Thursday, May 16, 2013

Obama, Holder, Clinton: Benghazi, and DOJ AP Subpoenas

Well well well, what a difference a day makes. It was seemingly just yesterday when the President was having his inauguration and sneering at people who didn't trust the government, or thought that they were taxed enough already, thank you very much. And it wasn't that long ago that rather than answer direct questions about her role in the Benghazi situation, Secretary Clinton was screeching "What difference does it make" at questioners.

Well Madame Secretary it may make some difference after all. Yes indeed. You know just like it makes a difference that you didn't actually land under sniper fire in Bosnia. With that record of truthfulness you might understand that people don't necessarily want to take your word on something without proof.
( When you have a moment after reading this post please check out this excellent C-SPAN discussion with CBS investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson. It's very long and not strictly speaking necessary for this post but it does clarify a great many of the issues raised by this scandal)

                          

Or it may not, it could all indeed be much ado about nothing  h/t field negro
We don't know yet. What we do know is that Cheryl Mills, Secretary Clinton's Chief of Staff, called Gregory Hicks, the deputy Chief of Mission in Libya, and expressed her firm displeasure that Hicks had spoken to Representative Jason Chaffetz. She was also peveed that Hicks was raising questions about the initial official explanation on Benghazi. Hicks claims that his job and competence were harshly questioned and that he was demoted. We also know that Hicks stands firm that there was a stand down order that prevented a possible rescue mission from taking place



The full truth has yet to reveal itself. This story is changing by the day.  By the time you read this new facts will almost certainly have been revealed. I doubt there was any sort of desire by the Obama Administration to allow attacks on American consulates. But I do think that, rightly or wrongly, whether it's in response to Republican hatred and intransigence or born out of pure technocratic arrogance that there is often an Obama Administration response to a crisis that privileges politics over all else. Maybe this is no different than any other Administration. After all why would you be kind or forthcoming with folks who have made it clear that they would like nothing better than to beat your brains out with a baseball bat?  Nevertheless when the State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, suggests removing or reworking talking points to be given to the public and media because "the information could be abused by members of Congress to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings" at the very least there is some inter-agency CYA behavior going on here.  At worst, well I don't think we have evidence to suggest the worst just yet. 


But withholding truthful but harmful information because you fear rivals will use it against you is wrong. It doesn't work. Think about your own job. If you or someone in your department have made a serious mistake, sooner or later it's going to come out. It's best to own up to it, put the truth out there, (wo)man up and take what you have coming to you. And this issue also shows the importance of maintaining calm and politesse under great stress. Perhaps if Mills and Jones hadn't felt entitled (for political reasons?) to tear Hicks a new one and demote him, perhaps he wouldn't be the country's newest whistleblower. But who can say. As I mentioned I don't think there's really anything here. The Republican eagerness to find something, anything on the President is too obvious. And Benghazi is just the latest in a long line of attacks on American institutions. 

Government agencies often defend overbroad exercises of power by tacitly assuming that the ends justify the means. So whether it's guns in New York where Mayor Lord Bloomberg sends out his minions to shake down anyone darker than Wentworth Miller, or California cops who enter a home without a warrant and taser a husband and wife on suspicion of domestic violence, people who are legally allowed to use coercion must be strictly watched and limited. Otherwise they have a tendency to get out of hand. I've written here and elsewhere that the Obama Administration has a mild to strong disdain for civil liberties. I think this comes from the top. It's nothing new in Washington. The entire reason that we theoretically want limited government authority is that the power of the government is so extensive. The government can compel you to do a lot of things against your will. But there are supposed to be limits. 

The Department of Justice ignored those limits. In a search for leaks around overseas activities in Yemen, the Department of Justice secretly obtained two months of phone records from AP reporters. It's unclear whether a judge signed off on this or not
NEW YORK –- The Associated Press revealed Monday that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of reporter and editor phone records from the spring of 2012, the latest and most illustrative example of the Obama administration's unprecedented war on leaks.
AP president and chief executive officer Gary Pruitt wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday that "there can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters." Pruitt demanded the DOJ return the records and destroy any copies.
The AP reported that the DOJ obtained lists of "incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery." The Justice Department seized records for more than 20 telephone lines from April and May 2012....
Obama and Holder can't be bothered to prosecute banks for bad behavior. Because that might impact the world economy or something. But evidently Holder, or to be precise, his deputy attorney general, has no issue in taking steps which make a mockery out of the First Amendment.  I think this is a much larger scandal than Benghazi. The press ignored the previous tell signs like FISA or the Patriot Act or several other laws or actions that make Swiss cheese out of constitutional protections. It's only when the press' own prerogatives are seemingly violated that it raises an uproar. Well better late than never I say. Self-interest comes through again.  It's critically important to remember that everyone leaks. People do it because they want to hurt the Administration or because they want to help the Administration or because they want to settle scores with rivals or because they've honestly run across something so bad they think every citizen needs to know about it. 

You can't have a functioning constitutional republic without an informed citizenry and a watchdog press. 

If citizens would rather read about which Hollywood starlet is sleeping with which musician/athlete and the press would rather act as the court stenographer for the King, then you can kiss democracy goodbye. You can't have a watchdog press if the government is obtaining phone records that, by their very nature, show to whom the press is talking, and what they're investigating. You would have to be extra special stupid to tell a news agency about something shady that's going on if you know that the government is getting your phone records (and tapping your phone??) Actions speak louder than words. As has been pointed out much of late, the Obama Administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. Sometimes this moves into the realm of farce. The President grandly decided not to prosecute any of the CIA agents or others who tortured. How nice of him. I know if I were a torturer I'd be relieved. But a CIA agent who disclosed the torture was gleefully prosecuted and convicted. Actions speak louder than words, my friends.


Now on both the Benghazi and the AP situation there is no doubt that some of the President's critics are acting in bad faith. It was just a few weeks back that some Republicans were claiming that recognizing that the Boston bombing suspect had Miranda rights was somehow being soft on terrorism.  Good luck trying to find many mainstream Republicans or conservatives who enthusiastically support the Fourth Amendment. There are previous Presidents, Democrat or Republican, who have committed what I view as unethical, unconstitutional or outright criminal acts. But as the cop who stopped me for speeding a few years back told me when I angrily pointed out the other people exceeding the posted speed limit, "But I saw you." Obama has to live up his own standards of excellence, not just say he's like all the others. Despite Republican hostility, even a broken clock is right twice a day. The AP story in particular as well as the IRS issue which we wrote about yesterday may last a minute. And just as I am about to publish this I notice that the President is calling for a new federal shield law which would prevent the DOJ from doing what it just did. Right. In other news the New York Mafia's Five Families today urged passage of a law which would prevent extortion and loansharking....

Questions

1) Do you think the Benghazi and AP scandals matter or not?

2) Will Benghazi damage Clinton's future political plans, if any?

3) Do you think the DOJ subpoenas were overbroad?

4) Should Holder resign?

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