On Wednesday, President Obama struck back against a rising chorus of criticism in Congress and the media over his handling of a trio of scandals that have rocked Washington.
- He announced that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has asked for and received the resignation of acting Internal Revenue Service commissioner Steven Miller amid an outcry over the IRS’s targeting of conservative and Tea Party groups for special scrutiny.
- His legislative aide asked Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to re-introduce a 2009 bill that would give reporters more protection from the government’s efforts to probe confidential sources, as occurred in the AP scandal.
- The White House released 100 pages of emails regarding the “talking points” given to UN Ambassador Susan Rice before she went on five Sunday morning talk shows immediately after the attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Amb. Chris Stevens.
Wednesday’s actions may represent a turning point in the scandals that have dominated the last week or so, because as of now, there’s no evidence that either the president or anyone in the White House or his re-election campaign had anything to do with any of the three scandals.
- The IRS actions, although they were discussed high in that agency’s ranks, likely didn’t even spill over into the Treasury Department, which oversees it. Congress will investigate this, as it should, and Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department will investigate it to see if criminal charges are warranted. And there probably will be changes in criteria used to grant political groups not-for-profit status. But without more direct evidence linking the president or his campaign to this shameful effort, he won’t be hurt by it.
- Congress also will investigate the AP scandal, but I suspect they’ll get nowhere, because as I wrote here Wednesday, DOJ’s efforts were probably legal, part of the metastasis of the national security state. Chances for a new shield law have improved, which is a good thing. But again, no direct link to the president.
- Finally, on Benghazi, Wednesday’s document dump showed an even more confusing chain of events in the Rice “talking points” than we had seen before. The documents, which had been released to Congress several months ago, reveal intense in-fighting between the State Department and the CIA, which may have been trying to conceal clandestine operations there. But again, no evidence whatsoever of any White House or Obama campaign involvement.
With Wednesday’s actions, the president began to move beyond these scandals, even as Congress and the media will harp on them, for good and bad reasons.
He already has proposed reforms in the IRS and journalists’ confidentiality and on Thursday in the Rose Garden he called on Congress to “fully fund” his “budget request to improve [embassy] security around the world.” Talk about turning the tables!
The email dump also pretty much absolved UN Ambassador Rice, who just read talking points State and CIA couldn’t agree on. The president may even appoint her National Security Adviser, which doesn’t require Senate confirmation. He also will focus on implementing the recommendations made by the Pickering-Mullen group to improve embassy security.
Most of the Republicans’ questions on Benghazi now involve former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. President Obama will let her fend for herself—the Clintons have a lot of experience dealing with scandals, don’t they?
Thus far, public opinion hasn’t wavered much. Even prominent conservatives like Charles Krauthammer and Bill O’Reilly have urged caution in linking the president to these scandals. They may sense that he’s going to come out of them unscathed.