I recently compared terrorist attacks and scandals under presidents Reagan and Obama. Reagan did not come off well, but many right-wingers still believe that the so-called scandals under Obama are among the worst ever. This is partly because they are determined to criticize anything Obama does, and partly because right-wing media are not providing the information needed to make a rational judgment. Investigations are still going on, but it might be helpful to summarize what we do know about several of these claims.
IRS targeting conservative groups: Contrary to Mitch McConnell’s claim, no one is rifling through anyone’s tax returns. After the Citizens United decision, there was a flood of applications from groups wanting to become 501(c)4 tax-exempt groups, for social welfare. No political groups allowed. All applications for this status should be carefully scrutinized.
Both conservative and liberal groups were flagged. In the end, no conservative groups were denied tax-exempt status. The only group denied was a liberal group, Emerge America. New evidence shows that President Obama had nothing to do with these actions. The man who made the decision to flag groups was a conservative Republican. Investigating these actions is fine; just keep the facts straight.
AP phone records: First, no phones were wiretapped. Phone records were subpoenaed by the DOJ, which is within their legal boundaries. What was unusual was the scope of the records subpoenaed. The purpose was to determine who had talked to reporters about a terrorist plot in Yemen which was thwarted by the CIA. By releasing this story, the AP put a CIA operative at risk and ended his usefulness as an undercover agent. There is a careful balance between freedom of the press and endangering people’s lives, and the government felt this story had crossed that line. They wanted to know what happened.
The best way to protect media is with a “Shield Law.” In 2007, a bill was proposed in the House that would have required a court order before obtaining evidence, including phone records, from journalists. Who voted against this bill? Congressman Darrell Issa, the same man who is now so outraged. The bill passed the House, but was defeated by a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Obama has asked Sen. Charles Schumer to reintroduce this bill. Republicans are angry about a situation they themselves set up.
Benghazi: Did you notice that the hearing in May that was going to “blow the lid off Benghazi” actually was a dud? There have been 10 congressional hearings and over 25,000 pages of documents released. The conclusions are that mistakes were made during this CIA operation, mostly in relying on Libyan security forces. A CIA team arrived in Benghazi before the second attack. Libyan forces reached the compound soon after and escorted 30 Americans to the airport and safety. There is no evidence that the State Department or the White House prevented American forces from assisting. Anyone can claim anything; the hard part is proving it. The Republicans have not done that so far.
Fast and Furious: The final report on this program stated there was “no evidence that ... (Attorney General)Holder was informed about Operation Fast and Furious, or learned about the tactics employed by ATF in the investigation.” The operation began as Project Gunrunner in 2005. The object was to trace trafficked guns into Mexico, but it was “seriously flawed and supervised irresponsibly” by ATF agents in Arizona, who continued this operation on their own. No U.S. officials sold guns to the cartels; they allowed straw purchasers to buy guns and then tracked the guns. The acting director of ATF, under whom these actions occurred, retired when these actions were revealed. This was an ineffective and botched operation, but there is no evidence that the administration was involved in any way.
Why are Republicans harping on these issues so much? About 6.8 million new jobs have been created in the last 38 months. The unemployment rate is dropping steadily. The deficit is shrinking at the fastest pace in 50 years. GDP grew at a 2.4 percent annual rate the first quarter of 2013. The stock market is at record highs, with consumer confidence at the highest rate since 2007. The housing and auto industries are recovering. Republicans don’t want Obama to get any credit for anything. Like a third-rate magic act, if they can keep the audience’s attention on these so-called scandals, they hope no one will notice all the good things happening. Let’s trust that the American people are smarter than that.
Jeanette Strong’s column appears every other Wednesday.