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Where is the scandal that Republicans Promised?

Posted by on May. 17, 2013 at 12:21 PM
  • 22 Replies

Where is the Benghazi cover-up Republicans promised?

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House April 30, 2013 in Washington, DC.

U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House April 30, 2013 in Washington, DC. / CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

I was told there was going to be a cover-up. After reading the 100 pages of emails related to the Benghazi media talking points, I'm hard-pressed to find evidence for the most damning accusations against the president and his staff. If they were involved, they were once again leading from behind.

The most incendiary charge aimed at the president is that, in order to insulate himself in an election year, he and his team made up a fake story about a "spontaneous uprising" in Benghazi and downplayed intelligence that it could have been a premeditated attack by known terrorist organizations. There has been so much spinning from the president and his staff in the aftermath of the attack, this storyline seems possible--when the public spin is this bad it is easy to imagine deeper rot. The emails help your imagination along. They destroy the impression left last November by White House spokesman Jay Carney that only a single word was changed in the process, which can get your adrenaline up. But when you pull on the thread in search of evidence for the Big Story, your heartbeat slows. The emails show a lot of CIA and State Department action, but comparatively little White House meddling, and certainly nothing near the level of meddling that would be required to put in the big fix.

One of the challenges of figuring out what's a cover-up, what's a lie, and what's just spin in this Benghazi drama is that this entire discussion is about media talking points. Talking points produced to guide members of Congress in their conversations with the media are not the product of sodium pentothal. They are created to put the best face on an event and to coordinate spin so that everyone in the administration, campaign, or party caucus has the story straight. That means if you don't see bureaucratic ass-covering and efforts to make the interesting appear bland, you're not reading talking points. So, for example, when House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama have a contentious meeting, their aides agree on talking points in which they tell the media the two men had a "frank exchange." Not a lie, but not an expletive-laden transcript either. In this case, the talking points were being created on the fly as information was coming in about the attack and an investigation was underway. So, in addition to the normal massaging of language, there was a good deal of imprecision, too.

Given that context, what do the emails tell us about the Obama election-season cover-up story? First there is the matter of the "spontaneous demonstration" that ignited the violence. The president's critics contend that the Obama team put United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday talk shows to promote a false story about a link between the violence in Benghazi and the demonstrations in Cairo over an anti-Islamic video. If this were true, it would indeed make the whole business a cover-up. Talking points may not be suitable for stone tablets, but you're not supposed to actually lie. But the one thing that is consistent throughout the talking-point editing process is the very first sentence of the CIA assessment: "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo."

There is no mention of a video in the talking points, which Rice brought up on television that Sunday, but the video was the pretext for the Cairo protests. (You may remember that before the State Department was covering its behind about the Benghazi attack, it was doing so over the Cairo embassy apology for the video.) In 1992, if you'd talked about the riots in Los Angeles it would have been reasonable to refer to them as the riots that were based on the Rodney King video.

Let's not fixate too much on the video, though. It's less important to the cover-up narrative than the idea that the attack was a spontaneous event. What administration critics find risible about the reliance on the video is the thinking behind it: that this level of violence could ever be considered spontaneous. Fair point, but that's a problem with the CIA's first assessment, not evidence that supports a White House cover-up.

The cover-up story relies on the premise that Obama administration officials pushed the idea of spontaneity in order to obscure the fact that they had missed warnings of planned terrorist attack. It's plausible that someone was pushing that story for parochial reasons in these email exchanges. Perhaps the CIA put that idea in its first assessment and kept it there in every subsequent version to cover for its failure to stay on top of the al-Qaida affiliates in Benghazi, even though there was a CIA outpost there. It's also obvious that the State Department wanted to shift blame away from its failure to protect its people in Benghazi. But there's no evidence in the emails that the idea of spontaneity was initiated by anyone associated with Obama, the White House, or the president's wider political fortunes. Did Obama benefit from the spontaneity narrative? Yes. But to embrace intelligence from your CIA that is favorable to you--when you have no reason to doubt your intelligence service--is not the same as making up a false story. It's not even a sin.

Next we come to the claim that the president and his team removed the references to al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations as well as references to prior warnings about terrorist activity. If this were the case, you would expect to see some effort by the White House voices in the email traffic toward this goal. It's not there. The opposite is the case. In the initial round of emails, one CIA official reports that the White House signed off right away on the full initial CIA assessment. "The White House cleared quickly, but State has major concerns," reads an email that a CIA official sent to CIA director David Petraeus. So rather than being the authors of the bowdlerizing effort, the White House was just fine with the fully caffeinated version that mentions Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaida, and that the CIA had produced numerous warnings about extremists in Benghazi. White House aides reviewed the talking points, made no substantive changes, and moved them along.

When the language does eventually change in the talking points, it is clear that it is at the behest of State Department officials, not anyone in the White House. When Obama's aides do come on stage, it's pretty far in the background. One State Department official writes, "Talked to [NSC spokesman] Tommy [Vietor], we can make edits." This is hardly the vision of a campaign-obsessed Obama operation pushing a storyline. There have been some sloppy Nixon analogies thrown around this week, so let's remind ourselves for a moment of what a real cover-up sounds like. "I don't give a shit what happens," President Nixon was recorded saying. "I want you all to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up or anything else if it'll save it--save the plan. That's the whole point. ... We're going to protect our people, if we can."

Aides to Republicans pushing for additional investigations concede that the leaked emails don't show much White House involvement. That takes the heat off of Obama and puts it on Hillary Clinton--who was always an ancillary target of the Benghazi inquest. In congressional testimony, Secretary of State Clinton said, "It was an intelligence product," referring to the talking points and adding later that the "intelligence community was the principal decider about what went into talking points." That doesn't stand up now that we can see how thoroughly the State Department was reworking the language.

The original talking points authored by the CIA were wrong about the spontaneity of the uprising, but they substantiated the idea that there was a broader terrorist threat on the ground. The final product that informed Susan Rice's talk show appearances was both wrong and bland. What's clear from the email exchanges is that the State Department insisted on the changes for a mix of ass-covering and self-defense reasons. Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, didn't want to give Congressional critics talking points that could be used against the State Department. That would no doubt please her former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, who had a very stingy view about what Congress had a right to hear when it came to national security matters.

Cheney was among those this week pushing the idea that the president concocted the story of a spontaneous riot to protect his election chances. That the CIA analysts fed the president intelligence that turned out to be imprecise would no doubt be insufficient for the former vice president, though Cheney had a similar experience. He cites the CIA as the source of his long-held incorrect view that Iraq played a role in the 9/11 attacks. (If he weren't on the other side of the ideological divide, perhaps he and the president could commiserate over how hard it is to get a story straight.)

Just because there's no real evidence of the grand White House conspiracy doesn't absolve the president of responsibility for the underlying failures and the shoddy efforts to explain the whole affair. From his first remarks in the Rose Garden, to the exchanges in the debates with Mitt Romney, to the present day, the president has been shading and back-dating what he said shortly after the attack to make it seem like he was aware it was a planned attack when at the time he was encouraging the view that it was a spontaneous one. That's spin and it's lame, but it's a present-day failing unconnected with White House actions last fall. So the president and his aides are guilty--guilty of doing a bad and misleading job of explaining why there was no cover-up. But that's not the smoking gun Republicans set out to find.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

by on May. 17, 2013 at 12:21 PM
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Replies (1-10):
nanaofsix531
by Platinum Member on May. 17, 2013 at 7:55 PM

There is none.They are great at accusations but have no proof as usual.Almost 5 years looking for scandal and nothing sticks.They are a sad,sad,party thats for sure!

Carpy
by Platinum Member on May. 17, 2013 at 8:26 PM
7 moms liked this

Follow the IRS scandal.  It is leaving a trail right to Obama.

DSamuels
by Gold Member on May. 17, 2013 at 10:20 PM
6 moms liked this
I'd like to see them release the emails from the first 67 hours.
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pvtjokerus
by Gold Member on May. 17, 2013 at 10:32 PM
4 moms liked this

 What planet do you live on?


Quoting nanaofsix531:

There is none.They are great at accusations but have no proof as usual.Almost 5 years looking for scandal and nothing sticks.They are a sad,sad,party thats for sure!


 

pvtjokerus
by Gold Member on May. 17, 2013 at 10:34 PM
1 mom liked this

 And why do you ask?  Think they intentionally left those out for now?  Maybe to doctor them up a little bit???


Quoting DSamuels:

I'd like to see them release the emails from the first 67 hours.


 

DSamuels
by Gold Member on May. 17, 2013 at 10:39 PM
2 moms liked this
Wouldn't surprise me a bit.

I would also love to know where Hillary was while this was going on. Where was Obama, and why according to panetta's testimony did he not ask for any updates after he was told about the attacks at 5 pm?


Quoting pvtjokerus:

 And why do you ask?  Think they intentionally left those out for now?  Maybe to doctor them up a little bit???




Quoting DSamuels:

I'd like to see them release the emails from the first 67 hours.



 

Posted on CafeMom Mobile
pvtjokerus
by Gold Member on May. 17, 2013 at 10:44 PM
3 moms liked this

 Info trickled out that he wasn't heard from until the next morning.  But that is not verified.  Guess he had to be in bed early for his Las Vegas campaign trip.  But hey, the ole' battle-ax was on the phone at 2:00am talking to the second charge and NOT asking what happened.  She was then probably shredding docs and emails by this time.


Quoting DSamuels:

Wouldn't surprise me a bit.

I would also love to know where Hillary was while this was going on. Where was Obama, and why according to panetta's testimony did he not ask for any updates after he was told about the attacks at 5 pm?


Quoting pvtjokerus:

 And why do you ask?  Think they intentionally left those out for now?  Maybe to doctor them up a little bit???


 


Quoting DSamuels:

I'd like to see them release the emails from the first 67 hours.

 


 


 

Carpy
by Platinum Member on May. 18, 2013 at 6:35 AM
3 moms liked this

Here is your scandal.  This is enough that even democrats in Congress are very angry.  This may be the one that brings the adm down.  ALL Americans, left and right should be angry about this one.


REP. MIKE KELLY (R-PA): This has nothing to do with political parties. This has to do with highly targeted groups. This reconfirms everything the American public believes. This is a huge blow to the faith and trust that the American people have in their government. Is there any limit to the scope where you folks can go? Is there anything at all? Is there any way that we could ask you is there any question that you should have asked?

My goodness. How much money do you have in your wallet? Who do you get emails from? Whose sign do you put up in your front yard? This is a tax question? And you don't think that's intimidating? It's sure as hell intimidating. And I don't know that I got any answers from you today. And I don't know that -- what Mr. George said is great work -- but you know what? There's a heck of a lot more that has to come out in this. Any anybody that sat here today and listened to what you had to say, I am more concerned today than I was before, and the fact that you all can do just about anything you want to anybody?

You know, you can put anybody out of business that you want. Any time you want. I gotta tell you. You could talk about how you're a horribly run organization, if you're on the other side of the fence, you're not giving that excuse. And the IRS comes in, you're not allowed to be shoddy, you're not allowed to be run horribly, you're not allowed to make mistakes, you're not allowed to do one damn thing that doesn't come in compliance, and if you do, you're held responsible right then. I just think the American people have seen what's going on right now in their government. This is absolutely an overreach and this is an outrage for all Americans.

Carpy
by Platinum Member on May. 18, 2013 at 6:38 AM
1 mom liked this


During a House Ways and Means Committee hearing today, Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., grilled outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller about the IRS targeting a pro-life group in Iowa.

“Their question, specifically asked from the IRS to the Coalition for Life of Iowa: ‘Please detail the content of the members of your organization’s prayers,’" Schock declared.

“Would that be an inappropriate question to a 501 c3 applicant?” asked Schock. “The content of one’s prayers?”

“It pains me to say I can’t speak to that one either,” Miller replied.

After Schock pressed him further, Miller explained that although he couldn't comment on the specific case, it would "surprise him" if that question was asked.

The report comes from the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm for religious liberty.

From their report:

Coalition for Life of Iowa found itself in the IRS’s crosshairs when the group applied for tax exempt status in October 2008. Nearly ten months of interrogation about the group’s opposition to Planned Parenthood included a demand by a Ms. Richards from the IRS’ Cincinnati office unlawfully insisted that all board members sign a sworn declaration promising not to picket/protest Planned Parenthood. Further questioning by the IRS requested detailed information about the content of the group’s prayer meetings, educational seminars, and signs their members hold outside Planned Parenthood.

Carpy
by Platinum Member on May. 18, 2013 at 6:44 AM
2 moms liked this

Obam was aware of this last June, yet continues to claim he found out from the news just like the rest of us. Seriously??? Do you actually believe that?  If nothing else, this points to an extreme incompetence problem, At the most it proves a coverup and that the POTUS is a liar.

Republican charges range from clearly questionable actions to seemingly specious allegations, and they grow by the day. On Friday, lawmakers sought to tie the I.R.S. matter to the carrying out of President Obama’s health care law, which will rely heavily on the agency. Whether they succeed holds significant ramifications for Mr. Obama, who will soon know if he is dealing with a late spring thunderstorm that may soon blow over or a consuming squall that will leave lasting damage.

Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, the usually mild-mannered chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, set the tone Friday at Congress’s first hearing on the targeting of conservative groups by the I.R.S., laying out details, from the alleged threatening of donors to conservative nonprofit groups to the leaking of confidential I.R.S. documents.

In that context, he said, the screening of Tea Party groups for special scrutiny was not the scandal itself but “just the latest example of a culture of cover-ups — and political intimidation — in this administration.”

“It seems like the truth is hidden from the American people just long enough to make it through an election,” Mr. Camp said.

Taken aback, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, modified his prepared remarks to warn, “If this hearing becomes essentially a bootstrap to continue the campaign of 2012 and to prepare for 2014, we will be making a very, very serious mistake.”

Republicans raised a long list of issues. Mr. Camp contended, for instance, that a White House official’s divulging of a private company’s tax status constituted “a clear intimidation tactic.” The 2010 incident involved an offhand comment by the White House economist Austan Goolsbee that Koch Industries had not paid corporate income taxes because it pays taxes through the personal income tax code. As it turned out, that was not true, but the assertion was made in a discussion of tax reform ideas, not politics.

The Republicans also criticized the publication of donors to the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to same-sex marriage. That donors list surfaced mysteriously in March 2012 from a whistle-blower whose identity is still unknown. The whistle-blower apparently obtained it by simply requesting it from the I.R.S. 

Linkage to the health care law came through Sarah Hall Ingram, a longtime I.R.S. official who has headed the agency’s program to carry out the Affordable Care Act since December 2010. Before that, she led the I.R.S.’s tax-exempt and government-entities division, which contained the political targeting effort.

“This is an audit, and it’s helpful,” Representative Tim Griffin, Republican of Arkansas, said of the investigation of I.R.S. targeting by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, “but it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

But the inspector general made clear that effort did not reach the attention of high-level I.R.S. officials until 2011 at the earliest.

The inspector general gave Republicans some fodder Friday when he divulged that he informed the Treasury’s general counsel he was auditing the I.R.S.’s screening of politically active groups seeking tax exemptions on June 4, 2012. He told Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly after,” he said. That meant Obama administration officials were aware of the matter during the presidential campaign year.

The disclosure last summer came as part of a routine briefing of the investigations that the inspector general would be conducting in the coming year, and he did not tell the officials of his conclusions that the targeting had been improper, he said.

Treasury officials stressed they did not know the results until March 2013, when the inspector presented a draft.

“Treasury strongly supports the independent oversight of its three inspectors general, and it does not interfere in ongoing I.G. audits,” the department said in a statement Friday evening.

Republican charges range from clearly questionable actions to seemingly specious allegations, and they grow by the day. On Friday, lawmakers sought to tie the I.R.S. matter to the carrying out of President Obama’s health care law, which will rely heavily on the agency. Whether they succeed holds significant ramifications for Mr. Obama, who will soon know if he is dealing with a late spring thunderstorm that may soon blow over or a consuming squall that will leave lasting damage.

Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, the usually mild-mannered chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, set the tone Friday at Congress’s first hearing on the targeting of conservative groups by the I.R.S., laying out details, from the alleged threatening of donors to conservative nonprofit groups to the leaking of confidential I.R.S. documents.

In that context, he said, the screening of Tea Party groups for special scrutiny was not the scandal itself but “just the latest example of a culture of cover-ups — and political intimidation — in this administration.”

“It seems like the truth is hidden from the American people just long enough to make it through an election,” Mr. Camp said.

Taken aback, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, modified his prepared remarks to warn, “If this hearing becomes essentially a bootstrap to continue the campaign of 2012 and to prepare for 2014, we will be making a very, very serious mistake.”

Republicans raised a long list of issues. Mr. Camp contended, for instance, that a White House official’s divulging of a private company’s tax status constituted “a clear intimidation tactic.” The 2010 incident involved an offhand comment by the White House economist Austan Goolsbee that Koch Industries had not paid corporate income taxes because it pays taxes through the personal income tax code. As it turned out, that was not true, but the assertion was made in a discussion of tax reform ideas, not politics.

The Republicans also criticized the publication of donors to the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposed to same-sex marriage. That donors list surfaced mysteriously in March 2012 from a whistle-blower whose identity is still unknown. The whistle-blower apparently obtained it by simply requesting it from the I.R.S. 

Linkage to the health care law came through Sarah Hall Ingram, a longtime I.R.S. official who has headed the agency’s program to carry out the Affordable Care Act since December 2010. Before that, she led the I.R.S.’s tax-exempt and government-entities division, which contained the political targeting effort.

“This is an audit, and it’s helpful,” Representative Tim Griffin, Republican of Arkansas, said of the investigation of I.R.S. targeting by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, “but it’s the tip of the iceberg.”

But the inspector general made clear that effort did not reach the attention of high-level I.R.S. officials until 2011 at the earliest.

The inspector general gave Republicans some fodder Friday when he divulged that he informed the Treasury’s general counsel he was auditing the I.R.S.’s screening of politically active groups seeking tax exemptions on June 4, 2012. He told Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly after,” he said. That meant Obama administration officials were aware of the matter during the presidential campaign year.

The disclosure last summer came as part of a routine briefing of the investigations that the inspector general would be conducting in the coming year, and he did not tell the officials of his conclusions that the targeting had been improper, he said.

Treasury officials stressed they did not know the results until March 2013, when the inspector presented a draft.

“Treasury strongly supports the independent oversight of its three inspectors general, and it does not interfere in ongoing I.G. audits,” the department said in a statement Friday evening.

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