In a classified hearing, a House panel is trying to figure out how the attack transpired. Did the attackers know that secret location, or did they learn it that night? By Eli Lake.
More than eight months after the 9/11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, the CIA is still trying to find out how the attack that killed two former Navy SEALs at the agency’s annex transpired.
The CIA knows more than they're letting on about the attack on the consulate building in Benghazi last September. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images)
The attack on the CIA base came more than seven hours after an armed mob stormed the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, setting the compound ablaze and killing U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and Sean Smith, a State Department communications officer who was with him.
On Wednesday, Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell—along with CIA officers who were at the agency’s Benghazi base on the night of the attack—testified at a classified hearing before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In the closed hearing, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the proceedings, Morell was asked by Republican members about how the second wave of attackers knew to go to the CIA annex, which was a mile away from the diplomatic mission. Morell responded that at this point the CIA did not know whether the attackers had known the location of the annex or learned about it on the evening of the attack, according to these sources.
Early on, the president promised to shutter the prison in a year’s time. Then a plan came late and Democratic allies were abandoned. What’s different this time? By Josh Rogin.
President Obama called today for a renewed effort to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But back in 2009, the White House dropped the ball on closing the controversial military prison by failing to come up with a plan in time, refusing to help House Democrats who were fighting for its closure, and then abandoning the plan altogether and blaming Republicans.
President Obama blamed others for Guantanamo staying open during a national security speech at the National Defense University on May 23. (Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star/AP;Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
In a speech at the National Defense University in Washington, Obama said his Jan. 21, 2009, executive order to close the prison was never implemented because House Republicans placed funding and legislative restrictions on moving suspected terrorists from the facility and blocked efforts to shut it down. But he didn’t mention his own administration’s missteps in not shutting down the prison in one year’s time, as he had promised.
“As president, I have tried to close Gitmo,” Obama said. “I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense.”
With top national-security envoys soon to be enlisted, will the president have the political wherewithal to get the prison closed this time? By Daniel Klaidman.
The most highly anticipated part of President Obama’s counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University today was what he would say about the future of drones. The administration’s aggressive campaign of targeted killings—and the secrecy that has surrounded it—has generated enormous controversy around the world and at home. Obama and his national-security team have spent more than a year working on a new set of policies to constrain the use of drones and place the program on a firmer legal foundation.
President Barack Obama speaks about Guantanamo and national security at the National Defense University on May 23. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
But, in a way, the most surprising aspect of the speech was Obama’s rededication to shutting down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. As commander in chief, Obama can unilaterally restrain the military or the CIA’s use of lethal force. But to shutter Gitmo, he will need Congress to work with him. That means Obama will have to demonstrate that he has the will to get the job done—to spend the political capital that many supporters of Guantanamo’s closure say he has thus far been unwilling to do.
To be sure, lawmakers have made it extremely difficult, throwing multiple roadblocks in his way—and demagoguing the issue. But Obama has also fallen short, sometimes flinching when the politics seemed too tough. So a looming question for him is what, if anything, will be different this time around.
How the military tried to get more control over drone targeting decisions—and lost. By Daniel Klaidman.
At a highly anticipated speech on counterterrorism this afternoon, President Obama announced reforms that would dramatically ratchet down the administration’s drone program. But one thing that will not change, two highly placed administration sources tell The Daily Beast, is Obama’s singular involvement in making individual kill decisions—this despite the fact that the military made an aggressive push to wrest back control over final targeting calls from the commander in chief.
Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy/AP
In fact, it is likely that Obama’s role in deciding who will die and who will be spared will actually increase over time. That is because Obama has decided to transfer the CIA’s targeted-killing program to the U.S. military. Since the beginning of Obama’s presidency, the government has run parallel programs, one housed at the CIA and the other run by the Pentagon. While Obama had broadly signed off on the CIA’s targeted-killing program through a presidential finding for covert action, he did not authorize individual killings except in rare instances. But from the outset of his presidency, Obama personally insisted that he make the final decision on the military’s kill or capture orders, so-called direct action operations. Obama wanted to assume the moral responsibility for what were in effect premeditated government executions. But sources familiar with Obama’s thinking say he also wanted to personally exercise supervision over lethal strikes away from conventional battlefields to avoid getting embroiled in new wars. As responsibility for targeted strikes in places like Yemen, Somalia, and, over time, Pakistan shifts to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, Obama will be the final decider for the entire program.
Obama’s new policies on targeted killings grew out of a yearlong process known within the administration as “institutionalization.” The effort to codify rules of the road for drones was led by John Brennan, who had been Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser in the White House and is now CIA director. Sources familiar with the process say no issue was more contentious than the question of what role the president should have in final killing decisions. The uniformed military, including the joint chiefs of staff, pushed to take the president out of the process. Once the president approved a particular battle plan in a country, individual targeting decisions should be left up to the regional commanders, they argued. Officials at the CIA, who had fought successfully to maintain control over its own targeting in the early days of the administration, backed the military. At one point last year they appeared to have prevailed in the interagency wrangling. A draft version of the new institutionalization policy, known informally as “the playbook,” even contained the proposed change, the sources say. But after an intense counteroffensive by officials at the State Department and Justice Department, the status quo was restored. According to one official who participated in the discussions, it came down to a question of what level of accountability was required when the government was making grave killing decisions far from the traditional battlefield: “It didn’t make sense that while we were on the one hand raising the bar for these decisions, we would also remove the president from the decision-making chain.”
Naming a special prosecutor would destroy Obama’s presidency, says Michael Tomasky.
Now that we’ve been through the first round of hearings on the IRS matter, it’s apparent that there are a few things Barack Obama should do. Yes, he should move to fire Lois Lerner. I wrote on May 13, the day of the press conference at which he first addressed the matter, that he should vow that some heads would roll. He should also—and this won’t placate the right; far from it, in fact, but so be it—explain to the American people the reasons this controversy is being overblown. But there is one thing that he absolutely must not do, and that is pay the least bit of attention to these calls for a special prosecutor. That will be the end, either literal or metaphorical, of his presidency, because of the ceaseless bad faith of the people trying to elevate this thing to Watergate proportions. Just say no, and say it firmly.
Ousted IRS Chief Steve Miller, left, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman arrive on Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Finance Committee. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
In substantive terms, this “scandal” consists of bureaucratic bungling, and apparently really stupid bureaucratic political tone deafness. But a conspiracy organized from the White House? Please. The Treasury Department Inspector General report that came out May 14 said that of the 296 “potential political cases” reviewed up through December 2012, the dispositions were as follows: 108 applications approved, 28 withdrawn, 160 left open for a lengthy period of time, and zero denied. That’s right. Zero. Now, you could say that there’s a problem with those 160, and I wouldn’t deny it. Something was broken, something needs fixed. Everyone acknowledges that. But what sort of conspiracy to silence Tea Party groups ends up denying zero of their applications? It’s an absurd claim.
Now we get to the politics. Darrell Issa claims election-season cover-up. But he knew about the IG probe in the summer of 2012, and then received a letter in July confirming it. So one aspect of this that greatly confuses me is why Issa didn’t go public with his accusations then. His spokesman, whom I emailed over the weekend, told me that it was because Issa kept asking the IG for more information, but the IG didn’t give any. Fair enough. But that still strikes me as an unusual degree of discretion on Issa’s part. He needed to know all the details before going public with something that might have helped his party’s presidential candidate in a pretty big way? If that’s the case, he is an unusual Republican indeed.
The IRS has money and management problems that made a scandal “inevitable,” one of Lois Lerner’s predecessors tells Caitlin Dickson.
Since dropping the bomb that her division of the IRS had been improperly giving extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, has kept quiet. Tuesday, she made it official, pleading the Fifth Amendment at a House Oversight Committee.
Lois Lerner is currently facing the scrutiny of the government and the press. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Getty)
But as the scandal over the organization singling out groups with “tea party,” “patriot,” or “9/12” in their names has grown—after initially denying knowledge, the Obama administration has acknowledged it knew of the tax agency’s actions during the election—former IRS leaders were at once unsurprised and sympathetic to Lerner’s plight, pointing to structural problems at the IRS that have nothing to do with politics.
“It was inevitable something was going to happen,” said Marcus Owens, who served as director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division from 1990 until he retired in 2000. That was the same year that the 1998 IRS Restructuring and Reform Act was implemented, ushering in, he said, a culture of disorganization and miscommunication.
Maybe we should get back to the real Benghazi story.
FOR OBAMA’S supporters, the true Benghazi scandal at the moment has nothing to do with the White House. No, the scandal is about ABC News White House correspondent Jonathan Karl.
The Karl saga began earlier this month, when he reported that the administration’s public talking points about the Benghazi attacks went through 12 revisions before Susan Rice read them on the Sunday shows. Previously, the White House had said that it made only one change to the talking points that were crafted by the CIA. But Karl’s story, along with an earlier dispatch by The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, obliterated this contention. They showed that a number of topics discussed in the initial CIA draft—prior attacks on Western targets in Benghazi, warnings of the deteriorating security situation, the radical group Ansar al-Sharia—were taken out of the final draft.
Karl, however, made some mistakes. He said in his story that he had viewed an email from White House Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes, when in fact he had viewed only a summary of that email. That summary was in turn slightly misleading: it created the appearance that Rhodes was singling out concerns from the State Department about the talking points. The full email, however, makes clear that Rhodes wanted the talking points to take account of concerns from several government entities, and he did not single out the State Department.
On Twitter, Karl apologized directly to Rhodes for misquoting him. Tommy Vietor, a friend and former colleague of Rhodes’s at the White House (where he was, until recently, National Security Council spokesman), told Newsweek that he respects Karl’s work. “I think he had a source that was dishonest,” Vietor says.
Denis McDonough is Obama’s man—in scandal mode.
“ONE TEAM, one fight!”
It’s hardly surprising that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough likes to repeat this battle cry in his pep talks to colleagues: an aging athlete, like his boss President Obama, the 43-year-old McDonough played safety for the St. John’s University “Fighting Johnnies” in his home state of Minnesota. And on Monday and Tuesday of this week, it was surely “one team, one fight” as McDonough and his staff orchestrated the White House response to the devastation in Oklahoma. But a week ago, as they coped with one political flap after another, McDonough’s inspirational slogan was the stuff of gallows humor.
At the end of last Wednesday’s 7:45 a.m. senior staff meeting in the chief of staff’s roomy West Wing office, a dozen scandal-fatigued loyalists surveyed the trifecta of embarrassments that threatened to derail the president’s second-term agenda. The ongoing controversy over Benghazi, the IRS admission that it had improperly targeted Tea Party groups, and the Justice Department’s subpoena of Associated Press phone records were all driving the media narrative and forcing the administration onto the defensive. Political strategist Dan Pfeiffer got a laugh as he called out mordantly, “One team, one fight ...”
McDonough got a bigger laugh with his feisty response: “One team, a shitload of fights!”
Because they tend to share his broad outlook on politics, too many journalists for too long have been in the tank for Obama, writes Nick Gillespie.
The press-punishing, speech-chilling, and unabashedly overreaching actions by the Obama administration against the Associated Press and Fox News Channel’s James Rosen lay bare the essential dynamic between any president and a press that is always more prone to being lapdogs than watchdogs: the president feeds or punishes them as he sees fit, while chanting a bogus rosary about “national security.”
President Obama holds a press conference April 30 in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. There are many reasons to assume the Obama administration is secretly spying on journalists and organizations. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)
In the case of the AP, the Obama administration secretly subpoenaed phone-call logs and other information from an office where over 100 journalists worked. Officials were on the hunt for the sources that cooperated with the AP on a story about a failed terrorist plot in Yemen. As AP head Gary Pruitt has put it, the administration’s subpoena was “so secretly, so abusively and harassingly and over-broad ... that it is an unconstitutional act.” As important, Pruitt says that the subpoena revelation has already chilled even routine news gathering, as government officials have become paranoid—with reason, perhaps—about sharing even banal sorts of information.
To make matters worse in terms of press freedom, there are many reasons to assume the Obama administration is secretly spying on many other journalists and organizations. With Fox’s Rosen, the administration got an actual warrant to read his email and contends that he has committed crimes by pursuing and publishing a story about North Korea, even though the story apparently doesn’t include any classified information per se. Rosen hasn’t been legally charged as of yet, but as Glenn Greenwald notes, the accusations against Rosen parallel government charges against WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange. “Under U.S. law,” writes Greenwald, “it’s not illegal to publish classified information,” so the Obama administration is claiming that it’s illegal for journalists and publishers to “solicit” such information. That doesn’t simply fly in the face of the First Amendment and Vietnam-era rulings guaranteeing press freedoms, it declares “war on journalism” by essentially criminalizing the very act of investigative reporting.
After a sex scandal, a onetime fighter for the middle class learned to love crony capitalism.
Just because you have nothing to lose doesn’t mean you deserve to win.
A shameless Anthony Weiner entered the New York City mayor’s race Tuesday with a web video fueled by naked ambition, released at the very unmayoral hour of 1 a.m. Maybe his email was hacked.
But the carefully choreographed video—beginning with closeups of his young child, and ending with his long-suffering wife, Huma, giving a Nancy Reagan–esque adoring gaze—was anything but a mistake. In between the images intended to inoculate him from the scandal, Weiner made clear he wants to pick up where his nearly successful 2005 insurgent campaign left off, as a “fighter for the outer-borough middle class.”
Watch our annotated version of Anthony Weiner's campaign ad.
The dissolution of our civic culture isn’t an easy subject for a journalist to successfully tackle, but in his new book George Packer mostly pulls it off, says Michael Tomasky.
How does a writer tell the story of America since the meltdown? No, not just since the meltdown, but since the unraveling first started, really—since deindustrialization, 50 percent divorce rates, the culture wars, the red-blue split, the era of the Wall Streeter or athlete worth more than some countries; since the evanescence, through these means and countless others, of the old common civic culture?
It’s a big job, and a dangerous one. If the writer’s intent is lamentation for the purpose of awakening his countrymen to the moral precipice on whose edge society teeters, the work product can turn mawkish and sentimental in a hurry. And even sympathetic readers can be forgiven for feeling they’ve heard this before. The writer of such a chronicle sets a very high bar for himself. What separates a work of true moral seriousness from, say, a lachrymose TV news magazine feature about a community’s devastation when the plant pulled up stakes?
George Packer, the New Yorker writer who’s written powerful nonfiction books about the Iraq war and the tribulations of modern liberalism as well as two novels, mostly surpasses that bar in The Unwinding, and sometimes does so magnificently. The unwinding of his title is the dissolution of those old civic bonds, and the steady work and ticket to middle-class security they provided for two or three post-war generations of Americans. The unwound, so to speak, are some citizens he found and spent time with, people from a range of backgrounds and regions who symbolize this American nightmare.
So far the Obama administration has pledged only nonlethal and humanitarian aid, but the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wants to go much further—approving a bill Tuesday to arm the rebels.
In a bipartisan rebuke of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, almost all the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Tuesday to authorize arming moderate elements of the Syrian opposition.
Rebel fighters from the Al-Ezz bin Abdul Salam Brigade attend a training session at an undisclosed location near the al-Turkman mountains, in Syria’s northern Latakia province, on April 24. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty)
Democrats and Republicans alike criticized the Obama administration for not being more active in its efforts to encourage the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to support the more secular parts of the Syrian opposition, who could find themselves in another war with extremist groups now fighting alongside them if and when the regime falls. The committee approved a bill (PDF) aimed at increasing the pressure on Assad and supporting the moderate opposition, sponsored by Chairman Robert Menendez (D–New Jersey) and ranking Republican Bob Corker (R–Tennessee).
“The time to act and turn the tide against Assad is now,” Menendez said Tuesday at a hearing on the legislation. “The United States must play a role in tipping the scales toward opposition groups and working to build a free and democratic Syria.”
A Senate hearing on the ongoing IRS scandal featured lots of outraged bluster, but few admissions of responsibility and nothing like a smoking gun. Eleanor Clift on a day of dead ends.
A Senate hearing into the ongoing IRS scandal produced more heat than light Tuesday, with Republicans expressing skepticism that midlevel IRS employees could undertake on their own the political targeting that an inspector general’s report uncovered, while Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee cited confusion over vague standards suddenly being applied to an onslaught of quasi-political groups seeking tax-exempt status.
J. Russell George (left), Treasury inspector general for tax administration; outgoing acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller (center); and former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman are sworn in for a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on May 21. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
It was the first public grilling since the scandal broke for former IRS commissioner Doug Shulman, who was appointed by President Bush in 2007 and served until November of last year. He stressed that he had been out of the IRS for six months and that when he read the IG’s report last week, he was “dismayed and saddened” by the “gross mismanagement of this program.”
Shulman said he learned about the existence of a BOLO list, a police term for “be on the lookout for,” in the spring of 2012. He was told “Tea Party” was on the list, but knew of no other words used to single out groups for additional scrutiny. He said he was told the practice had stopped and the IG was looking into it, and from his perspective that was it.
Gives no useful information on the targeting.
Ignorance really is bliss. Douglas Shulman, the man in charge of the IRS when it was targeting the Tea Party and conservative groups, says that he didn’t know anything about what was going on. Shulman, who left in November, found out about the scandal like everyone else did—in the news. The testimony at the congressional hearing was the ex-chief’s first comment on the matter. "I agree this is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain,” he said. “And they didn't. I don't know why."
How can people who just a few years ago were defending executive privilege suddenly become such ferocious advocates of presidential transparency? By Michael Tomasky.
It’s pretty rich, isn’t it, to see conservatives, not so long ago such ferocious guardians of presidential prerogative, suddenly acting as if they’d all interned at Common Cause when they were in college and thumping their chests about presidential transparency? I bet we could count on one hand—or more likely, on no hands—the number of conservative commentators who were insisting that the Bush White House should come clean about what Scooter Libby did in relation to the Valerie Plame matter. But now, suddenly, Barack Obama must come clean on all particulars, or he’s, you guessed it, the dreaded Nixon! Of course, Nixon wasn’t always the dreaded Nixon, because to the conservatives of the early 1970s who agreed 110 percent with Tricky Dick’s claims of executive privilege, he was the heroic, stalwart Nixon. It’s only when a Democrat is in, apparently, that democracy itself is on the line.
President Obama faces criticism from the GOP about lack of transparency in his administration. (Pool Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar)
Democrats and liberals do the same thing to some extent when the situations are reversed, sure. But only to an extent. The ease of movement from sarcophagal stonewalling to high dudgeon is a peculiarly right-wing trait, because it’s the right that started the modern-day sense that you’re either on the team or in the shithouse. You might think in some dark, private space that Benghazi is mostly smoke, but if you’re trying to make your bones as part of the right-wing noise machine, you know to keep those doubts to yourself.
I can name you a number of liberal columnists who thought in 1998 that Bill Clinton had disgraced his office and who wrote absolutely scabrously of him, even calling for his resignation. The late, great Lars Erik Nelson called on Clinton to resign (even while making it clear that he thought that impeaching the president over a lie about sex was loony-bin material). Chris Matthews, now embraced by tout liberalisme, used to gut Clinton on a nightly basis. Frank Rich, then on the Times's op-ed page, wrote vicious things about him—and later about Al Gore, columns that actively helped George W. Bush. I could name many more. They were not excommunicated. But among conservatives, uh-uh. Once you leave the reservation, you’re not invited back.
President Obama tried to dispel concerns over NSA spying on 'Charlie Rose' Monday, saying 'if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails... and have not.' So what's the big deal, right? Right?
Laura Colarusso on how Edward Snowden, who wasn’t directly employed by the government, got top-secret intel.
Every week this month, the Supreme Court will hand down rulings. Josh Dzieza on what’s at stake.
Pentagon papers lawyer James Goodale has seen Holder’s actions before—in Richard Nixon.