The Obama Administration has tried out many approaches to digging themselves out of the hole of scandals they find themselves in. They’ve argued that they weren’t involved, they’ve laid blame at the feet of a few rogue mid-level officials, they’ve attempted to switch the dialogue to one of Republican overreach, and they’ve just throw up their hands and claimed there’s nothing to see here. But none of them has worked quite as well as one anonymous administration official told CBS News.
“We’re portrayed by Republicans as either lying or idiots,” the Obama official said in regards to the Benghazi incident. “It’s actually closer to us being idiots.”
And that would be an acceptable answer. Sure, it may not be one that jives very well with the Administration’s dream of instilling unprecedented faith in government action (as a means of convincing voters to grant them unprecedented power). But given the facts of these particular scandals, Team Obama’s claims of ignorance and incompetence don’t quite fit. Rather, it appears to be something much sinister – outright dishonesty.
The questionable Benghazi response came first, when White House Press Secretary Jay Carney claimed that the White House only made “one minor change” to the talking points.
“The only edit made by the White House or the State Department to those talking points generated by the CIA was a change from referring to the facility from ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic post,’ said Carney.
But there were twelve different iterations of the talking points, each of which made edits, many of which were substantial, to the document. Nevertheless, the White House attempted to parse words and twist definition to reach the seemingly incredible conclusion that revisions don’t count as edits because they were part of an iterative process.
Sadly, the Benghazi spin is nothing compared to the White House’s response to the IRS’ admission that it wrongfully, and potentially illegally, targeted conservative groups for additional scrutiny. It has been a long and arduous route to the truth, unaided by a White House whose response has been begrudging at its best, and obstructionist at its worst.
When the IRS first admitted the explosive news Jay Carney said that he didn’t “have a specific answer” as to when the White House became aware. In a press conference President Obama seemed to clear the issue up, claiming that he “first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this.”
That answer was troubling, if for no other reason than it seemed to prove conservatives’ point that a big government is often associated with bad governing. A point, mind you, that David Axelrod seemed to agree with when he told MSNBC that “[p]art of being president is there’s so much underneath you that you can’t know because the government is so vast.”
Then Treasury Secretary Jack Lew admitted that he first learned of the Inspector General’s investigation into the IRS’ actions in March, despite his earlier comments claiming that he’d first learned of the actions from news reports. And the Treasury didn’t exactly keep it in house either. The Wall Street Journal reported that Treasury attorneys notified the office of the White House Counsel and its head, Kathryn Ruemmler, about the IG’s report. And it was during that conversation that Ruemmler learned that “a small number of line IRS employees had improperly scrutinized certain…organizations by using words like ‘tea party’ and ‘patriot.’”
Finally, on Monday the Obama Administration changed their tune again with a new and damning piece of information. During the daily press briefing Jay Carney admitted that Ruemmler had told White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and other top officials about the IG’s findings nearly a month ago, but that the information was never relayed to the president. That information stood in stark contrast to just a day earlier when White House advisor Dan Pfeifer went on the Sunday morning talk show circuit to disastrous results. Throughout those interviews Pfeifer claimed that the only thing the White House was told was “that there was an investigation that was coming to conclusion,” but they “didn’t know the details of it.”
That’s a lot of changing stories in just a week, and it calls into question whether President Obama is telling us the whole story. The clear goal through every iteration has been to convince Americans that they are the helpless victim in all of this. The real problem was that the actions of a few low-level bureaucrats with an agenda never quite made its way to the President ear. And hey, the President can’t solve a problem he doesn’t know about! But as Howard Fineman writes from the Huffington Post,
“With two winning presidential campaigns built on successful grassroots fundraising, with a former White House counsel (in 2010-11) who is one of the Democrats’ leading experts on campaign law (Bob Bauer), with former top campaign officials having been ensconced as staffers in the White House (David Axelrod, who left for the reelection campaign in early 2011, and Dan Pfeiffer among others), it’s hard to imagine that the Obama inner circle was oblivious to the issue of what the IRS was doing in Cincinnati.
That may well be true. Maybe they didn’t care one whit what the IG was going to say. But they sure haven’t been behaving that way in the last week.”
Scary isn’t it? And something tells me we’re not quite done with this story yet. As Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, tweeted, “I can’t wait until tomorrow’s version of events.” Neither can we.