Obama Battered By DOJ, IRS, Benghazi Revelations

Three major controversies in the Obama Administration the past week illustrate an ongoing crisis in holding government officials accountable for their conduct. 

Revelation of a secret Justice Department probe of Associated Press reporters and their news sources has aroused near-unprecedented outrage by the mainstream media against the administration. Update: New reports, excerpted below, show that a Justice Department investigation of Fox News was apparently at least as intrusive as that of AP -- and involved a claim by authorities in legal papers, which they later pooh-poohed, that the reporter was potentially subject to criminal charges for asking a government source for information to report.

The misconduct claims are particularly damaging to President Obama because they come at the same time conservatives remain on the attack because of the Benghazi massacre last September and because of a newly revealed IRS policy of flagging "tea party" and "patriot" groups for extra scrutiny on their requests for tax exemptions.

Those controversies are just part of Obama's political problems. Civil rights, peace, and women's advocates -- primarily but not exclusively on the left -- have new grievances also regarding Obama's harsh crackdown against whistleblowers and the continued reports of sex crimes against female military personnel.

WWL-AM/FM radio host Tommy Tucker, right, invited me May 15 and 20 to discuss the issues. Based in New Orleans, WWL broadcasts through five Southern states and nationally via the Web. Tucker has been a vigorous champion of civil liberties through many complex situations, especially regarding misconduct within the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans currently under an internal probe by Washington headquarters.

Tommy TuckerThe danger to the public from the AP scandal, I said in the first WWL interview, is election winners then get to control government information to an unprecedented degree. I expanded on those themes on my weekly public affairs show, MTL Washington Update, with co-host Scott Draughon May 17. Click here to listen. The beginning of the show is about the scandals. Youthful entrepreneur and author Nick Friedman was the guest at the end, discussing how he built from scratch a nationwide moving business, College Hunks Hauling Junk.

Regarding the secret government spying on journalists and their sources, an AP lawyer called it "a dagger at the heart of the press."

The Justice Department's grand juries could chill reporting not simply on national security, but on relatively routine matters undertaken by reporters or organizations secretly monitored. Thanks to technological breakthroughs and lack of court or congressional supervision, authorities can monitor, store and retrieve almost anyone's routine phone, email, and other electronic communications without their knowledge. A reporter might contact a government employee on a routine matter, but frighten the employee by such contact if the reporter has ever written a controversial story.

Opposition parties are no savior for those in the public seeking to learn the truth. Partisan, selective, and otherwise misleading advocacy often arises, as illustrated in the excerpts  below.

This column's focus is on the three major controversies. Noted also is information the president's opponents (and sometimes his defenders) do not want to provide the public, often because it involves CIA or similar covert activities or matters that embarass VIP players. An appendix lists links to relevant news commentaries for further background.

Update II: CIA Director David Petraeus played a key and controversial role in recommended talking points for the White House on the Benghazi killings, the Washington Post reported in print editions May 22.

Separately, the president obtained the resignations of two top IRS officials, including Acting Commissioner Steven Miller, appointed in November to acting status to lead the IRS. Miller is a 25-year career employee. He replaced a Bush appointee, Douglas Shulman, whose five-year term expired after running the IRS during the most of the period covered by the controversy.

The convoluted authority chain at the IRS is part of that story. So are Karl Rove-style tax exempt political education efforts, such as his Crossroads Global Policy Studies group. A Wall Street Journal report in mid-2012 was one announcement of the link, IRS Probes Political Group Tied to Rove. The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision helped open the door for massive corporate funding of political campaigns. Socal welfare groups seek a tax exemption under the claim their primary goal is to educate the public on the best policies, not winning political campaigns. In practice, the IRS must decide if the education morphs into political advocacy.


Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder, at right, has his own problems right now, big time.

The AP reported as follows on May 13:

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.

It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls. In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.

The Department deserves the criticism it is receiving. The abuses parallel many other situations reported here and elsewhere involving lower-profile targets. The White House has long been aware of the pattern. So its current claims of ignorance lack credibility.

The IRS policy regarding conservative groups seems to fit a similar pattern of abuse of power for political goals. A senior IRS official, Lois Lerner, said at a conference last week that its personnel flagged applications for tax exempt status with certain key words. This stalled their applications, and has now enraged their followers. The Justice Department announced a criminal probe this week. Earlier, an IRS Inspector General's report cleared top officials of improper motives. It concluded, "IG report: ‘Inappropriate criteria’ stalled IRS approvals of conservative groups."

The Benghazi controversy assumed new life following a Republican-led House hearing last week. A Libya-based State Department official, Gregory Hicks, complained that State officials had not done enough to save the threatened Americans who were killed, and did not blame top officials enough for security lapses. He said everybody in the mission in Benghazi believed the events of Sept. 11, 2012, constituted a terrorist attack. "I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go."

Republicans have long charged that Obama officials, including UN Ambassador Susan Rice, downplayed the role of terrorists in the attack in order to polish their terrorist-fighting image in advance of the November presidential election.

Complicating Evidence

All three situations deserve scrutiny and reprisal for serious administration delinquencies. Yet the GOP's attacks downplay how Republican initiatives also contributed to each debacle.

Many Republicans advocated a leak investigation in 2011 that led to the spying on AP, for example.

Similarly, the Benghazi killings grew out of bipartisan pressures to topple Libya's government and deploy personnel to the dangerous region to work on the ground in covert initiatives in a region known as the home of radical Islamists. Congress drastically cut the State Department's requested budget for diplomatic security worldwide. Career employees made key decisions on priorities, according to an Inspector General's report in December that assigned much of the blame to two mid-level officials. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted overall blame. Her defenders note that military and CIA personnel made the decisions that rescue was not feasible.

Rice's often-mocked post-massacre TV talk show appearances last September contained many warnings by her that her accounts was tentative and based on initial reports, including from the CIA. The reports and security in Libya relied heavily on CIA personnel. A mysterious British contractor provided other security for the State Department annex that incurred the fatal attack.

Media critic Bob Somerby has extensively studied the transcripts of Rice's comments and the coverage through this week. He authored caustic reports showing how some of the nation's most prominent news organizations regularly comment on the supposed-scandal from talking points with scant apparent knowledge of what she actually said. Somerby's ongoing theme is that scrutiny of major journalists will show that many are too timid or slipshod to ask their sources even the most obvious questions about supposedly grave misconduct.

The IRS scrutiny grows out a trend by political donors to hide their activity by claiming tax-exempt status on dubious grounds. Two recent columns describing this background are: Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA were created for the purpose of hiding donors and IRS has been too lax on tax-exempt status. Robert Bauer, the top lawyer for the Obama campaign, last summer denounced Rove's Crossroads operation on its way to spending $300 million for political races as a fraudulent use of tax exempt IRS status that undermined much of what remained of campaign finance laws following the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United.

The IRS willingness to target such groups for extra scrutiny -- while potentially a vile form of reprisal and at best politically stupid -- is not entirely different from other IRS procedures. It tends to flag for extra review returns that are high-income or list high deductions, for example. Yet the Washington Post reported May 17 that a tax exempt group run by a half brother of the president was approved just a month after its application.

Real-world hardships occurred for groups seeking tax-exempt status and forced to comply with burdensome or even punitive scrutinty. A Washington Post front-page report May 16 illustrated the burdens. Groups that sought tax-exempt status say IRS dealings were a nightmare featured an Alabama conservative group that gave up seeking tax-exempt status.

"Not only did IRS employees improperly target groups based on politics, but they also improperly demanded a host of details about the groups’ activities, according to a report on the abuses by a Treasury Department inspector general," the column said. "Some groups, including several interviewed by the Washington Post, were asked to provide names of donors or membership lists, which experts say the IRS cannot legally do. The agency also demanded names of board members, copies of meeting minutes and résumés, details of community organizing efforts and numerous other details, according to questionnaires obtained by the Post."

However, an Inspector General report indicated that all groups seeking the status obtained it.

Obama called for IRS accountability as he fired the acting commissioner Steven Miller from the top job. Miller, right, had been acting commissioner only since November after succeeding the Republican Bush-appointee Douglas Shulman. CNN quoted law professor Jonathan Turley as stating that criminal charges would be difficult to bring except in the instance of perjury or other cover-up.

Protests against Obama are arising on other matters, as described below. Obama won election in 2008 by opposing Iraq War and illegal government surveillance, and along with the kind of DC lobbying, secrecy, and crony capitalism that soured the public on the Bush era. The former community organizer and law school lecturer on constitutional law won re-election by opposing Mitt Romney for similar views to those in the Bush administration.

Yet Obama is already coming under harsh criticism for both his policies and the actions of his appointees. He has selected billionaire Penny Pritzker, for example, as Commerce Secretary after her early support for his career. She is controversial because of her financial history. Further, several of Obama's top first-term appointees are passing through the familiar revolving door of government and the private sector.

Legal expert Lillian McEwen, author of the memoir DC Unmasked and Undressed and a former federal prosecutor, told me in an interview that none of the misconduct appears to be a "scandal" by a traditional definition involving sex or money. She categorized the surveillance of reporters and sources as a grave Constitutional violation in the unlikely event that authorities ever imposed strict enforcement on themselves. She said the IRS and Benghazi matters were most likely gross political and procedural incompetance, unless a cover-up occurred.

Other longtime federal employees disputed the latter characterization, suggesting that higher-ups must have approved the IRS alert system and that a White House call for a criminal investigation was to hinder other oversight with a veil of law enforcement secrecy.

Summing Up

Critics lambasted the Obama administration in rare fashion this week. They should dig much deeper on all fronts regarding all claims.

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment
Editor's Note: This column was revised to include updated information


Related News Coverage (Updated as of May 22)

Surveillance of Reporters and Sources

Guardian, Obama DOJ formally accuses journalist in leak case of committing crimes, Glenn Greenwald, May 20, 2013. Yet another serious escalation of the Obama administration's attacks on press freedoms emerges It is now well known that the Obama justice department has prosecuted more government leakers under the 1917 Espionage Actthan all prior administrations combined -- in fact, double the number of all such prior prosecutions. But as last week's controversy over the DOJ's pursuit of the phone records of AP reporters illustrated, this obsessive fixation in defense of secrecy also targets, and severely damages, journalists specifically and the newsgathering process in general. New revelations emerged yesterday in the Washington Post that are perhaps the most extreme yet when it comes to the DOJ's attacks on press freedoms. It involves the prosecution of State Department adviser Stephen Kim, a naturalized citizen from South Korea who was indicted in 2009 for allegedly telling Fox News' chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, that US intelligence believed North Korea would respond to additional UN sanctions with more nuclear tests -- something Rosen then reported. Kim did not obtain unauthorized access to classified information, nor steal documents, nor sell secrets, nor pass them to an enemy of the US. Instead, the DOJ alleges that he merely communicated this innocuous information to a journalist - something done every day in Washington -- and, for that, this arms expert and long-time government employee faces more than a decade in prison for "espionage." The focus of the Post's report yesterday is that the DOJ's surveillance of Rosen, the reporter, extended far beyond even what they did to AP reporters. The FBI tracked Rosen's movements in and out of the State Department, traced the timing of his calls, and -- most amazingly -- obtained a search warrant to read two days worth of his emails, as well as all of his emails with Kim. In this case, said the Post, "investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material." It added that "court documents in the Kim case reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist."

Washington Post, Fine Print: The press and national security, Walter Pincus, May 20, 2013. Whoever provided the initial leak to the Associated Press in April 2012 not only broke the law but caused the abrupt end to a secret, joint U.S./Saudi/British operation in Yemen that offered valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. One goal was to get AQAP’s operational head, Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso. That happened one day before the AP story appeared. A second goal was to find and possibly kill AQAP bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, whose first underwear device almost killed Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism chief. Soon after, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab used such a device in a failed Christmas Day bombing attempt as his Northwest Airlines flight was landing in Detroit.

New York Times, Spying on The Associated Press, Editorial Board, May 14, 2013. The Obama administration, which has a chilling zeal for investigating leaks and prosecuting leakers, has failed to offer a credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at the Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers. On Friday, Justice Department officials revealed that they had been going through The A.P.’s records for months. The dragnet covered work, home and cellphone records used by almost 100 people at one of the oldest and most reputable news organizations. James Cole, a deputy attorney general, offered no further explanation on Tuesday, saying only that it was part of a “criminal investigation involving highly classified material” from early 2012.

Washington Post, Under sweeping subpoenas, Justice Department obtained AP phone records in leak investigation, Sari Horwitz, May 13, 2013. The sweeping and unusual move was part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot last year. The aggressive investigation into the possible disclosure of classified information to the AP is part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has pursued current and former government officials suspected of releasing secret material. Six officials have been prosecuted, more than under all previous administrations combined.

FireDogLake, AP Says Government Seizure Was Unconstitutional And Has Terrified Sources, DSWright, May 20, 2013. The CEO of the Associated Press said the government’s unprecedented actions to seize phone records of reporters from the news organization was both unconstitutional and has had a chilling effect on sources. The president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press on Sunday called the government’s secret seizure of two months of reporters’ phone records “unconstitutional” and said the news cooperative had not ruled out legal action against the Justice Department. Gary Pruitt, in his first television interviews since it was revealed the Justice Department subpoenaed phone records of AP reporters and editors, said the move already has had a chilling effect on journalism. Pruitt said the seizure has made sources less willing to talk to AP journalists and, in the long term, could limit Americans’ information from all news outlets. Was the point to terrify journalists and sources? Yes.  Mr. Pruitt identifies the ultimate goal of using state power to intimidate the press. Pruitt told CBS’ ”Face the Nation” that the government has no business monitoring the AP’s newsgathering activities.

Washington Post, A rare peek into a Justice Department leak probe, Ann E. Marimow, May 19, 2013. When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material. They used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit.They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails. The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the Associated Press.

Washington Post, Justice didn’t follow its own rules in AP case, Editorial Board, May 18, 2013. The Obama administration remains on the defensive over the Justice Department’s decision to seize a wide range of the Associated Press’s phone records without prior notice to the news agency. Media organizations — this one included — denounced the apparent prosecutorial overreach in pursuit of alleged leakers of classified information about a successful CIA anti-terrorism operation. Many Americans who don’t make their living in journalism were justifiably concerned.

Democracy Now! Obama Worse Than Nixon? Pentagon Papers Attorney Decries AP Phone Probe, Julian Assange Prosecution, Juan González, May 17, 2013. Author James Goodale, right, the general counsel of the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers crackdown, is a leading legal expert on the First Amendment and has just published a new book, Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles. Goodale said he wrote the book in part because of the work of Julian Assange of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, and how he is likely being targeted by the U.S. government in an ongoing grand jury probe. "My book is meant to be a clarion call to the journalist community: Wake up! There’s danger out there," Goodale says. "You may not like Assange, but wake up! The First Amendment is really going to be damaged. If Obama goes forward and succeeds, he will have succeeded where Nixon failed."

FireDogLake, FDL Book Salon Welcomes James C. Goodale, author of 'Fighting For The Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles,' Author interview by Kevin Gosztola, May 19, 2013. “If in fact he goes ahead and prosecutes Julian Assange, he will pass Nixon. He’s close to Nixon now,” the former general counsel for the New York Times, James Goodale, said of President Barack Obama on “Democracy Now!” The Justice Department’s seizure of the Associated Press’ phone records is a “good example of something that Obama has done but Nixon never did. So I have him presently in second place, behind Nixon and ahead of Bush II,” he added. Goodale led the legal team that made the case in the courts in 1971 that the Times had the right to publish the Pentagon Papers, top secret Defense Department documents that exposed US policies around the Vietnam War and were provided to the news organization by Daniel Ellsberg. “And if they restrict that apparatus … the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know and that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment,” he said The seizure was part of the Obama Administration’s Orwellian War On Leakers where government secrecy and opacity is paramount and citizen privacy is held in contempt. Of course, the war is really on unapproved leakers, the government leaks things all the time to help spin the press. No prosecutions forthcoming.

Washington Post, Justice Department subpoena increases tension between White House and news media, Paul Farhi, May 14, 2013. The Justice Department’s revelation that it secretly subpoenaed the Associated Press’s phone records in order to hunt down the source of a national security leak has elicited nearly unanimous criticism and condemnation of the department’s action from news organizations. The media’s unusual united front was spelled out in a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Eric H.Holder Jr. by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a group that includes the major television networks, magazine publishers and newspapers, including The Washington Post. It called the government’s subpoena of the AP records, “an overreaching dragnet” by the department and demanded the return of phone logs taken from four AP bureaus and reporters’ personal phones.

FireDogLake, We Just Have to Take Holder’s Word That He Recused Himself From AP Case, Jon Walker, May 16, 2013. One of the biggest developments from Attorney General Eric Holder’s grilling yesterday is that he apparently only orally recused himself from the controversial case involving the AP phone records. While Holder claims he believes he recused himself around June, during examination he admitted he never did so in writing with an explanation for his action. He doesn’t even remember the exact day. I will leave it to others with more expertise to determine if he may have technically broken any laws or allowed his subordinates to break the las by assuming the powers of the AG without documentation officially giving that authority. What I do know is that this is a shocking violation of the principles of both good governance and basic management. The point of a bureaucratic hierarchy is to have clear lines of responsibility. It is to know where the buck stops. It is to know who should and should not be held accountable if something goes wrong.

Washington Post, Attorney General Eric Holder back in crossfire after Justice Dept. obtains AP phone records, Sari Horwitz and Carol D. Leonnig, May 14, 2013. In President Obama’s first term, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was a lightning rod for congressional Republicans who criticized the administration’s handling of law enforcement issues. But for the past several months, the nation’s top law enforcement official has been virtually invisible from the national stage, granting few interviews and successfully avoiding the kinds of controversies that have plagued the Justice Department in recent years. The AP phone records story has put the attorney general back in a familiar spot: Caught in the political crossfire. Attorney General Eric Holder took the action after he was interviewed by the FBI in connection with the case. His respite now appears to be over.

Online News Association, Letter: DOJ overstepped bounds in AP subpoena, Jim Brady, May 14, 2013. Today we joined with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 50 other media organizations in issuing a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding its subpoenaing of telephone records belonging to The Associated Press. The DOJ’s actions — gathering two months of records for more than 20 telephone lines, both from major AP bureaus and the home and cell phones of individual AP journalists — is a startling and potentially dangerous overreach of its powers, powers that are strictly limited under the DOJ’s own guidelines for issuing subpoenas to the news media for testimony and evidence. The range of media organizations that have signed on to the letter and the speed with which we have reacted gives some sense of how strongly ONA — and the journalism community at large — feels about the DOJ’s intrusion and its potential impact on our work in the service of the public. As outlined in the letter, we have requested a swift response from the DOJ on a variety of related issues, and we’ll keep you updated.

FireDogLake, Attorney General Eric Holder Testifies Before the House Judiciary Committee (Live Updates), Kevin Gosztola, May 15, 2013. Rep. Darrell Issa, right, naturally puts on a good show. Holder cautions against calling deputy attorney general, Jim Cole, who signed off on seizure of AP phone records, to testify before House Judiciary Committee because he is overseeing an “ongoing investigation.” So, nobody in Justice Department has to answer for decisions around records seizure right now. Holder’s statement indicates that he is championing the same aspects of the Justice Department’s civil liberties record which he championed in his news conference yesterday. He highlights the administration’s aggressive record on civil rights, one Republicans on the committee will no doubt force him to defend because this probably what they consider “politicizing” the Justice Department.

There is nothing in Holder’s statement about prosecuting alleged leakers or investigating leaks, which is a bit surprising given the administration’s aggressive and unprecedented record. It also does not highlight the administration’s “support” for a federal media shield law (which it wanted to gut by reducing the scope of privilege a reporter could claim). That may be a result of the fact that the Committee could be very sympathetic to the Justice Department’s decision to seize AP’s phone records.

Huffington Post, Eric Holder Says He's 'Not Sure' How Many Times DOJ Sought Journalists' Records, Luke Johnson, May 15, 2013. Amid an unprecedented effort by the Obama administration to crack down on leaks of classified information, Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday said he was unsure how many times he'd signed off on subpoenas to seize reporter records. "I'm not sure how many of those cases that I have actually signed off on," Holder told NPR's Carrie Johnson. "I take them very seriously. I know that I have refused to sign a few, pushed a few back for modifications."

Washington Post, A rare peek into a Justice Department leak probe, Ann E. Marimow, May 19, 2013. When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material. They used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit.They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails. The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the Associated Press.

Huffington Post, James Cole Authorized AP Subpoenas, Eric Holder Confirms, Ryan J. Reilly, May 15, 2013. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed Wednesday that Deputy Attorney General James Cole, a longtime friend of Holder's and the number two official at the Justice Department, signed off on subpoenaing a wide range of Associated Press phone records.

Huffington Post, Wireless Carriers Privacy Failure Revealed In Associated Press Phone Record Controversy, Matt Sledge, May 15, 2013. Verizon Wireless turned over personal cellphone records for Associated Press journalists without giving them a chance to challenge subpoenas as part of an extraordinary Department of Justice national security leak investigation, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. But there was nothing extraordinary about what Verizon Wireless apparently did. Hundreds of thousands of times every year, cellphone companies turn over personal call records to law enforcement with neither a warning nor a judge's involvement. Privacy activists said it's no way for carriers to treat paying customers. They said they hope the AP controversy will force the big cell companies to change their ways. "This is the phone companies putting the interest of law enforcement before their customers, and that's wrong," said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union. "None of them tell users. They all suck." Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Debi Lewis said, "We comply with legal processes when dealing with requests from law enforcement, and don't comment, can't comment on any specific individual request or customer." But the Times reported that an AP employee said "at least two of the journalists’ personal cellphone records were provided to the government by Verizon Wireless without any attempt to obtain permission to tell them so the reporters could ask a court to quash the subpoena." That should come as no surprise for cellphone users. Since the 1970s, the Supreme Court has ruled that information recorded by third parties like cellphone carriers is not protected by the Constitution's Fourth Amendment safeguards against unreasonable searches. So law enforcement need not obtain a warrant from a judge to gain access to records of who we call and when. (A full wiretap, recording the actual calls, would require a judge's approval.)

Huffington Post, AP To DOJ: Explanation For Secret Probe 'Does Not Adequately Address Our Concerns,' Jack Mirkinson, May 14, 2013. The Associated Press issued a sharp rebuke on Tuesday to the Justice Department's contention that it was careful and measured in its secret probe of the news agency. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, left, the man who oversaw the investigation into the AP, told the wire service in a letter Tuesday that, contrary to its claims that it had been the victim of a "massive and unprecedented intrusion," the probe had been very targeted. Cole said that the secret subpoenas of phone records were "limited in both time and scope," and that the DOJ had taken every available measure to avoid having to obtain the records. In his reply, AP CEO Gary Pruitt said Cole's explanation was simply not good enough. "We appreciate the DOJ’s prompt response, but it does not adequately address our concerns," he wrote. Pruitt wondered how an investigation that targeted up to 100 journalists could be defined as "narrowly drawn." He also said he failed to see how a less narrow investigation would have compromised the DOJ's mission. In a press conference on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder—who has recused himself from the investigation—said that the DOJ probe occurred in response to one of the most serious and dangerous national security leaks he had ever seen.

Guardian via OpEd News, Justice Department's Pursuit Of AP's Phone Records Is Both Extreme And Dangerous, Glenn Greenwald, May 14, 2013. The claimed legal basis for these actions is unknown, but the threats they pose to a free press and the newsgathering process are clear. Numerous media reports convincingly speculated that the DOJ's actions arise out of a 2012 AP article that contained leaked information about CIA activity in Yemen, and the DOJ is motivated, in part, by a desire to uncover the identity of AP's sources. That 2012 AP story revealed that the CIA was able to "thwart" a planned bombing by the al-Qaida "affiliate" in that country of a US jetliner. AP had learned of the CIA actions a week earlier but "agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the sensitive intelligence operation was still under way." AP revealed little that the US government itself was not planning to reveal and that would not have been obvious once the plot was successfully thwarted, as it explained in its story: "once those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement Tuesday."

The legality of the DOJ's actions is impossible to assess because it is not even known what legal authority it claims nor the legal process it invoked to obtain these records. Particularly in the post-9/11 era, the DOJ's power to obtain phone records is, as I've detailed many times, dangerously broad. It often has the power to obtain those records without the person's knowledge (as happened here) and for a wildly broad scope of time (as also happened here). There are numerous instruments that have been vested in the DOJ to obtain phone records, many of which do not require court approval, including administrative subpoenas and "national security letters" (issued without judicial review); indeed, the Obama DOJ has previously claimed it has the power to obtain journalists' phone records without subpoenas using NSLs, and in its relentless pursuit to learn the identity of the source for one of New York Times' James Risen's stories, the Obama DOJ has actually claimed that journalists have no shield protections whatsoever in the national security context. It's also quite possible that they obtained the records through a Grand Jury subpoena, as part of yet another criminal investigation to uncover and punish leakers.

FireDogLake, The Justice Department’s Seizing of AP Phone Records: A Continuation of Attacks on Freedom of the Press, Kevin Gosztola, May 14, 2013.The US Justice Department’s secret seizure of phone records of reporters and editors at the Associated Press is nothing less than a continuation of attacks on freedom of the press that have been ongoing under the administration of President Barack Obama. Carl Bernstein, famed investigative journalist who broke the story on the Watergate scandal with Bob Woodward, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and declared this is a “matter of policy.” It goes right up to the president and the people who surround him, the very officials who have waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers and leaks. He also explained, “The object of it is to try and intimidate people who talk to reporters, especially on national security matters. National security is always the false claim of administrations trying to hide information that people ought to know.”

Wayne Madsen Report, Did Justice Dept. also obtain records of AP investigation of White House Colombian hooker scandal? Wayne Madsen, May 14, 2013 (Subscription required). Deputy Attorney General James Cole responded to Associated Press President Gary Pruitt's letter that complained about the Justice Department obtaining subpoenas of AP phone records from April to May 2012 by claiming that the Justice Department probe was narrowly focused on a national security leak on a CIA counter-terrorism operation in Yemen. As for the Justice Department's contention that it did not use any information obtained from its spying on the AP in any other cases, that is highly doubtful. WMR has learned that among the phones and reporters monitored by the Justice Department were those involved in pursuing the story of the U.S. Secret Service's involvement in procuring the services of prostitutes prior to President Obama's attendance at the Summit of the Americas conference in Cartagena, Colombia.

Justice Integrity Project, Mr. Drake Goes To Washington, Andrew Kreig, March 21, 2013. Former National Security Agency executive Thomas Drake warned the public March 15 at the National Press Club against the federal government's crackdown on whistleblowers. Drake, who narrowly escaped life in prison for communicating with a Baltimore Sun reporter, said the government has the ability to make such conduct illegal retroactively. Regarding the larger issues, he asked, “How else will the press report the real news when their sources dry up and the government becomes a primary purveyor of its own news?” Drake's revelations and passion resembled James Stewart's iconic performance in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" protesting corruption, including during a Senate filibuster. Yet Drake focused on dangers far more important than the 1939 film's portrayal of corruption in Congress.

IRS Tax-Exemption Controversy

Washington Post, Some tea-party groups examined by the IRS indeed crossed the line, Jamell Bouie, May 27, 2013.  The more information that comes out about the scandal at the Internal Revenue Service, the harder it is to say employees there erred completely in putting more scrutiny on particular groups seeking tax-exempt status. According to the New York Times, for example, several of the tea party groups targeted by the IRS were engaged in overt political activity.

Washington Post, On IRS issue, senior White House aides were focused on shielding Obama, Philip Rucker and Juliet Eilperin, May 22, 2013. As soon as White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler heard about an upcoming inspector general’s report on the Internal Revenue Service, she knew she had a problem. This account of how the White House tried to deal with the IRS inquiry — based on documents, public statements and interviews with multiple senior officials, including one directly involved in the discussions — shows how carefully Obama’s top aides were trying to shield him from any second-term scandal that might swamp his agenda or, worse, jeopardize his presidency.

Washington Post, IRS scandal focus of Senate hearing, Ed O'Keefe and William Branigin, May 21, 2013. The outgoing acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and his predecessor denied Tuesday that they misled Congress about the targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, telling a Senate panel that they were not aware of the practice when it started. Appearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Steven T. Miller, the acting commissioner who submitted his resignation under pressure last week, and Douglas Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee who headed the IRS from March 2008 to November 2012, also rejected the idea that political partisanship played a role in singling out conservative nonprofits for heightened scrutiny.

AP via Huffington Post, Treasury Officials Told Of IRS Probe In June 2012, Stephen Ohlemacher, May 17, 2013. Senior Treasury officials were made aware in June 2012 that investigators were looking into complaints from tea party groups that they were being harassed by the Internal Revenue Service, a Treasury inspector general said Friday, disclosing that Obama administration officials knew there was a probe during the heat of the presidential campaign.

Washington Post, White House knew findings on IRS’s targeting of conservatives earlier, Zachary A. Goldfarb and Juliet Eilperin, May 20, 2013. Obama was unaware, aides maintain in new account that goes beyond what had been said.

Washington Post, Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA were created for the purpose of hiding donors, Dylan Matthews, May 15, 2013. Fred Wertheimer is the founder and president of Democracy 21, a leading campaign finance reform organization. He worked for Common Cause for 24 years, serving as a lobbyist for the Watergate reforms and as a counsel for the organization in the landmark Buckley v. Valeo case before the Supreme Court and as president from 1981 to 1995. He has been involved in the passage of numerous reform measures, including the Federal Election Campaign Act and its amendments, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka McCain-Feingold), and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. We spoke on the phone Tuesday afternoon; a lightly edited transcript follows.

Politico, Inadequate IRS rules helped create scandal, Fred Wertheimer, May 16, 2013. The current firestorm over the wrongful targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service is one part of a picture that shows the existing rules to determine the eligibility of groups to qualify as section 501(c)(4) tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations are woefully inadequate. The other part of the picture is the failure of the IRS to pursue blatant abuses of the tax laws by groups that have improperly claimed section 501(c)(4) tax status in order to hide from the American people the donors who are financing their campaign expenditures. In fact, both of these IRS scandals stem directly from flawed IRS rules that are contrary to the statute creating section 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations and to court interpretations of the statute.

Judicial Watch, Obama IRS Scandal Will Go Down in Infamy, Tom Fitton, right, May 17, 2013. In my experience, the term "BOLO" is a law enforcement term short for "be on the lookout" for criminals and suspects on the run.  But for the Obama IRS, BOLO meant, literally, "be on the lookout" for citizen groups who might be opposed to the Obama agenda. Here are the facts as we know them today. First, we know that the "independent" IRS purposely stonewalled the approval of non-profit applications from "Tea Party" and other conservative groups that were seeking tax exempt status.

Wall Street Journal, This Is No Ordinary Scandal, Peggy Noonan, May 16, 2013. Top Political abuse of the IRS threatens the basic integrity of our government. We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous. No one likes what they're seeing. The Justice Department assault on the Associated Press and the ugly politicization of the Internal Revenue Service have left the administration's credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged. They don't look jerky now, they look dirty. The patina of high-mindedness the president enjoyed is gone. Something big has shifted. The standing of the administration has changed.  As always it comes down to trust. Do you trust the president's answers when he's pressed on an uncomfortable story? Do you trust his people to be sober and fair-minded as they go about their work? Do you trust the IRS and the Justice Department? You do not. The president, as usual, acts as if all of this is totally unconnected to him. He's shocked, it's unacceptable, he'll get to the bottom of it. He read about it in the papers, just like you.
Wall Street Journal, The IRS Scandal Started at the Top, Kimberley A. Strassel, May 16, 2013. The bureaucrats at the Internal Revenue Service did exactly what the president said was the right and honorable thing to do. Was  involved in the IRS's targeting of conservatives? No investigation needed to answer that one. Of course it was. President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an "independent" agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.  But that's not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn't need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he'd like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.

AP via Huffington Post, Joseph Grant, IRS Official, Retiring Amid Tea Party Controversy, Stephen Ohlemacher, May 16, 2013. A second top Internal Revenue Service official has announced plans to leave the agency amid the controversy over the targeting of tea party groups. An internal IRS memo says Joseph Grant, commissioner of the agency's tax exempt and government entities division, will retire June 3. Grant joins Steven Miller, who was forced to resign as acting IRS commissioner on Wednesday. As part of his duties, Grant oversaw the IRS division that targeted tea party groups for additional scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. Grant joined the IRS in 2005.

ABC, IRS Official in Charge During Tea Party Targeting Now Runs Health Care Office, John Parkinson and Steven Portnoy, May 16, 2013. The Internal Revenue Service official in charge of the tax-exempt organizations at the time when the unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for the health care legislation. Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today. Her successor, Joseph Grant, is taking the fall for misdeeds at the scandal-plagued unit between 2010 and 2012. During at least part of that time, Grant served as deputy commissioner of the tax-exempt unit.

CNN, 'Angry' Obama announces IRS leader's ouster after conservatives targeted, Chelsea J. Carter, Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick, May 15, 2013. President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday to hold accountable those at the Internal Revenue Service involved in the targeting of conservative groups applying for federal tax-exempt status, beginning with the resignation of the agency's acting commissioner who was aware of the practice. In a brief statement delivered to reporters at the East Room of the White House, the president announced that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had requested -- and accepted -- the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller, right. The president said the "misconduct" detailed in the IRS Inspector General's report released Tuesday over the singling out of conservative groups is "inexcusable."

Washington Post, IRS unit described as bureaucratic mess in report, Juliet Eilperin and Zachary A. Goldfarb, May 14, 2013. Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation of whether Internal Revenue Service employees broke the law when they targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status — the latest setback for an agency that is the subject of withering bipartisan criticism and multiple congressional inquiries. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Tuesday that the Justice Department and the FBI began the probe after the IRS acknowledged that it selected conservative groups with the words “tea party” and “patriot” in their names for special reviews.

Washington Post, Groups that sought tax-exempt status say IRS dealings were a nightmare, Josh Hicks and Kimberly Kindy, May 15, 2013. The Common Sense Campaign, a self-described constitutionalist group based in Montgomery, Ala., aspired to be a smaller version of the National Rifle Association — powerful and influential, without having to pay federal income taxes. “We wanted to have a voice too,” said the group’s chairman, Pete Riehm. “The biggest difference between us and them is money.” But Common Sense never reached the nonprofit stage. The organization gave up seeking tax-exempt status after two years of Internal Revenue Service demands for everything from the group’s blog posts to the names of “anyone who gave you so much as a dollar,” according to its officials. Not only did IRS employees improperly target groups based on politics, but they also improperly demanded a host of details about the groups’ activities, according to a report on the abuses by a Treasury Department inspector general. Some groups, including several interviewed by The Washington Post, were asked to provide names of donors or membership lists, which experts say the IRS cannot legally do. The agency also demanded names of board members, copies of meeting minutes and résumés, details of community organizing efforts and numerous other details, according to questionnaires obtained by the Post.

AP via Huffington Post, IRS Commissioner Learned Of Tea Party Targeting In May 2012, Stephen Ohlemacher, May 13, 2013. Acting Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Steven T. Miller repeatedly failed to tell Congress that tea party groups were being inappropriately targeted, even after he had been briefed on the matter. The IRS said Monday that Miller was first informed on May, 3, 2012, that applications for tax-exempt status by tea party groups were inappropriately singled out for extra, sometimes burdensome scrutiny. At least twice after the briefing, Miller wrote letters to members of Congress to explain the process of reviewing applications for tax-exempt status without revealing that tea party groups had been targeted. On July 25, 2012, Miller testified before the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee but again was not forthcoming on the issue – despite being asked about it. Miller became acting commissioner in November, after Commissioner Douglas Shulman completed his five-year term. Shulman had been appointed by President George W. Bush.
Huffington Post, Obama IRS Scandal: Acting Director Of Tax Agency Resigns, Sam Stein, May 15, 2013. President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that Steven Miller, the acting director of the Internal Revenue Service, had resigned amid criticism over the tax agency's handling of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Speaking from the White House's East Room, the president said that he had instructed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to hold the IRS accountable for its missteps, revealed in a Treasury Department inspector general's report released on Tuesday. Among the steps Lew took was to request and accept "the resignation of the acting commissioner of the IRS."  "It is important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward," said Obama. Earlier in the day, Miller himself had acknowledged that two "rogue" employees in the agency's Cincinnati office had been responsible for subjecting tea party groups to extra scrutiny when they applied for 501(c)(4) status.

Washington Post, IG report: ‘Inappropriate criteria’ stalled IRS approvals of conservative groups, Juliet Eilperin and Zachary A. Goldfarb, May 14, 2013. Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation of whether Internal Revenue Service employees broke the law when they targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status — the latest setback for an agency that is the subject of withering bipartisan criticism and multiple congressional inquiries. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Tuesday that the Justice Department and the FBI began the probe after the IRS acknowledged that it selected conservative groups with the words “tea party” and “patriot” in their names for special reviews.

Huffington Post, IRS Tea Party Scandal: White House Did Not Drive Investigation, Inspector General Says, Jon Ward and Sam Stein, May 14, 2013. The IRS Inspector General said Tuesday that incompetence, not malice, was behind the tax agency’s heavy scrutiny of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the lead-up to the 2012 elections. A 48-page IG report explicitly stated that the IRS behavior was “not politically biased,” that it was due to lower-level staff who did not understand their jobs and sometimes acted  subordinately, and that it was not driven by the White House. The findings come just days after it was revealed that the IRS had singled out groups with words like "Tea Party" in their names -- a politically explosive revelation that raised concerns over government discrimination against political opponents.  All IRS officials interviewed, however, told the IG that the scrutiny of such groups was “not influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS.” Rather than a scandal, the IG said, the Tea Party probes had merely given “the appearance that the IRS is not impartial in conducting its mission.”

Huffington Post, The IRS Was Dead Right To Scrutinize Tea Party, Peter S. Goodman, May 16, 2013. Lost in the latest political scandal is a simple fact: The Internal Revenue Service was acting in the public interest when it opted to train its auditing power on the Tea Party and affiliated groups. In castigating government as the root of all evil while portraying taxation as a form of tyranny, the Tea Party is no less than a mass celebration of the evasion of the basic responsibilities of American citizenship. Common sense alone tells you that people drawn to its ranks may feel extra temptation to find ways to limit what they surrender to the rogue federal bureaucrats who have supposedly seized the nation. The cover-up is the bad part here, as in nearly all Washington scandals. It's not the act itself that delivered the real trouble.

Legal Schnauzer, The President Paints Himself Into An Ethical Corner By Voicing Outrage Over Evolving Scandal At The IRS, Roger Shuler, May 14, 2013. When Barack Obama said in January 2009 that he planned to "look forward as opposed to looking backwards" at the apparent crimes of the George W. Bush administration, reasonable observers knew that comment would come back to bite the president-elect some day. That moment came yesterday when President Obama told reporters at a White House press conference that he was outraged over disclosures that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny.  bama went so far as to say that he would not tolerate a government agency that targets individuals and groups based on political affiliations. But those words ring hollow when you realize that Obama has tolerated exactly such behavior from the outset of his administration. The president's words are especially hollow here in Alabama, where we've held front-row seats to the political prosecution of former Democratic governor Don Siegelman during the Bush years -- not to mention the politically charged Alabama bingo prosecution under the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ).

Washington Post, Washington IRS officials probed conservatives, Juliet Eilperin and Zachary A. Goldfarb, May 13, 2013. Effort scrutinizing groups not limited to Cincinnati branch, as first suggested; Democrats, Republicans alike decry actions as an abuse of power.  

Washington Post, The face of the IRS scandal, David A. Fahrenthold, May 13, 2013. Lois Lerner preached caution but still finds herself at the center of controversy over targeting conservative groups.

Daily Beast, IRS Scandal’s Central Figure, Lois Lerner, Described as ‘Apolitical,’ Caitlin Dickson, May 14, 2013. Lois Lerner is in the eye of the IRS–Tea Party firestorm. Caitlin Dickson reports on the ‘apolitical’ director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division—and whether she could have averted the scandal.  One woman sits at the center of the developing—and utterly confusing—Internal Revenue Service scandal. It was Lois Lerner, director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division, who let slip at an American Bar Association meeting on Friday that, between 2010 and 2012, conservative nonprofit groups were improperly scrutinized by the IRS. And it is Lerner who has since become the target of a number of accusations and conspiracy theories, lobbed from both ends of the political spectrum. As the media waits impatiently for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to release an investigative report detailing who knew about the IRS’s inappropriate practices and when, it seems crucial to get to know the main character in this unfolding drama and the core issues swirling around her. Lerner was appointed as head of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division during the Bush administration, in 2006. She served as director the IRS Exempt Organizations Rulings and Agreements Division for four years before that. A graduate of Boston’s Northeastern University and Western New England College of Law in Springfield, Mass., Lerner began her legal career as a staff attorney in the Department of Justice’s criminal division before joining the Federal Election Commission as an assistant general counsel in 1981. She spent 20 years at the FEC, where she was appointed head of the Enforcement Division in 1986 and then acting general counsel for six months in 2001.

Washington Post, Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA were created for the purpose of hiding donors, Dylan Matthews, May 15, 2013. Fred Wertheimer is the founder and president of Democracy 21, a leading campaign finance reform organization. He worked for Common Cause for 24 years, serving as a lobbyist for the Watergate reforms and as a counsel for the organization in the landmark Buckley v. Valeo case before the Supreme Court and as president from 1981 to 1995. He has been involved in the passage of numerous reform measures, including the Federal Election Campaign Act and its amendments, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (aka McCain-Feingold), and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. We spoke on the phone Tuesday afternoon; a lightly edited transcript follows.

Wall Street Journal, IRS Probes Political Group Tied to Rove, Brody Mullins and Jacob Gershman, June 26, 2021. The Internal Revenue Service is taking initial steps to examine whether Crossroads GPS, a pro-Republican group affiliated with Karl Rove, and similar political entities are violating their tax-exempt status by spending too much on partisan activities. The review, which could last for years and is unlikely to be concluded before the November election, could ultimately force many of the political groups to disclose the names of their donors for the first time. At issue is whether political entities set up as 501(c)4 organizations are violating their tax-exempt status by spending too much on partisan politics rather than promoting a benefit.

Washington Post, IRS has been too lax on tax-exempt status, Ruth Marcus, May 14, 2013. In order to qualify for nonprofit, tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, groups must be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare,” defined as activities “promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the community.” However, the IRS has long interpreted “exclusively” to mean “primarily” and allowed 501(c)(4) groups to engage in partisan activity as long as it constitutes less than half their operations. The problem exploded after the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United, when the number and explicit political involvement of such groups mushroomed. This was a bipartisan outrage, although a lopsided one: Republicans were far more active on the nonprofit front than Democrats. Still, groups backing candidates from both parties abused the system by spending millions on political campaigns without revealing the identities of their donors. Meanwhile, a passive IRS stood idly by as the groups made a mockery of campaign disclosure rules.

Los Angeles Times, The real IRS scandal: Allowing so many 'social welfare' groups to enjoy tax-exempt status while participating in politics must stop. The IRS is obligated to scrutinize applicants, 'tea party' or no, Michael Hiltzik, May 14, 2013. It's strange how "scandal" gets defined these days in Washington. At the moment, everyone is screaming about the "scandal" of the Internal Revenue Service scrutinizing conservative nonprofits before granting them tax-exempt status. Here are the genuine scandals in this affair: Political organizations are being allowed to masquerade as charities to avoid taxes and keep their donors secret, and the IRS has allowed them to do this for years. The bottom line first: The IRS hasn't done nearly enough over the years to rein in the subversion of the tax law by political groups claiming a tax exemption that is not legally permitted for campaign activity. Nor has it enforced rules requiring that donors to those groups pay gift tax on their donations. '

Center for Public Integrity, IRS nonprofit division overloaded, understaffed; 2012 banner year for nonprofit applications, Dave Levinthal, May 14, 2013. Amid withering accusations the Internal Revenue Service targeted tea party and other conservative groups with enhanced scrutiny, the agency faces another problem: it’s drowning in paperwork. The IRS’ Exempt Organizations Division, which finds itself at the scandal’s epicenter, processed significantly more tax exemption applications in fiscal year 2012 by so-called 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations  — 2,774 — than it has since at least the late 1990s, according to an analysis of IRS records by the Center for Public Integrity. Compare that to 1,777 applications in 2011 and 1,741 in 2010, federal records show. Not since 2002, when officials processed 2,402 applications, have so many been received. Meanwhile, Exempt Organizations Division staffing slid from 910 employees during fiscal year 2009 to 876 during fiscal year 2012, agency personnel documents indicate.


David PetraeusWashington Post, Petraeus had key role in Benghazi talking points, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, May 21, 2013. E-mails reveal the former CIA director had ordered detailed talking points that went far beyond a House panel’s request. The controversy over the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attack last year began at a meeting over coffee on Capitol Hill three days after the assault. It was at this informal session with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that the ranking Democrat asked David H. Petraeus, left, who was CIA director at the time, to ensure that committee members did not inadvertently disclose classified information when talking to the news media about the attack. “We had some new members on the committee, and we knew the press would be very aggressive on this, so we didn’t want any of them to make mistakes,” Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.) said last week of his request in an account supported by Republican participants. “We didn’t want to jeopardize sources and methods, and we didn’t want to tip off the bad guys. That’s all.”

What Petraeus decided to do with that request is the pivotal moment in the controversy over the administration’s Benghazi talking points. It was from his initial input that all else flowed, resulting in 48 hours of intensive editing that congressional Republicans cite as evidence of a White House coverup. A close reading of recently released government e-mails that were sent during the editing process, and interviews with senior officials from several government agencies, reveal Petraeus’s early role and ambitions in going well beyond the committee’s request, apparently to produce a set of talking points favorable to his image and his agency. The information Petraeus ordered up when he returned to his Langley office that morning included far more than the minimalist version that Ruppersberger had requested. It included early classified intelligence assessments of who might be responsible for the attack and an account of prior CIA warnings — information that put Petraeus at odds with the State Department, the FBI and senior officials within his own agency.

Mother Jones, Looking For a Benghazi Talking Points Villain? It Was David Petraeus, Not Barack Obama, Kevin Drum, May 21, 2013. After reading through the Benghazi "talking points" emails and doing some additional reporting, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung confirm what's been pretty obvious for a while now. The House committee that originally asked for the talking points wanted only some basic facts so that no one would mistakenly disclose classified information to the press, but CIA Director David Petraeus—"a master of the craft of media cultivation"—understood the reputational stakes immediately and acted accordingly. In the end, as Wilson and Young point out, "The only government entity that did not object to the detailed talking points produced with Petraeus’s input was the White House, which played the role of mediator in the bureaucratic fight that at various points included the CIA’s top lawyer and the agency’s deputy director expressing opposition to what the director wanted." This entire controversy has been much ado about nothing from the beginning, but if you absolutely insist on singling out a villain, the choice is now pretty obvious. David Petraeus was the Machiavellian manipulator of the narrative here, not Barack Obama.

Daily Howler, Petraeus, king of the self-promoters! Bob Somerby, May  22, 2013. His response to a sane man’s request: In this morning’s Washington Post, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung present an important front-page report. Kevin Drum gets the nugget quote right. But first, let’s get clear on the background.  In the wake of the Benghazi attack, some of the capital’s decent people wanted to behave in a responsible way. Not everyone in DC is crazy. 

Washington Post, The Benghazi e-mails’ backside-covering, David Ignatius, May 17, 2013. The hundred pages of Benghazi e-mails released this week tell us almost nothing about how four Americans came to die so tragically in that Libyan city. But they are a case study in why nothing works in Washington. Rather than reading these messages for their substance on Benghazi (on which officials were still basically clueless three days after the attack), try perusing them as an illustration of how the bureaucracy responds to crisis — especially when officials know they will be under the media spotlight. What you find is a 100-page novella of turf-battling and backside-covering. By the end, the original product is so shredded and pre-chewed that it has lost most of its meaning. All the relevant agencies have had their say, and there’s little left for the public.  No wonder that then-CIA Director David H. Petraeus, who began the exercise when he met with House intelligence committee members for coffee on the morning of Friday, Sept. 14, was unhappy with the effort. He complained that “this is certainly not what . . . [the committee] was hoping to get for unclas. use” and growled: “Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this.”

Washington Post, Five myths about Benghazi, Michael Hirsh, May 16, 2013. The events surrounding the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, look dramatically different depending on your politics. Republicans tend to see a cover-up and a scandal. Democrats see an attempt to damage President Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. A Pew poll suggests that the public is divided as well, with 40 percent saying the administration has been dishonest, 37 percent saying it has told the truth, and 23 percent saying they’re not sure. Let’s assess what we do and don’t know: Myth No. 1. U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice, right, gave a deliberately false account of the attack.

Washington Post, Obama administration releases e-mails detailing agencies’ debate over Benghazi, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, May 15, 2013. The Obama administration released 100 pages of e-mails Wednesday that reveal differences between intelligence analysts and State Department officials over how to initially describe the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

White House, Annotated Benghazi-related emails, via Washington Post, May 15, 2013. The White House released e-mails relating to talking points about the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on an American facility in Benghazi, Libya, on May 15. Click the links below to view key sections annotated by Washington Post reporters. Example: E-mail sent by then-CIA Director David Petraeus to Morrell and other agency officials on Sept. 15, 2012. Petraeus, left, appears frustrated in this e-mail over the fact that the final talking points do not mention that the CIA warned that there had been previous attacks against Western interests in the Benghazi area, among other details. The State Department objected to including that information, worried that doing so would look the CIA look good at State's expense.

Huffington Post, Republicans Altered Benghazi Emails, CBS News Report Claims, Chris Gentilviso, May 16, 2013. One day after The White House released 100 pages of Benghazi emails, a report has surfaced alleging that Republicans released a set with altered text. CBS News reported Thursday that leaked versions sent out by the GOP last Friday had visible differences than Wednesday's official batch. Two correspondences that were singled out in the report came from National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Daily Howler, Tommy Vietor gets it right on the Benghazi attack! Bob Somerby, May 16, 2013. Yesterday, the White House released a pile of the e-mails which created the talking-points on Benghazi. Also yesterday, Tommy Vietor published his thoughts about the whole talking points flap. Until recently, Vietor was spokesman for the National Security Council. Yesterday’s events have made a few blindingly obvious points just that much more clear. First important fact: The CIA was the source for the claim that the Benghazi attack was “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”  

Washington Post, The GOP’s phony Benghazi focus, Editorial Board, May 16, 2013. Republicans and conservative media obsessed with what they regard as the Obama administration’s scandalous coverup of the nature of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, last Sept. 11 have offered a shifting series of allegations. First they charged that U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice “willfully or incompetently misled the American public” when she appeared on news programs Sept. 16 and described the attack as having emerged from a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Muslim video.
Washington Post, Redacted truth, subjunctive outrage, Charles Krauthammer, May 16, 2013. Note to GOP re Benghazi: Stop calling it Watergate, Iran-contra, bigger than both, etc. First, it might well be, but we don’t know. History will judge. Second, overhyping will only diminish the importance of the scandal if it doesn’t meet presidency-breaking standards. Third, focusing on the political effects simply plays into the hands of Democrats desperately claiming that this is nothing but partisan politics.

Washington Post, Obama administration releases e-mails detailing agencies’ debate over Benghazi, Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, May 15, 2013. The Obama administration released 100 pages of e-mails Wednesday that reveal differences between intelligence analysts and State Department officials over how to initially describe the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya. The internal debate did not include political interference from the White House, according to the e-mails, which were provided to congressional intelligence committees several months ago.

Mediaite, Kirsten Powers To O’Reilly: Obama Is Lying, ‘Playing Word Games’ In Trying To Rewrite What He Said On Benghazi, Josh Feldman, May 15, 2013. Bill O’Reilly noticed tonight how public reaction is slowly but surely going against the White House following the scandal trifecta it’s been hit with this week, with even high-ranking Democrats raising serious questions. Kirsten Powers felt no qualms about calling Obama a liar for trying to claim he immediately referred to Benghazi as an act of terrorism last September, saying that he’s just “playing word games” in trying to create revisionist history. Powers agreed with O’Reilly that someone needs to call out Jay Carney for refusing to comment on these stories and past others simply by stating there is an ongoing investigation into the matter. O’Reilly said the White House could still give out general information anyway, even if there really was an investigation in the first place.

Huffington Post, Robert Gates Defends Obama Military Response To Benghazi, Amanda Terkel, May 12, 2013. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, defended the Obama administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi on Sunday, saying he would not have done anything different militarily if he had still been at the Pentagon. "Frankly had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were," said Gates on CBS's "Face the Nation," referring to the role of then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey.

AP/Huffington Post, Thomas Pickering: Benghazi Call Did Not Come From Hillary Clinton, Philip Elliott, May 12, 2013. The seasoned diplomat who penned a highly critical report on security at a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, defended his scathing assessment but absolved then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. "We knew where the responsibility rested," Thomas Pickering, whose career spans four decades, said Sunday. "They've tried to point a finger at people more senior than where we found the decisions were made," Pickering said of Clinton's critics.

Wall Street Journal, Diplomat Airs Benghazi Attack Details In Riveting Account of Libya Raid, Official Knocks Administration Response, Siobhan Hughes and Adam Entous, May 8, 2013. A high-ranking American diplomat delivered an emotional reconstruction Wednesday of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, providing the first detailed public account from an American official who was on the ground in Libya. Gregory Hicks told a House hearing of the harrowing attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The testimony from Gregory Hicks, the No. 2 U.S. official in Libya at the time, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also drew new attention to key questions about the attacks, and how the administration handled the aftermath.

Huffington Post, Benghazi Attack Appeared 'A Terrorist Attack From The Get-Go,' Says Official, Dave Jamieson, May 5, 2013. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, revealed an interview on Sunday with a high-ranking U.S. diplomat in Libya who contradicted the White House's initial version of events after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in September. According to an interview investigators conducted with Greg Hicks, a foreign service diplomat of 22 years, "everybody in the mission" in Benghazi believed the events of Sept. 11, 2012, constituted a terrorist attack and were not the result of spontaneous demonstrations, as the administration portrayed the situation in the aftermath of the attack. "I thought it was a terrorist attack from the get-go," Hicks said to oversight committee investigators, in an interview Issa supplied to CBS's "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer. "I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning." Issa's choice of venue for the disclosure was meaningful. Just days after the attack, which claimed the lives of Chris Stevens, then the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans., U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said on "Face the Nation" and other Sunday shows that the Benghazi incident didn't seem to be a planned terrorist attack, as Libyan President Mohammed al-Magariaf had quickly claimed.

Daily Howler, The congressman gives the yahoo the slip! Bob Somerby, May 15, 2013. In yesterday’s New York Times, Mark Landler describes the congressional fact-finding trip which allegedly inspired the GOP’s obsession with Benghazi. Landler records one striking statement by the Republican congressman in question. And he completely fails to explore his story’s main point. According to Landler, the current GOP obsession dates to an eight-hour trip to Tripoli last October. Rep. Jason Chaffetz made the “whirlwind trip” on October 7. According to Landler, Chaffetz “wanted answers on what he believed was an increasingly spurious account by the Obama administration of what happened in Benghazi the night of Sept. 11.” Mr. Chaffetz said he did not have Mr. Freeman barred from any meetings, but added, “I didn’t want to limit the information I was going to get because some yahoo from the State Department didn’t have the proper clearance.” State Department officials insisted that Mr. Freeman had the clearance he needed. Even the most trivial attempts at courtesy seem to have gone by the board. But in our view, so has Landler’s sense of what’s really at stake in this story.  Landler never says! We’re given a cloak-and-dagger tale in which a congressman gived the slip to a meddlesome lawyer. But at no point is Chaffetz asked to explain what troubled him in Libya.

Daily Howler, The fuller transcript of what Brokaw said! Bob Somerby, May 15, 2013. Tom Brokaw made a gruesome appearance on Morning Joe. Four days earlier, ABC News had released twelve versions of the talking points which guided Susan Rice on the Sunday programs of September 16, 2012. Thanks to ABC’s release, it was now perfectly clear why Rice said some of the things she said on those now-famous programs.  No one had to speculate about where her statements came from. But on Morning Joe, it was abundantly clear that Brokaw didn’t have the slightest idea what those various talking-points said. He also didn’t seem to know what Rice had said on those Sunday programs. Why was Brokaw still so clueless as of Monday morning? Easy! People like Brokaw rarely work from facts!  According to this familiar novel, Rice said it wasn’t a terrorist attack—and the CIA’s accurate claims were changed by politicized agencies. Broken knew the novel by heart; he just didn’t seem to know any facts. He didn’t know what Rice had said in her basic presentation. He didn’t know what Rice had said when Schieffer asked about al Qaeda.

Daily Howler, What Gregory Hicks really said about Susan Rice! Bob Somerby, May 13, 2013. Last Wednesday, Gregory Hicks testified to a House committee about the attack in Benghazi. At one point, he savaged Rice.  Hicks said his jaw dropped when he watched Rice on the September 16 Sunday shows. He said he was embarrassed by the things she said.  Why did he say he felt that way? Specifically, what was his criticism?  In typical fashion, no one ever really asked him to explain! Nor have we seen anyone note how crazy his comments were. Hicks was speaking with Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC). Rather clearly, Gowdy was saying that Rice should have taken her brief that day from the Libyan president, not from U.S. intelligence! She should have said what the Libyan president said, not what the CIA had said about the events in question. Just marvel at Gowdy'a analysis! The Libyan president hadn’t mentioned a spontaneous protest. For that reason, Ambassador Rice shouldn’t have mentioned a spontaneous protest either! For better or worse, the CIA had described a spontaneous protest. The CIA had described such a protest/demonstration right from its original talking points on. And here’s a minor clue for Gowdy and for the ridiculous Hicks: Rice was representing the United States government on TV that day, not the Libyan president!

Fox News, Names Of ‘Whistleblower’ Witnesses On Libya Raid Revealed, May 5, 2013. Their identities have been a well-guarded secret, known only to their high-powered lawyers and a handful of House lawmakers and staff. But now Fox News has learned the names of the self-described Benghazi “whistleblowers” who are set to testify before a widely anticipated congressional hearing on Wednesday. Appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be three career State Department officials: Gregory N. Hicks, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Libya at the time of the Benghazi terrorist attacks; Mark I. Thompson, a former Marine and now the deputy coordinator for Operations in the agency’s Counterterrorism Bureau; and Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer who was the regional security officer in Libya, the top security officer in the country in the months leading up to the attacks. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya. Hicks was at the time of the highest-ranking American diplomat in the country. Nordstrom previously testified before the oversight committee, which is chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in October 2012. At that time, Nordstrom made headlines by detailing for lawmakers the series of requests that he, Ambassador Stevens, and others made for enhanced security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, most of which were rejected by State Department superiors.

Huffington Post, Benghazi Attack Appeared 'A Terrorist Attack From The Get-Go,' Says Official, Dave Jamieson, May 5, 2013. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, revealed an interview on Sunday with a high-ranking U.S. diplomat in Libya who contradicted the White House's initial version of events after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in September.

Military Sex

Washington Post, Hagel orders retraining of sex-assault prevention officers; Army sergeant investigated, Craig Whitlock, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday evening ordered the armed services to immediately “re-train, re-credential and re-screen” tens of thousands of military recruiters and sexual-assault prevention officers as the revelation of another sex-crime scandal rocked the Pentagon. Hagel’s order came in response to the Army’s disclosure Tuesday that a sergeant first class responsible for handling sexual-assault cases at Fort Hood, Tex., had been placed under criminal investigation over allegations of abusive sexual contact and other related matters. Investigators are also scrutinizing allegations that the sergeant may have forced a subordinate into prostitution, according to a U.S. official familiar with the case.

Roll Call, Air Force Sex Assault Arrest Highlight’s Filmmakers’ Quest, Jason Dick, May 6, 2013. A key point in last year’s Academy Award nominated documentary The Invisible War was that the military was structurally incapable of adequately policing sexual assault in the armed services. As if to bolster the filmmakers’ case, the Air Force officer in charge of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Branch has been arrested and charged with sexual battery.

Civil Rights Protesters

Huffington Post, Alleged 'PayPal 14' Hackers Seek Deal To Stay Out Of Prison After Nearly 2 Years In Limbo, Ryan J. Reilly, May 18, 2013. Before he was charged in July 2011 with aiding the hacker group Anonymous, Josh Covelli lived what he considered the life of an ordinary 26-year-old. He spent countless hours on the Internet. He had a girlfriend. He was a student and employee at Devry University in Dayton, Ohio. But after federal authorities accused him and 13 other people of helping launch a cyberattack against the online payment service PayPal, Covelli faced potentially 15 years in prison, and his life began to unravel. (Government photos of defendants at right via Huffington Post.)

Bill Moyers, Six Whistleblowers Charged Under the Espionage Act, John Light and Lauren Feeney, April 26, 2013. The Obama administration has been carrying out an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers, particularly on those who have divulged information that relates to national security. The Espionage Act, enacted during the first World War to punish Americans who aided the enemy, had only been used three times in its history to try government officials accused of leaking classified information — until the Obama administration. Since 2009, the administration has used the act to prosecute six government officials. Meet the whistleblowers.

Locust Fork News-Journal, Memphis Congressman Asks Justice Department to Review Don Siegelman’s Case, Glynn Wilson, May 15, 2013.Watch this video to see Steve Cohen, left, a Democrat from Memphis, Tennessee, ask Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Read more about the case in our comprehensive news archive of every development in the case. Don Siegelman on Trial Cohen also calls for a presidential pardon. And he pressures the attorney general to stop taking peoples’ liberty for possession of marijuana since a majority of the American people now say it should be legal.

C-SPAN, Rep Cohen, D-TN, confronts AG Holder on Don Siegelman's case, (Clipped from:Justice Department Oversight Hearing), May 15, 2013.

Legal Schnauzer, Was AG Holder Mistaken Or Intentionally Misleading In His Answers To Congress About Siegelman Case? Roger Shuler, May 16, 2013.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday said it's his understanding that former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman has an active appeal and therefore is not eligible to have his sentence commuted. If Siegelman has an active appeal, it has escaped my attention. And that raises this question: Is Eric Holder mistaken or did he intentionally make a misleading statement to Congress and the American people? I have sent queries to Siegelman's legal team, seeking clarification about any appeals, plus their response to Holder's statements. We will update this post as new information becomes available.

SFGate, Eric Holder has a bad memory on pardons, Debra J. Saunders, May 15,12013. At Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., asked Attorney General Eric Holder if he would push for a presidential pardon for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. “The president could pardon him now,” said Cohen as he pressed Holder. Is your Pardon Attorney Ron Rodgers under investigation for withholding information? Cohen asked, referring to an Inspector General probe. The individual’s name — and Holder should know it – is Clarence Aaron, who outrageously was sentenced to life without parole for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. And Holder should be outraged that Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers withheld vital information on Aaron’s case. The only corrective measure that can prevent a repeat would be to remove Rodgers from a position for which he tempermentally is unsuited.  

National Press Club, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake criticizes government 'secrecy regime,' Sean Lyngaas, March 16, 2013. The government is going to great lengths to shutdown leaks, according to Thomas Drake, right, a former senior executive turned whistleblower at the National Security Agency. “In our post-9/11 world, the government is increasingly in the ‘First Un-amendment’ business, engaged in a direct assault on free speech and the very foundation of our democracy,” Drake told a National Press Club luncheon audience on March 15. Drake was indicted in April, 2010, under the Espionage Act for allegedly providing classified information to the Baltimore Sun. He was eventually cleared of wrongdoing and now minces no words in warning of the perils of government secrecy. What Drake calls “the secrecy regime” -- the government protocols for securing a vast cache of classified documents -- has created a “misunderstanding that if you happen to speak to a reporter. (Photo Courtesy of Noel St. John.)

Newseum, National Freedom of Information Day, March 15, 2013. The 15th annual National Freedom of Information Day conference held at the Newseum brought together groups concerned with freedom of information and open records, including FOI advocates, government officials, lawyers, librarians, journalists and educators. Held each year in part to commemorate the March 16th birth date of James Madison, the conference is conducted in partnership with the American Library Association, OpenTheGovernment.org, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The event is also part of the annual Sunshine Week initiative sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The 2013 conference featured a keynote discussion with noted First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, subject of a new book by author and law professor Ronald L.K.Collins. In morning sessions, OpenTheGovernment.org presented its annual Sunshine Week examination of the state of openness in the federal government, focusing this year on outlook for President Barack Obama's second term.

Washington Post, Justice Department, IRS scandals challenge Obama’s civil liberties credibility, Scott Wilson, May 14, 2013. President Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer who came to office pledging renewed respect for civil liberties, is today running an administration at odds with his résuméand preelection promises. The Justice Department’s collection of journalists’ phone records and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups have challenged Obama’s credibility as a champion of civil liberties — and as a president who would heal the country from damage done by his predecessor. Atttorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department decided to subpoena phone records of AP citing one of the "most serious leaks" he's ever encountered. Holder says he removed himself from the decision to subpoena the records. Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department decided to subpoena phone records of AP citing one of the "most serious leaks" he's ever encountered. Holder says he removed himself from the decision to subpoena the records. For any president, the most cutting political problems emerge when the administration shows signs of faltering in areas where it is supposed to excel. Obama asked to be measured by competence and his commitment to what he called foundational American values — two areas where rights advocates say he has not met the standards he set.

Overall Political Fallout

Washington Post, He is not a crook, Editorial Board, May 16, 2013. Comparing Barack Obama to Richard Nixon is silly, but the misdeeds are far from trivial.GOP focus on phony issues misses needed reforms.

Washington Post, Conspiracy of the unproductive, Dana Milbank, May 17, 2013. At the end of a truly dismal week in his presidency, President Obama remains lucky in one crucial category: his opposition. It has been only a few days since two administration scandals — the IRS harassment of conservative groups and the Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records — dropped into the Republicans’ lap. But instead of turning public outrage to their advantage, Republicans have already begun overreaching, turning legitimate areas of inquiry into just some more partisan food fights. Consider Thursday morning’s circus on the east lawn of the Capitol, where Republican lawmakers gathered with tea party leaders to declare their thoughts on the IRS scandal.

The Blaze, Obama Administration Under Siege From 3 Huge Scandals: Here’s Why It Could All Come Crashing Down, Buck Sexton, May 14, 2013. In just one week, President Barack Obama’s political machine has switched from endless campaign to survival mode. And for the first time in Obama’s presidency, the damage to his regime may be permanent. Three revelations have come together like an avalanche. First, there was a Benghazi hearing that proved beyond any reasonable doubt that this administration is feckless, dishonest, and cravenly politicized. But in its aftermath on Friday, an executive branch information dump dropped another bombshell: the IRS does indeed target and intimidate conservative groups. This appalling admission from a senior IRS official was obviously meant to slide into the news cycle and dissipate over the weekend. This unseemly public relations gambit has become a hallmark of the Obama approach to all issues, regardless of their importance to the nation. Deny or delay, spin and win. And, to the discredit of our electorate, it has worked—until perhaps now. As the country was still reeling from the gut-wrenching testimony of three Benghazi whistleblowers and the IRS mea culpa, yet another log was thrown onto the bonfire of the Obama administration’s credibility. Yesterday the Associated Press broke a news story that Obama’s Justice Department collected phone data on dozens of AP reporters as part of a national security leak investigation.

Purning Shears via FireDogLake, Washington press corps catches up to 2002, discovers surveillance state, Danps, May 18, 2013. We’ve had three big stories this week, each showing how the right plays the scandal game better than the left. Of the three, one is a non-scandal (Benghazi), one is a minor scandal with the potential to turn into more (IRS),1 and one is an honest-to-God scandal right now (AP). Republicans don’t bother with such fine distinctions though, and that’s why they are better at playing it than Democrats: when they get something they can run with, they do. The targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS is a good example.2 It was wrong of the IRS to target them, but at the end of the day what it all amounted to was more paperwork and delay. It’s much less onerous – and much less overtly political – than the actual audit the IRS did of the NAACP when it was critical of George Bush. Yet the Democrats basically sat on their hands for that, and the best they can muster now is a weaksauce “oh yeah? Well why weren’t you outraged back then, GOP?” Republicans stand up for their allies in real time – they don’t sit back and watch them get pummeled. 

Paul Craig Roberts.org / Institute for Political Economy, You Are The Hope, May 1, 2013. Dear Readers: If there is hope, you are it. You are motivated to find truth. You can think outside the box. You can see through propaganda. You are the remnant with the common sense that once was a common American virtue.

Where today is moral awareness as Washington bombs civilian populations around the globe? Where is the moral conscience of the the civil rights movement as the First Black President, the first member of the oppressed class to sit in the Oval Office, validates the Bush Regime’s assertion of the right of the unaccountable executive to ignore habeas corpus and due process? Not satisfied with this crime, Obama asserted the right of the executive branch to murder any citizen suspected, without proof being offered to a court, of undefined “support of terrorism.” Today all Americans have fewer rights than blacks had prior to the Civil Rights Act. Anything, including a column critical of war and the police state, can be declared to be “in support of terrorism.” As the tyrant Bush put it: “You are with us, or you are against us.” The print and TV media and many Internet sites got the message: Serve Washington’s agenda, and will you will prosper. Advertisers and the CIA will pump money into your coffers. Challenge us and you will be demonized.

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Washington Post, Man tied to Boston bombing suspect killed by FBI in confrontation, Sari Horwitz, May 22, 2013. A Chechen man who was friends with one of the Boston bombing suspects was shot and killed by an FBI agent in Orlando early Wednesday when an interview erupted into a confrontation, the FBI said. The victim was identified as Ibragim Todashev, who knew one of the Boston suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, left,  through the world of martial arts, according to news reports. He was killed in a residential area near Universal Studios. The FBI has been conducting interviews across the United States and in Russia with associates of Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar, over the past month to learn whether anyone else was associated with the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three people and wounded more than 260. The interviews have focused heavily on people from the northern Caucasus area of Russia, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent six months in 2012. The Tsarnaev family has roots in Chechnya, part of the restive region, and the FBI suspects he might have had contact with Islamic militants there last year.

Associated Press via Washington Post, Man killed in Fla. by FBI shares similar background to deceased Boston bombing suspect, Staff report, May 22, 2013. A Chechen immigrant shot to death in central Florida after an altercation with an FBI agent had several ties to one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects who authorities were questioning him about at the time. Ibragim Todashev’s Chechen roots and mixed martial arts background mirror that of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bombing suspect killed in a shootout with police last month. The two also had lived in the Boston area.

Washington Post, Obama approves drone briefings for Congress, Karen DeYoung and Peter Finn, May 22, 2013. President has approved classified briefings for Congress on overall policy and is scheduled today to speak about how counterterrorism standards will be more transparent.

Time, Savage Online Videos Fuel Syria’s Descent Into Madness, Aryn Baker, May 12, 2013. The video starts out like so many of the dozens coming out of the war in Syria every day, with the camera hovering over the body of a dead Syrian soldier. But the next frame makes it clear why this video, smuggled out of the city of Homs and into Lebanon with a rebel fighter, and obtained by Time in April, is particularly shocking. In the video a man who is believed to be a rebel commander named Khalid al-Hamad, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, bends over the government soldier, knife in hand. With his right hand he moves what appears to be the dead man’s heart onto a flat piece of wood or metal lying across the body. With his left hand he pulls what appears to be a lung across the open cavity in the man’s chest. According to two of Abu Sakkar’s fellow rebels, who said they were present at the scene, Abu Sakkar had cut the organs out of the man’s body. The man believed to be Abu Sakkar then works his knife through the flesh of the dead man’s torso before he stands to face the camera, holding an organ in each hand. “I swear we will eat from your hearts and livers, you dogs of Bashar,” he says, referring to supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Off camera, a small crowd can be heard calling out “Allahu akbar” — God is great. Then the man raises one of the bloodied organs to his lips and starts to tear off a chunk with his teeth.

Huffington Post, Mark Udall 'Extremely Concerned' About Warrantless Email Searches, Matt Sledge, May 9, 2013. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), left, said Thursday he was "extremely concerned" over revelations that the FBI continues to believe it can conduct warrantless email searches despite a federal appeals court's ruling that they are unconstitutional. Using a public records request, the American Civil Liberties Union received a set of FBI documents Wednesday. An internal June 2012 department guide included among the documents shows that the FBI believes it can obtain the contents of emails without a warrant if the email was sent or received through a third-party service. In at least one case before that guide was written, however, a federal court disagreed: In a 2010 decision, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found that emailers using cloud services have a reasonable expectation of privacy and are protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution's warrant requirement.

FireDogLake, Documents Reveal Zero Dark Thirty Had CIA Script Rewrite, DSWright, May 7, 2013. A Freedom of Information Act request by Gawker reveals that the CIA pushed through changes to the script of the film Zero Dark Thirty. A Freedom of Information Act request by Gawker reveals that the CIA pushed through changes to the script of the film Zero Dark Thirty. The movie had already been condemned for being grossly inaccurate and dishonest and now it seems we might have more information on why. Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden revenge-porn flick Zero Dark Thirty was the biggest publicity coup for the CIA this century outside of the actual killing of Osama bin Laden. But the extent to which the CIA shaped the film has remained unclear. Now, a memo obtained by Gawker shows that the CIA actively, and apparently successfully, pressured Mark Boal to remove scenes that made them look bad from the Zero Dark Thirty script.

FireDogLake, Why Isn’t the Name of the New Director of CIA’s National Clandestine Service Being Made Public? Kevin Gosztola, May 7, 2013. CIA director John Brennan has appointed someone to fill the position of National Clandestine Service (NCS) director. The individual, however, is apparently going to keep his undercover status.

Washington Post, Karzai acknowledges CIA payments, Kevin Sieff, May 4, 2013. Afghan President Hamid Karzai acknowledged Saturday that he has frequently received money from the CIA and that he had been promised the agency would continue making such payments. At a news conference, Karzai said the payments amounted to “a government institution helping another government institution, and we appreciate all this assistance and help.”

Sparrow Project, UK Hacktivists Face 15-Month Prison Terms While Us Co-Defendant Faces 42-Year Sentence, Andy Stepanian, May 17, 2013. Three English co-defendants who plead guilty to being members of the Lulzsec hacktivist group were sentenced yesterday by a UK court. Ryan Acroyd, the most technically experienced of the three, received the longest sentence – he will spend 15 months in prison. By contrast, their American co-defendant Jeremy Hammond has already spent 14 months awaiting trial in a federal case that carries charges that could result in up to 42 years of prison time – a virtual life sentence for the 28 year old. Hammond has been denied bail or access to family members.

FireDogLake, In First Amendment Case Over Afghan War Memoir, Justice Department Asks Judge to End Lawsuit, Kevin Gosztola, May 1, 2013.The Justice Department has asked a federal judge to conclude that a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer “has no First Amendment right to publish the information at issue” in a memoir he penned at on his service in the war in Afghanistan. They maintain information the officer wants to publish is “properly classified” and the government is “entitled to substantial deference” that its publication would result in harm from disclosure. The case involves Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, right, an officer with twenty-five years of field experience, who wrote Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines of Afghanistan and the Path to Victory.

National Press Club, National Press Club marks 20th year of World Press Freedom Day, May 3, John M. Donnelly, May 2, 2013. The National Press Club commemorated the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day today with a sober reminder of how unfree the press is in most of the world and a pledge to keep working to change that. Created in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly, World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3 each year and has three goals. The first is to evaluate the state of press freedom. The second is to defend the press from attacks on its independence. And the third is to honor those who have sacrificed, sometimes with their lives, to bring the public the news. Since 1992, at least 982 journalists have been killed worldwide, and 594 of those murders are unsolved, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. An estimated 232 journalists are imprisoned today, the group says.

Associated Press / Bloomberg Business Week, Court Denies Government's Motion to Stay Order that Morning-After Pill Be Made Available Without Restrictions, Larry Neumeister, May 10, 2013. A judge on Friday refused to delay enforcement of his decision giving women of all ages broad access to morning-after birth control, calling the government's appeal frivolous, a "silly argument" and an insult to the intelligence of women. U.S. District Judge Edward Korman in Brooklyn did agree to postpone implementation of his month-old decision until Monday to give the government time to appeal to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. "Indeed, in my view, the defendants' appeal is frivolous and is taken for the purpose of delay," Korman wrote. He called the government's reasoning "largely an insult to the intelligence of women." The government had warned that "substantial market confusion" could result if Korman's ruling was enforced while appeals are pending. The judge dismissed the reasoning as a "silly argument." He blamed the government for any market uncertainty, saying it was responsible for appeals "taken solely to vindicate the improper conduct" of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, left, "and possibly for the purpose of further delaying greater access to emergency contraceptives for purely political reasons."

FireDogLake, As Obama Dumps Transparency Former Staffers Cash In on 'Public Service,” DSWright, April 18, 2013. As President Obama quietly signed a bill to dump further disclosure requirements for congressional and senior executive branch staffers, his former staffers were looking to ring the cash register. Leveraging their access to the Obama Administration, these Corporate Democrats have found a way to triangulate some loot – buckraking. Welcome to the buckraking phase of the Obama era. If the campaign was about hope, and the early presidency was about change, increasingly the administration has settled into a kind of normalcy in which it accommodates itself to Washington far more than Washington accommodates itself to Obama. In other words, influence peddling. It seems for most of the Obama Team “public service” was just a pretext for private payoffs. Take Robert Wolf, a former U.S. chairman of the investment bank UBS and an early Obama fund-raiser, who has served as an all-purpose (and highly visible) “first buddy” throughout the presidency. Last year, Wolf dreamed up the idea for a firm called 32 Advisors, which would instruct clients here and abroad on a variety of business transactions, such as how to secure U.S. government financing for export deals.

Desmog Blog, Obama's Former Communications Director's Firm Does PR For Keystone XL Pipeline, Tar Sands Rail Transport, Sreve Horn, May 3, 2013. Double-dipping is a "no go" in the real world of eating chips and salsa with a circle of friends but an everyday reality in the world of lobbyists and PR professionals. Anita Dunn, former White House Communications Director for President Barack Obama, now runs the firm SKDKnickerbocker (Squier Knapp Dunn), a firm that "brings unparalleled strategic communications experience to Fortune 500 companies, political groups and candidates, non-profits, and labor organizations." She is shown at right in a photo via Wikipedia.

FireDoglake, Obama Nominates Major Campaign Contributor Penny Pritzker for Commerce Secretary, DS Wright, May 2, 2013. Has the mask finally come off the Obama presidency? After a campaign in 2008 that won him Marketer of the Year in which Obama hurled progressive rhetoric while having Goldman Sachs as his biggest campaign contributor and then having a presidency marked by antagonism to progressive reforms, it seems Obama is finally dropping the hope and change act and giving away government offices to his financial benefactors. President Obama plans to nominate Chicago business executive Penny Pritzker, left, a longtime political supporter and heavyweight fundraiser, as his new Commerce secretary this morning. With a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion, Pritzker is listed by Forbes magazine among the 300 wealthiest Americans. Clearly the 1% need more of a voice in government, especially 1%ers who have some issues with unions and proper banking practices. Who better to be the Commerce Secretary? Someone who is at odds with labor unions and has problems complying with bank regulations should really understand American commerce today.

National Press Club, National Press Club marks 20th year of World Press Freedom Day, May 3, John M. Donnelly, May 2, 2013. The National Press Club commemorated the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day today with a sober reminder of how unfree the press is in most of the world and a pledge to keep working to change that. Created in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly, World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3 each year and has three goals. The first is to evaluate the state of press freedom. The second is to defend the press from attacks on its independence. And the third is to honor those who have sacrificed, sometimes with their lives, to bring the public the news. Since 1992, at least 982 journalists have been killed worldwide, and 594 of those murders are unsolved, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. An estimated 232 journalists are imprisoned today, the group says.

May 17 'Washington Update' Radio

Scott Draughon and I hosted May 17 on MTL Washington Update Nick Friedman, left, the president and co-founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk. With CEO and Co-Founder Omar Soliman, Friedman co-authored, Effortless Entrepreneur: Work Smart, Play Hard, Make Millions (Random House, 2010). Click here to listen to the show on archive.

In college, Nick started the business with Omar, his childhood best friend, in a beat-up cargo van. The business has grown to over 40 franchise locations nationwide. For details, see his full profile in our roster of recent and prospective radio show guests.

The toll-free comment line for all of our weekly public affairs shows is (866-685-7469 ). Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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