Opinion: A breakdown of Obama's second term "scandals"

It has become almost a tradition of sorts for a president to have at least one second-term scandal to deal with, that is, if there is a second term to be had. Richard Nixon resigned from the Watergate scandal two years into his second term. Ronald Reagan kind of, sort of, admitted his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. Bill Clinton had to deal with the Kenneth Starr-fabricated Whitewater scandal for most of his presidency, but it was his affair with Monica Lewinsky during his second term that we remember and crack jokes about.

Bush the Younger’s second term was marked by two scandals. The first was CIA agent Valerie Plame’s cover being blown, and the subsequent allegation that it was done out of spite by Karl Rove because her husband, diplomat Joe Wilson, had written an op-ed in The New York Times charging that the Bush administration had twisted the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. The second was then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales illegally firing US attorneys for political reasons, leading to a Congressional hearing and his eventual resignation.

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Apart from the scandal arising out of Operation Fast and Furious (a program started under Gonzales and was continued under current Attorney General Eric Holder), Barack Obama had a relatively scandal-free first term. However, in just the first year of his second term, a whammy of four scandals came up in the rough span of a month. Some of these scandals are completely fabricated or overblown by the Republicans, while others are worth investigating further. Without further ado, here are all four with a brief description of the scandal itself, what action has already been taken to address it, and what more, if anything else, needs to be done.

AP: The Justice Department seized telephone records of Associated Press (AP) journalists, citing national security concerns. However, it was the naming of Fox News reporter Eric Rosen as a “criminal co-conspirator” under the Espionage Act of 1917 in order to access his personal phone and email details that landed Attorney General Holder in hot water.

Time to go. Photo Courtesy of salon.com

Time to go. Photo Courtesy of salon.com

To my knowledge, Rosen has done nothing illegal, and classifying him as a criminal under an archaic act that was previously used to suppress freedom of speech and the press during World War I is utterly ridiculous. There was no probable cause for such a search, and completely violates the right to due process and the “innocent until proven guilty” principle in our legal system.

However, this seems to be just an issue within the Justice Department, not the Obama Administration itself. Obama cannot be held responsible for the impossible task of being everywhere and overseeing everything all the time. That’s why there are Cabinet officials in the first place who are in charge of the various federal departments. As president, Obama needs to be able to trust his subordinates to be competent, to make the correct judgment calls, and to not do anything illegal. He cannot be held liable for actions his subordinates take on their own volition, in the undertaking of their day-to-day work.

There is strong evidence to suggest that Holder gave the order to use the Espionage Act for illegal purposes, and lied to a judge in order to get a search warrant. This, combined with being the only Attorney General ever to be censured by Congress as a result of his Fast and Furious testimony, warrants Holder’s dismissal or resignation.

IRS: Last month, it came out that the Cincinnati office of the IRS targeted certain conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status (meaning more paperwork than usual). The acting commissioner of the IRS resigned upon this revelation being made public.

Photo Courtesy of scd5patriots.org

Photo Courtesy of scd5patriots.org

However, this so-called scandal is far overblown. Both liberal and conservative groups have been selected for further scrutiny and were sent the same inquiries, so it is unfair to say that the conservative groups were targeted just for being conservative. The Cincinnati branch's head was conservative, and it is unlikely that he would unfairly target conservative groups. In fact, he stated that conservative groups underwent a normal amount of scrutiny.

But even so, many of the conservative groups selected are anti-tax and anti-federal government, so it does make sense for the IRS to look further into these organizations that profess these ideas. Ultimately, no conservative organization in question had their application for tax-exempt status rejected. In fact, the only group that had tax-exempt status denied by the IRS under Obama was the liberal “Emerge America” in 2010.

The real problem here, I believe, is the 2010 Citizens United case that blurred the line in campaign finance for non-profits. Look, the IRS is an easy target for both sides, but the IRS does have a job to ensure that non-profits do not engage in overt political activity. This scandal could in the future hamper the ability and willingness of the IRS to pursue non-profit organizations that are actually breaking the law.

As for Obama, there is no evidence of wrongdoing or even his involvement. Letting go of the acting IRS Commissioner may have placated some of the Republicans, but it does not address the deeper problems that come with Citizens United.

NSA: In 2007, a covert program called PRISM was started by the NSA. It involved a secret court order forcing companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Verizon to turn over all of their customer logs. The primary whistleblower, Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who worked as  a private contractor for the NSA, gave the damning information to The Washington Post and The Guardian to publish publicly. Snowden fled the country and is currently hiding somewhere in Hong Kong.

Edward Snowden. Photo Courtesy of wired.com

Edward Snowden. Photo Courtesy of wired.com

I understand the outrage against the NSA, but first a few things to clear up. One, how is this even a surprise in the post- 9/11 era? The NSA has been working with corporations since the 1970s to acquire information. Bush signed into law the PATRIOT Act, the Protect America Act of 2007, and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, all of which enabled the creation of PRISM. Second, PRISM was authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), so there is a warrant of sorts, even though it isn't specifically directed at a person or has probable cause.

Third, the hypocrisy of many conservatives here stuns me. The majority of them had nary a peep during the Bush years, and now under Obama they’re crying foul over a program that was started under Bush. That is not to say liberals are blameless as well, but at least you have many Democratic senators and congresspeople coming out against Obama on this issue.

I don’t think Snowden will be extradited back to the US to face trial, or killed by an agent of the government. Ron Paul was being a tad sensational when he said on the news that the US would send a drone after him. Let’s get real here: most of the public is riled up over this, and extraditing or killing Snowden will only add fuel to the fire and portrays the government in a far worse negative light than it is in now. Besides, Snowden is in Hong Kong, under Chinese jurisdiction. There is no way a drone is getting over there without causing World War III.

Something else to think about: it’s one thing to be on the outside looking in, like you and I, and criticize what’s going on. But sitting in the Oval Office surely brings a new perspective to the threats that America faces, and the President has classified information that none of us are privy to. So perhaps programs like PRISM are justified based on the intelligence coming in. I’m not saying it’s the right perspective, but it’s worth considering.

In any case, the program is technically legal, but probably is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and does not seem ethical or right. To end a program like this there will have to be ruled on by the Supreme Court. The national security apparatus and by extension, the military-industrial complex, has been around long before Bush or Obama, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Benghazi: Last September 11, four Americans, including American Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were murdered in a terrorist attack on the consulate in Benghazi. At the same time there were mass protests in the Middle East against the anti-Islam movie Innocence of Muslims, so there was speculation that the terrorist attack was inspired by the inflammatory film. American Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice appeared on Sunday morning talk shows, pointing to the video as a possible motive for the attack.

Republican outrage against Obama’s response to the attack is disjointed and disparate. Some Republicans allege that Obama overplayed the influence of the video on the attacks and did not label the attackers as “terrorists”, while others, with the help of Fox News, spread the lie that Obama issued a “stand down” order to a fast-response team that never arrived in Benghazi.

To address the first group of Republicans, Obama did in fact label the attack an “act of terror” the next day. Along with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, other Administration officials did indeed label the attacks in similar language that Obama used, but did not discount the realistic possibility at the time that the attacks spontaneously came about from the protests.

It is also important to understand that initial intelligence in the immediate aftermath of an attack is usually muddled and not always accurate. Investigations and further intelligence-gathering take time, and evidence was eventually brought to light that the attack was premeditated, that the attackers were al-Qaida linked terrorists, and were not a product of the protests or the outrage over the video. Obama can’t, with limited information, publicly state assumptions, or make accusations, over who exactly was responsible for the attack and potentially mislead the public. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

As for the second group of Republicans, this allegation that Obama ordered American rescue forces to “stand down” was disproven by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey, who testified that no such order was given, and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified that Obama ordered him to do whatever was needed to be done to save the consulate. The response team was too late arriving at a base in Sicily to intervene, and instead were sent to Tripoli to assist in receiving the bodies of the dead.

Yet, Fox News continues to push this false narrative that Obama did not order help, and is deceiving many Americans into believing this contrived “scandal”. Just look at the loaded question poll below. Personally, I think it was a last-ditch effort by the Republicans right before the election to discredit Obama's strong record on fighting terrorism and shift the momentum to Romney. Since that failed, and Obama won, it now serves to try and make people believe it to arouse popular anger and sow discord. But that's just me.

benghazifox

Photo Courtesy of mediamatters.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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