Robert A. Levine 5-21-13
The House GOP refuses to let up. As long as they can keep potential scandals in the public eye by going fishing, they will keep at it. They’re hoping this will energize their base for the 2014 elections and keep the general public from focusing on the fact that important legislating is not getting done.
The questions are how long they will be able to keep these events at the top of the news before the electorate tires of the subjects (particularly if nothing substantial comes from Congressional hearings) and whether voters will realize that these efforts are merely politics at work. Americans may eventually understand that Republican screaming and yelling about these so-called scandals is merely to provide them with cover for lack of progress regarding substantial issues, such as reaching a budget agreement, passing immigration reform, background checks for gun control, and so forth. The three subjects the GOP hopes will provide them with ammunition against Obama and the Democrats are Benghazi, the I.R.S. targeting of conservative groups, and the Justice Department’s seizure of the phone records of the Associated Press.
The way the State Department handled the attack on the American facility in Benghazi has been in the news for months with multiple Congressional hearings. It is still unclear whether any American forces could have been utilized to abort the attacks and save lives, with top military personnel seeming to indicate it would not have been possible. Evidently, there was in-fighting after the fact between the CIA and the State Department over who was to blame for the security lapses and inadequate protection for the Benghazi post. There was also fighting between the two agencies over the talking points given to Susan Rice and other administration spokes persons to try and defend the supervision and response to the incident. The Republicans are trying here to tar Hillary Clinton with incompetence over Benghazi to diminish her luster as a 2016 presidential candidate. They would also like to bring Obama down a peg as the Commander-in-Chief who did an inadequate job. Left out of the story is the fact that the Republican House refused to honor State Department appeals for more security personnel in a number of countries prior to Benghazi because of the cost.
As far as the I.R.S. targeting of conservative groups who were applying for 501(c)4 status, the I.R.S. was overwhelmed by the number of requests for this status after the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in 2010. Some liberal groups looking for tax-exempt status were also targeted, but it appears on the surface that Tea Party and conservative groups were examined disproportionately. However, the Republican Congress had also denied funds for the I.R.S. to hire additional personnel believed to be necessary to deal with the Affordable Care Act and other tax matters prior to the problem with the 501(c)4 organizations. The House GOP in its investigations is hoping to find some sort of conspiracy against the Tea Party and conservatives orchestrated by Democrats in the Treasury Department, or perhaps in the White House itself. They are playing this up and comparing it to Watergate, with some saying that impeachment is a possibility. But they are really fishing here and if they had supplied enough funding for the I.R.S. to bring in additional personnel, this might never have happened.
The subpoenas of the AP records to try and plug security leaks raises questions about whether First Amendment rights of the press may have been breached and whether this will chill future government whistle-blowers. However, leaks and maintenance of security have always been Republican issues, and it is hypocritical for them to go after Attorney General Holder and the Democratic hierarchy at the Department of Justice for doing exactly what the Republicans themselves would have done if they had controlled the executive branch.
So are these issues of minor import being blown up by Republicans trying to make political hay? We shall see how the investigations unfold. But unless the House committees can find evidence connecting the I.R.S. personnel who scrutinized conservative groups to top Democratic Party figures, these so-called scandals will turn out to be cases of political overreaching by Republicans in advance of the 2014 mid-term elections. In Washington, everything is politics, including fishing.