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 on Tuesday, with Republicans expressing skepticism that mid-level 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.
Treasury inspector general for tax administration J. Russell George (L), outgoing acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller (C) and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman are sworn in for a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill May 21, 2013. (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, 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."
Instead of repenting, Weiner is trying to build a future based on $4 million and change collected from people he fooled, writes Stuart Stevens.
He left Congress in disgrace, but don’t blame his iPhone. The reason Anthony Weiner is not in Congress today is not that he was caught sexting an unknown number of women. No, the reason he was forced to resign is that he was such a despised member of Congress that his own party, including the president, jumped at the chance to get rid of the self-righteous, hectoring Chuck Schumer Mini-Me. Other more popular congressmen have survived real sex scandals far worse.
Anthony Weiner resigning from Congress in 2011. (Richard Drew/AP)
If you were writing a movie or television show about Congress and looking for a character the audience was sure to loathe, you’d start with Weiner. Here’s a guy who regularly condescended to every member of Congress but whose intellectual talents were such that he originally aspired to be a weatherman. In Congress, he was the political equivalent of a minor celebrity, famous mostly for being famous: in 12 years, he was the lead sponsor of one bill. He narrowly won his first race, for a seat on the New York City Council, after anonymously sending voters race-baiting fliers. That’s never a pretty sight, but considering he did it immediately after the Crown Heights riots, it puts him in the same slime bucket where anti-Semitic tax cheat Al Sharpton wallows.
On the City Council, he made a huge issue out of the millions of dollars of unpaid parking fines by U.N. diplomats and staff. As a former New York resident, I call that a noble cause, but then Weiner got to Washington and was busted for—you got it—thousands of unpaid parking tickets for his congressional car.
Much of the Fourth Estate shrugged when the Obama administration attacked Fox News, writes Kirsten Powers. But now it’s coming for them, too.
First they came for Fox News, and they did not speak out—because they were not Fox News. Then they came for government whistleblowers, and they did not speak out—because they were not government whistleblowers. Then they came for the maker of a YouTube video, and—okay, we know how this story ends. But how did we get here?
James Rosen (Fox News, via Media Matters)
Turns out it’s a fairly swift sojourn from a president pushing to “delegitimize” a news organization to threatening criminal prosecution for journalistic activity by a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, to spying on Associated Press reporters. In between, the Obama administration found time to relentlessly persecute government whistleblowers and publicly harass and condemn a private American citizen for expressing his constitutionally protected speech in the form of an anti-Islam YouTube video.
Where were the media when all this began happening? With a few exceptions, they were acting as quiet enablers.
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.
Months after his state was ravaged by extreme weather, the New Jersey governor is now publicly denying climate change. Expect more of that kind of idiocy as he gears up for 2016.
So now Chris Christie is a climate-change denier. He was at a ceremony Monday, just a few hours before Moore, Oklahoma, got pounded for the sixth time in recent years, doing the sort of thing governors love to do—pounding the ceremonial final nail into the rebuilt boardwalk in Lavallette, New Jersey. A reporter from WNYC/New Jersey Public Radio asked him about her stations’ investigative report on the state’s extreme lack of preparedness for Hurricane Sandy. Should state agencies, he was asked, have made preparations with climate change in mind?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering May 16 in Sayreville, New Jersey. He says there has not been proof that Hurricane Sandy was caused by climate change. (Mel Evans/AP)
Well. It wasn’t so long ago that Christie spoke like a rational person on these matters. Campaigning for his first term, he got the endorsements of some environmental groups, like the New Jersey Environmental Federation. In August 2011, just a few months into his term, he said that “climate change is real” and “human activity plays a role in these changes.” As recently as February, Mother Jones was optimistic enough to run a piece speculating that Christie could lead the Republican Party to a sane position on the issue.
Back in February, Christie was still fairly fresh off his post-Sandy Obama hugfest. He didn’t say anything then accepting that climate change was real to him. He said he didn’t have time for such “esoteric” questions and might ponder them later. Well, later has arrived. Something else that has arrived, just a week ago, is the devastating WNYC/NJPR report by Kate Hinds and Andrea Bernstein showing that New Jersey’s preparations for Sandy were a joke compared with New York’s.
Obama’s brilliant Morehouse speech was followed by an ugly reaction from Drudge, says Peter Beinart.
“I’m a black man…” “Obama Uses Commencement Address to Recall Jim Crow, Racism of 40s, 50s…” “As an African American you have to work twice as hard…” Those were the three headlines on the Drudge Report this morning about President Obama’s commencement speech yesterday at historically black Morehouse College. (Hat tip to my Beast colleague David Frum whose tweet alerted me to them.)
President Barack Obama receives an honorary degree during Morehouse College's 129th Commencement ceremony in Atlanta on Sunday. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
The implication was clear: far from the gaze of white America, Obama had exposed himself as the militant, separatist, blame-whitey black nationalist conservatives have long thought him to be. Breitbart’s Matthew Boyle made the point explicit, tweeting: “Sorry to break it to you Mr. President, but your race is IRRELEVANT to all the problems and scandals facing the country right now.”
It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, Obama never used the phrase “I’m a black man.” What he did say was that “there are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves.” He went on to declare that “we know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is that there’s no longer any room for excuses … Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you’ve suffered some discrimination.”
Raymond Maxwell, the only official at the State Department's bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to lose his job after the attacks, tells Josh Rogin that he’s been scapegoated by Hillary Clinton’s team.
Following the attack in Benghazi, Libya, senior State Department officials close to Hillary Clinton ordered the removal of a midlevel official who had no role in security decisions and has never been told the charges against him. He is now accusing Clinton’s team of scapegoating him for the failures that led to the death of four Americans last year.
Hillary Clinton laughs as she testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill in January. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Raymond Maxwell was placed on forced “administrative leave” after the State Department’s own internal investigation, conducted by an Administrative Review Board (ARB) led by former State Department official Tom Pickering. Five months after he was told to clean out his desk and leave the building, Maxwell remains in professional and legal limbo, having been associated publicly with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American for reasons that remain unclear.
Maxwell, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from August 2011 until his removal last December, following tours in Iraq and Syria, spoke publicly for the first time in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast.
The IRS isn’t too powerful, says Peter Beinart. It’s too weak. And Obama must not let Republicans weaken it even more.
Since the hullabaloo over IRS investigations of Tea Party groups broke last week, Democratic partisans have mostly been telling President Obama the same thing. First, clear this scandal off your plate so you can focus on the others. Second, the people responsible for this mess, at least according to the Inspector General’s report, were bureaucratic grunts and Bush appointees—you don’t owe them anything. Third, everyone hates tax collectors anyway. In other words, stand aside as congressional Republicans beat the IRS to a pulp.
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller, right, and J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, are sworn in on Capitol Hill before testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee last week. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
That would be a terrible mistake.
It would be a mistake because while Obama is not personally implicated in the IRS controversy, the things he believes in most deeply are. Conservatives love the IRS scandal because it supposedly rips the smiley-face mask off government and reveals it to be a “sinister” (Peggy Noonan), “arrogant” (Noonan), “ravaging tyrant” (David Brooks) abusing largely powerless American patriots. As a perennial warning against the abuse of government power, that story has merit. But as a description of the actual relationship between the public and private sector in America today, at least outside the national-security realm, it’s mostly nonsense. And if Obama and his fellow Democrats don’t rebut that narrative and defend the IRS, they’ll be surrendering crucial ground in the battle that has roiled American politics since the financial crisis: the battle over whether Washington regulates too much or too little.
The president’s critics say he’s too detached, too arrogant, too disengaged. Paul Begala explores this ridiculous line of reasoning.
So the Beltway media (of which I am a card-carrying member) has decided President Obama is too aloof. And as a card-carrying member, I, of course, agree.
President Barack Obama cracks a smile at a ceremony earlier this year. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
I mean, how could a president not know the level of scrutiny the Cincinnati branch of the IRS was applying to conservative social-welfare organizations that sought tax-exempt status under Section 501c(4) of the Internal Revenue Act? How detached. How arrogant. How disengaged.
Believe me, George Washington knew exactly what the Tea Party was doing back in his day, and even though Cincinnati was just being settled as Washington became president, you can be sure the Father of Our Country knew what the Cincinnati branch of the IRS was up to.
The handwringers and bed wetters in the D.C. punditocracy should know that Barack Obama will never be on their timeline, says his longtime speechwriter Jon Favreau.
Honestly, they act like it’s his first crisis.
Sometime after the infamous Denver debate last fall, which by most media accounts should have forced the president to immediately quit the race and resign in shame, a few of us who had been with him since the earliest days tried to assess where the performance ranked on our list of All-Time Worst ObamaWorld Moments.
President Barack Obama smiles during a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano earlier this year. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
It was an exercise in gallows humor, but it lifted our spirits to recall how many times the president had been so mistakenly and definitively counted out over the last eight years. There was the New York Post headline from October 3, 2007, that always hung in Bill Burton’s campaign office: “CLINTON NEARLY READY FOR HER CORONATION.” And who could forget where they were when the news broke about the Reverend Wright or Bittergate scandals that Washington just knew would destroy Obama’s candidacy? In early September 2008, a Politico story even ran the following quote from a Democratic pollster I’ve still never heard of: “A failure to take Sarah Palin seriously will cost the Obama campaign.”
While Washington dithers over Benghazi, AP-gate, and the IRS, advocates for immigrants just keep plugging along.
As one scandal after another engulfed the White House last week, proponents of immigration reform feared the worst—that the voracious focus on the Obama administration’s missteps would overshadow, and perhaps even doom, their efforts for comprehensive immigration reform during the rest of the president’s second term.
Immigrants wait to become citizens ahead of a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 17, 2013, in New York City. (John Moore/Getty)
What unfolded instead was just the opposite, as advocates of reform had their best week to date even as the White House ducked, parried, denied, and deflected questions related to the IRS, AP, and Benghazi debacles.
“We hope there’s a fourth scandal,” says Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice and a leader on immigration-reform efforts. “While all of this goes on, we’re just plugging along on this under the radar.”
As early as April, but president wasn't told.
What did President Obama know about the IRS scandal and when did he know it? New information from a White House source indicates that the president’s lawyers were informed the week of April 22 that an audit of the IRS would reveal unflattering information. Treasury Department lawyers told Kathryn Ruemmler, chief of the Office of White House Counsel, that an inspector general’s report would show that IRS employees had “improperly scrutinized” conservative organizations. The revelation has fueled criticism that the president, who said he learned of the scandal on May 10, is too lax in his management style.
For such a diverse city, the Los Angeles City Council is a depressing bastion of likeminded men. John Phillips on the city's political glass ceiling.
Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the country and arguably its most diverse. We have beaches and mountains. The superrich and the desperately poor. Beautiful people from all over the planet trying to make it in Hollywood and ugly people here to take 10 percent from them. You name it, we have it.
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti greets supporters at the Avalon Theatre in Hollywood on March 5. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
Except for women on the Los Angeles City Council.
All signs point to a May 21 city election where all 15 of the L.A. City Council's seats could be filled by men. Who would have thought the only person with binders full of women in Los Angeles would be Heidi Fleiss?
Legalized abortion causes school shootings, Obamacare will lead to conservatives being denied health services, and other wacky assertions from our political leaders.
North Dakota: Legalized Abortions Cause School Shootings
U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer knows why there have been so many school shootings in the U.S. over the past few years, and it’s not because of easy access to guns or inadequate treatment of the mentally ill. No, the Republican from North Dakota insists, the rise in school shootings is directly connected to the legalization of abortion and a supposed decline in Christian values. “We learned this week that the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group that compared Christian evangelism to rape and advocated that military personnel and colluding chaplains who proselytize should be court martialed,” Cramer said during a commencement speech at the Catholic University of Mary that, miraculously, went unnoticed by the national media until this week. “Forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court sanctioned abortion on demand. And we wonder why our culture sees school shootings so often.” Cramer’s link between “normalized perversion” and mass murders rings eerily similar to Michele Bachmann’s argument that the September 11 terror attacks in 2001 and 2012 were God’s way of passing judgement on our country’s moral demise.
Missouri: The Gays Killed the Bullying Bill
Missouri's Republican state Rep. Sue Allen has called on her constituents to contact openly gay lawmakers Jolie Justus and Mike Colona and blame them for the death of her anti-bullying bill. The key difference between Allen’s bill and other, more successful anti-bullying legislation is that it bans enumerated lists of specific groups of people that need protection—such as gay and transgender students—because she believes they are too partisan. “I typically try to keep partisanship out of my message, but this is an issue for the Democrats who wish for certain students (LGBT-gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) to be ‘enumerated’ within school policies ... What they [Justus and Colona] don’t seem to understand is that stronger policies help ALL students, even those they would have characterized.” The problem with Allen’s argument is that listing specific groups does not, as she suggests, negate protection for anyone else, it simply ensures that any bullying of people who identify with these particularly at-risk groups is reported.
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.