention that President Obama is strong and steadfast? Oh yes, he most certainly is. That may be silly, but it isn’t a crime.


By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 1, 2014

May 5, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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.'”

What matters, in Republicans’ minds, is the diction. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was thinking along the same lines today on Fox News. Watch on YouTube

“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

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Of Cover-Ups And Crimes”: Editing Talking Points Is Not Even Close

Of all the crazy things people on the right are now saying about Benghazi, I’ll admit that the one that most makes me want to scream is that it’s “worse than Watergate.” I get that much of the time it’s just a way of saying “This is a big deal,” and maybe there are some of your dumber elected officials (your Goehmerts, your Bachmanns) who believe it. But the idea is so plainly absurd that sometimes it feels like they’re just trolling, saying it not because any sane person could think it’s true, but because they just want to drive me nuts.

And as long as they keep saying it, I guess we’ll have to keep reminding people with short memories what actual scandals involve. To that end, Jonathan Bernstein has a nice reminder for us about Watergate and what a real cover-up looks like, in the course of which he counters the old “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” aphorism: “I’ll stick with what I always say about this: its the crime, not the cover-up, that gets people in trouble. The reason for the Watergate cover-up was that specific crimes had been committed, crimes which could have (had they been confessed to in June 1972) sent much of the senior White House staff, much of the campaign organization, and perhaps the President of the United States straight to prison.” I’d add that in the case of Watergate, the cover-up actually consisted of new crimes, added on to the original crimes.

This is an important distinction to make. As the Watergate scandal was proceeding, Nixon and his top advisors didn’t just say, “Let’s send the press secretary out to say this is all no big deal.” They committed crimes in their effort to contain the scandal. They paid hush money. They destroyed records. They committed multiple acts of obstruction of justice. And just as they should have, for those crimes, some of Nixon’s top advisors went to prison.

Everybody in politics tries to avoid looking bad, and everybody attempts to shape the news to their liking. Did the Obama administration do that with regard to the Benghazi story? Sure, just like every administration does every day, not to mention every member of Congress. They portray themselves as noble and courageous, and their opponents as craven and cynical. They encourage reporters to talk about issues that make them look better, and ignore topics that make them look worse. But when you call those efforts a “cover-up,” you’re implying something much more serious. There was a cover-up in Watergate, and people went to jail for it. There was a cover-up in Iran-Contra—Oliver North, currently appearing on Fox News to express outrage at the Obama administration, perjured himself before Congress and shredded incriminating White House documents to hide the Reagan administration’s illegal and morally abhorrent scheme. That’s a cover-up. Editing talking points? Not even close.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 14, 2013

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Benghazi, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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