Washington’s understanding of damage control is all wrong, says Michael Tomasky. To win, you have to be willing to hand the other side a temporary victory.
Did I, as a liberal columnist who called immediately on President Obama to seek Eric Holder’s resignation over the Associated Press scandal, provide aid and comfort to the enemy? First of all, I don’t care—what happened struck me as a serious abuse of power. It’s rather obvious to all of you that I support Obama’s agenda in broad terms, but I sure don’t support what happened with the AP. And second, no, I don’t think I provided them aid and comfort anyway. In fact I think recent history shows beyond a doubt that foot-dragging and avoidance are the true aid-and-comforters; they always, always, always make these things worse. That, not my recommended course of action, is what’s going to give Republicans both fodder and power. Thus my aphorism of the week: trying to contain damage only does more damage.
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the 32nd annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the West Front Lawn at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama delivered remarks at the event, invoking the law enforcement officers who worked to bring the Boston Marathon bombing suspects to justice. (Pool photo by Olivier Douliery )
The president demonstrated that he understood this point with respect to the IRS situation—to Republicans, the most toothsome of the three problems the White House is now trying to manage. Firing the acting IRS commissioner within days was the kind of move Obama hasn’t made often enough while in office. He knows very well how potentially dangerous this issue is for him, but whatever the motivation, good for him for moving so fast and striking an assertive posture.
In contrast, Holder’s two attempts at damage control on Tuesday and Wednesday, his press conference and his testimony to the House, struck a defensive one. At his press conference, he wasn’t sure how often reporters’ records are seized, among other lapses. The next day on the Hill, he acknowledged that he did not submit his recusal in writing (it took all of eight seconds for someone on Twitter to produce the relevant legal language showing that such was required), and that he couldn’t remember the date! All Holder’s damage control accomplished was the raising of more questions that will be masticated for days and days.
Why would a liberal group defend the Justice Department’s targeting of journalists? Eli Lake was outraged at first. Fortunately, Media Matters has now explained.
David Brock would like you to know that his liberal organization, Media Matters for America, “recognizes that a free press is necessary for quality journalism and essential to our democracy.” What’s more, Brock said today in a statement, Media Matters stands with the 52 news organizations that objected this week to the Justice Department’s broad subpoena of phone records for 20 Associated Press reporters.
It’s good that he cleared that up because many reporters were confused. This morning, several of them—myself included—were alarmed when we saw a set of talking points issued by the Media Matters Action Network. The talking points were for progressives who were planning to publicly discuss the dispute between the AP and the Justice Department—and some of the talking points evinced a lot more loyalty to a Democratic administration than to the traditionally liberal principle of press freedom. “If the press compromised active counter-terror operations for a story that only tipped off the terrorists, that sounds like it should be investigated,” said one talking point. “It was not acceptable when the Bush Administration exposed Valerie Plame working undercover to stop terrorists from attacking us. It is not acceptable when anonymous sources do it either,” said another. (When I asked to interview Brock, a spokesperson simply sent me a copy of this statement.)
I know what you might be thinking. Don’t those talking points from May 14 contradict Brock’s defense of press freedoms issued on May 15? Well, not to worry. Brock explained all in his statement. “Media Matters for America monitors, analyzes, and corrects conservative misinformation in the media and was not involved with the production of the document focusing on the DOJs investigation,” he said. “That document was issued by ‘Message Matters,’ a project of the Media Matters Action Network, which posts, through a different editorial process and to a different website, a wide range of potential messaging products for progressive talkers to win public debates with conservatives.”
Attorney General Eric Holder is questioned about the Justice Department secretly obtaining telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press, at a news conference in Washington, May 14, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Will face questions on AP wiretaps.
If this has seemed like a scandal-plagued week already, just remember this: it’s only Wednesday. Attorney General Eric Holder will head to Capitol Hill to face questions over his role in the Justice Department’s targeting of Associated Press journalists’ phones. Holder himself launched the investigation into a series of national-security leaks, and although he later recused himself from the investigation into the AP, he has stood by his department’s decision to secretly subpoena two months’ worth of journalists’ phone records. While Holder has often had some friends on the Democratic side of the aisle, they’re likely to go just as harshly on him as Republicans are.
She left the Senate in January because there weren’t ‘enough Olympia Snowes’ to overcome its hyperpartisanship. Now Snowe tells Lloyd Grove how she’s working to change the system from the outside.
After Olympia Snowe’s four decades in elected office, including 18 years in the U.S. Senate, it would be bad manners to call her politically naive.
Olympia Snowe smiles on Capitol Hill in 2012. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Yet the 66-year-old moderate Republican from Maine—who announced her retirement from the Senate last year with a bitter blast at hyperpartisanship and Washington dysfunction—sounds astonishingly uncynical, even hopeful, as she lays out her scheme to coax her former colleagues in Congress to stop misbehaving.
“The only way to change the dynamic, unless something miraculous happens, is from the outside. It will happen when the public demands accountability,” Snowe tells me. “My aim is to get the public to make those phone calls and get the lawmakers’ attention. Because it isn’t about me. It’s about the country, and how you change the polarizing dynamic that so infuses political discourse in Washington and so impedes attempts to get things done.”
Holder’s defenders say the subpoena of Associated Press records is, like drone strikes, more efficient and humane than jailing reporters. But Floyd Abrams tells David Freedlander the move is an ‘egregious overreaction.’
In the war on terror, the Obama administration has eschewed putting military forces on the ground in favor of surgically precise drone strikes. The campaign is constitutionally dubious, although the program’s backers say it is more humane, as it means the loss of fewer innocent lives, and more effective. That the drone program is waged mostly in the shadows, and thus keeps gruesome images off television screens, is considered by the administration to be a benefit as well.
Eric Holder holds a news conference at which he tries to explain the probe of Associated Press journalists. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The drone program comes to mind as the Department of Justice fends off questions this week about its decision to subpoena two months of phone and email records from reporters and editors at the Associated Press. Typically, when federal agents want a reporter to disclose a source, the reporter is subpoenaed and forced to name names or face jail time. That happened to Judith Miller and, more recently, to Jeffrey Sterling.
But like the drone strikes, Justice Department officials say the subpoena method is, in the end, more efficient and more humane. It keeps reporters loath to give up their sources out of jail, and it permits federal officials to track down leakers more quickly. And the surgical strike on newsroom records avoids months and months of high-profile court cases, with every news outlet in the country screaming about the First Amendment.
After inheriting a “hell hole,” and then having the state take control of its finances, Dave Bing has had enough, reports Jay Scott Smith.
After a tumultuous four years overseeing a city long riddled with blight, corruption, crime, and historic financial issues, mayor Dave Bing has had enough, telling a stunned audience at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History Tuesday that he’d leave when his term ends in December.
Pedestrians walk by the abandoned Packard plant in Detroit, December 11, 2008. (Carlos Osorio/AP)
The 69-year-old Bing, a hall-of-fame NBA player who spent most of his career with the Pistons and then was a successful businessman in Detroit had never run for office before narrowly winning the 2009 race to replace Kwame Kilpatrick, who in less than a term in office had gone from rising Democratic star to scandal-embroiled mayor to convicted felon. After winning a full term the same year, Bing tried to turn around a city that has been losing population and sinking into an ever-deeper economic hole for decades, with a City Council resistant to his plans for radical changes to save Detroit and the looming prospect of the Republican governor appointing an emergency economic manager who would effectively take control of the city’s finances from its elected officials. When Governor Rick Snyder in March ended months of deliberation by appointing Kevyn Orr emergency manager, with sweeping powers to modify contracts and sell city assets, Bing, whose frustrations had been mounting, had enough.
In an interview with this reporter last summer, Bing said that he’d inherited a “hell hole” from Kilpatrick. Over the past few days and again during his speech on Tuesday, he came as close to lashing out as his detractors as he ever has publicly, targeting everyone from the Council to Snyder to residents and the media.
Americans are primed for Paul’s embrace of economic and personal liberty, but his outreach to religious Republicans could repel them.
What to make of maverick Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s latest speechifying? “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul insisted last Friday while speaking to a group of religious Republicans in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.” Mindful of evangelical contempt for libertarianism—one attendee told The Washington Post, “Straight libertarianism has nothing Christian about it”—Paul came across as almost desperate to establish that he’s not endorsing state laws legalizing marijuana and allowing for gay marriages.
Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner event May 10 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Matthew Holst/AP)
In a special aired on the Christian Broadcast Network, Paul talked about his willingness to devolve questions of marriage equality to the states not out of philosophical principle but out of political expediency: “We’re going to lose that battle, because the country is going the other way right now,” he said. “If we’re to say each state can decide, I think a good 25 or 30 states still do believe in traditional marriage, and maybe we allow that debate to go on for another couple of decades and see if we can still win back the hearts and minds of people.”
How to reconcile this Paul with the galvanizing figure whose 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor demanded—and got—an unambiguously straight answer from the Obama administration on the possible use of drones to kill Americans? Or the Paul who warned at CPAC that “the GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered ... encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom” and called on the party to “embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere”?
Obama looks to government as the first solution. It’s in his DNA, writes Stuart Stevens. And now that DNA is producing rogue genes.
“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists—to protect them and to promote their common welfare—all else is lost.” —Sen. Barack Obama, August 28, 2006
Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One. The president finds himself rocked by multiple controversies that are demoralizing his allies, emboldening his political foes—and posing huge distractions. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
All successful political leaders have one or two very simple fundamental beliefs upon which they build both their popularity and their policies.
For Ronald Reagan, it was limited government and more freedom. For Barack Obama, it is the unshakeable conviction that government can and must be a strong and benevolent force in our lives.
With Obama ceding the stage, his press secretary tries to disentangle separate storylines knotting up into a tale of a White House gone wrong.
The way Washington reporting works, much of it revolves around the White House and the perception that the leader of the free world should be controlling most everything that’s worth paying attention to. President Obama is not following the script, and it was left to his press secretary, former reporter Jay Carney, to explain to a packed briefing room Tuesday why Obama is not taking a more forceful stance to combat the scandals—including one that reporters take very personally—engulfing his presidency. An AP reporter set the tone with the first question, ticking off the controversies now swirling around the White House and declaring that “in every instance the president places the blame someplace else”—Benghazi on Republicans, the IRS targeting conservative groups on bureaucrats, and snooping on journalists’ phone records on the Justice Department.
President Obama returned to Washington from a fundraiser in New York City amid a flurry of bad news about his administration. (Pool, via Getty Images)
Carney did a good job disentangling the various strands, and Benghazi seems to be losing steam with a CNN report that one leaked email was misrepresented, bolstering Obama’s claim that the GOP investigation has become a media circus. On the IRS, Carney said repeatedly that the White House is waiting for the Treasury Department’s Inspector General’s report, which dropped Tuesday evening, before discussing the particulars of what went on. When a reporter asked Carney, “Can you say categorically no one in the White House was involved in any way in the targeting of Tea Party groups?” he responded unhesitatingly, “Yes.” But when another reporter pressed him on how he knew that, and whether he had any facts to back up his assertion, Carney retreated, embroidered his yes with some qualifiers, and protested, “You’re asking me to prove a negative.”
On Justice collecting AP phone records, and only after the fact informing the news wire that it had done so, Carney said the department operates independently and that Obama first learned of the intrusion into First Amendment freedoms when he was traveling to New York on Monday for two political fundraising events. This administration has prosecuted twice as many leak cases as all previous presidents combined, so a tone is set at the top, but Obama can’t interfere in an ongoing criminal investigation. If he did, the Republicans might have a truly impeachable offense. “What prevents the president from calling up Eric Holder and asking what’s going on?” the reporter from Fox asked. “A lot,” Carney responded. “Imagine the story on Fox if that were to happen, that’s what…”
As tough questions come in, the White House finds itself at a loss for easy answers, writes John Avlon.
For journalists, privacy concerns and the Patriot Act just got personal. In two brutal press conferences Tuesday afternoon, the Obama administration caught both barrels from a newly aggressive press corps.
Jay Carney is grilled at today's White House briefing.
Confronting a hailstorm of questions on the Justice Department’s secret subpoena of AP phone records and the IRS targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, Attorney General Eric Holder and White House press secretary Jay Carney struggled to stay on message, clinging for dear life to phrases like “unfettered,” “inappropriate” and “striking a balance.”
With the significant exception of Attorney General Holder – at a scheduled press conference on Medicaid fraud – announcing that the FBI and Justice were investigating the IRS, the presidential piñatas had little new information to deliver on the expanding front of scandals enveloping the Obama administration. (Word went out just before Holder’s presser that he had recused himself from the national security leak probe that led to the Department of Justice obtaining the phone records of Associated Press journalists since FBI agents had already questioned him about the leak – which led to a press conference where the head of Justice couldn’t answer simple questions about what Justice had done.)
James Goodale defended the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers. But Nixon had nothing on Obama, writes the First Amendment lawyer—and that’s bad news for freedom of the press.
President Barack H. Obama’s outrageous seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records, allegedly to discover sources of leaks, should surprise no one. Obama has relentlessly pursued leakers ever since he became president. He is fast becoming the worst national security press president ever, and it may not get any better.
From left, Richard Nixon and Barack Obama. (AP (2))
It is believed that Obama’s Justice Department sought AP’s records to find the source of a leak that informed an AP story about a failed terrorist attack. What makes this action particularly egregious is that Justice didn’t tell AP what it was doing until two months after it obtained the records. This not only violates Justice Department guidelines for subpoenas of this sort, but also common sense, decency, and the First Amendment.
Under the guidelines, subpoenas concerning the press cannot be issued without the express approval of the Attorney General. Further, before a subpoena is issued, the government is honor bound to negotiate with the party to which it is directed.
Says he was trying to recruit a Russian agent.
Russia has reportedly captured a CIA agent who was trying to recruit a Russian Federal Security Service agent. Ryan Christopher Fogle was reportedly acting as a secretary in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Russian news sites ran pictures of Fogle tackled on the ground while wearing a blond wig and with a baseball hat and later sitting at desk after his capture. Other photos show Fogle’s possessions: several wigs, glasses, 500-euro notes, and an embassy ID. Text of a letter detailing how the Russian recruit should start a Gmail account for the covert communication and an offer of $100,000 (and up to $1 million per year for more cooperation) was also released. Fogle is being held at the American Embassy.
IRS Tea Party audits, Benghazi, oh my! The events unfolding in Washington may have journalists seeing blood in the water, but Obama’s second-term scandals are no Watergate, John Dean tells Eleanor Clift.
If you were setting out to provoke the scandal machine that has bedeviled every recent second-term president, having the IRS conduct audits using such key words as “Tea Party” and “We the People” is sure to get it going. The revelations about the IRS, coming on the heels of the controversy over Benghazi, has Republicans and some Democrats asking those familiar questions, what did the president know and when did he know it? The media see blood in the water, another phrase that conjures up Watergate, the scandal that forced President Nixon’s resignation and is remembered in Washington as a high point for American journalism.
David Bookstaver, Susan Walsh/AP
Reached by phone on the West Coast and asked if the events unfolding in Washington were giving him déjà vu, John Dean, who testified before Congress about “the cancer” on the Nixon presidency, told The Daily Beast, “No, not yet, it’s not even close to Watergate at this point.” The former White House counsel dismissed the flap over Benghazi as “loose charges” in search of a scandal, and the battle over the talking points “a CYA [cover your ass] operation between two different agencies,” with the State Department and the CIA seeking to shift blame for the security lapses that led to the deaths of four Americans.
“When you have a good scandal, one that has legs, you know what the underlying problem is,” Dean said. Benghazi fails that test, “and with no clear charge, the public is confused and bored and not terribly interested,” he says, a judgment that is borne out by a Pew survey that finds fewer than half of Americans, 44 percent, say they are following the hearings in Congress very or fairly closely.
If drug-war crusaders would get out of the way, the harmless cannabis product could become an invaluable cash crop. Jonathan Miller on the full-court press to legalize it.
Poor, poor, pitiful hemp.
Hemp plants in Barrie, Ontario. (Jim Craigmyle/Corbis)
Its cooler cannabis cousin, marijuana, gets all the buzz—generational bards from Bob Dylan to Snoop Dogg sing Mary Jane’s praise; cancer and AIDS patients declare her glory.
And even though smoking hemp won’t make you feel high—just really stupid for trying (as well as a sharp burning sensation in the lungs)—the feds still crack down on it because they think it kinda sorta looks like the wacky weed that threatens to send our nation back into reefer madness. Just another innocent casualty in the war on drugs.
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.
Lois Lerner, a senior IRS offical, was grilled last week about allegations that her department targeted the Tea Party for greater scrutiny. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP,IRS.gov)
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.
Larry Noble, who served as general counsel at the FEC from 1987 to 2000, was involved in hiring and promoting Lerner. “I worked with Lois for a number of years and she is really one of the more apolitical people I’ve met,” Noble told The Daily Beast. “That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have political views, but she really focuses on the job and what the rules are. She doesn’t have an agenda. “Reporters grew frustrated with Lerner during a conference call last Friday, when she appeared reluctant to answer most of their questions. She seemed to dig herself into a deeper hole by acknowledging that she is “not good at math” when asked for a statistic, and she said she would not have publicly acknowledged her employees’ wrongdoing if she hadn’t been asked about it directly—further fueling the argument that the focus on conservative groups was politically motivated. Noble attributes Lerner’s discretion not to a coverup but to her rule-abiding nature.
Eric Nordstrom, who worked at the Benghazi consulate on the day it was attacked, choked up during Wednesday's hearings. 'It matters,' he said, that the committee investigate what happened before, during, and after the siege.
Corry Booker’s the hero mayor of Newark, and, yes, he’s running for Senate. By Lloyd Grove
The president’s push for $9 an hour has the GOP on the defensive. Eleanor Clift on the strategy behind the move. But this push could take the politics out of the perennial argument.
Meet the new Treasury secretary, same as the old Treasury secretary. Lloyd Green on nominee Jack Lew.
For John Kael Weston and other men on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes raise many uncomfortable questions. He writes on why we need clearer policy and guidelines for these silent killers.