By Jana Curry
In the aftermath of one of President Obama’s roughest weeks, Dan Pfeiffer, a White House representative, responded to the recent trifecta of controversies that have hit the Obama administration. Pfeiffer stated that President Obama’s whereabouts the night of the Benghazi terror attacks were an “irrelevant fact” and added that the Obama administration would not cooperate in “partisan fishing expeditions” over IRS officials targeting Tea Party groups. Obama simply stated that the Internal Revenue Service, Benghazi, and the Associated Press phone records are just “politics.”
Eight months ago after militants attacked U.S. diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. diplomats, the political controversy is still rising. This incident posed grave embarrassment to president’s anti-terrorism strategy, which has raised many questions and criticism to the White House.
Critics including the Republican Party members are accusing the White House and State Department of over-emphasizing or fabricating the role of Islamic anger over the anti-Islamic movie “Innocence of Muslims” and alleged that the administration was reluctant to label the attack as “terrorists.” Congressional Republicans are still holding investigative hearings.
At a recent news conference, President Obama dismissed his conservative opponents’ continuing criticism of his administration’s actions before and after the deadly attack. Obama was annoyed at the idea the administration was hiding anything and said continuing to politicize Benghazi is disrespectful to the Americans who died there. He continued to say “we dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus.”
But the questions and criticisms all circle around why the administration tried to play down terrorists’ involvement in the killings and whether or not the administration could have done something to prevent the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans stationed there.
Republicans have now claimed that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, played a part of formulating the White House’s response to the attacks in Benghazi and misleading the country. Senator Lindsey Graham and John McCain led the charge against Rice and claimed she played an active role in the conspiracy to hide what actually happened during the Benghazi attacks.
Due to the rise of accusations, the White House released internal documents, which have provided a fuller sense of how the Obama Administration approached the aftermath. The document is an e-mail discussion about talking points the Obama administration used to describe the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. The documents show the White House and State Department were more involved than they first said in the decision to remove an initial CIA assessment that a group with ties to Al Qaeda was involved. The now unclassified talking points have become a political crisis in the battle between the administration and Republicans, who say that officials knew the attack was a planned terror operation while telling the public it was an act of violence.
When Rice made her rounds to all five Sunday morning television talk shows, she was using official talking points that were edited almost exclusively by the intelligence community; which then raised concerns by many news sources of the first version of the talking points, saying that they went further than what she was allowed to say during the talk shows.
In response to the edits, the White House had made stylistics alterations to the talking points to emphasize that the investigation was ongoing as to who was responsible. A senior U.S. intelligence official stated that “there were valid intelligence and investigatory reasons why they were changed; the information about individuals linked to al-Qaeda was derived from classified sources, and could not be corroborated at the unclassified level; the links were tenuous and therefore it made sense to be cautious before naming perpetrators; finally, no one wanted to prejudice a criminal investigation in its earliest stages.”
Pfeiffer said on ABC’s “This Week” that the release of those documents and the responses made after by officials show “beyond a shadow of the doubt” that accusations that Rice tried to change the narrative of what happened in the attacks was false. Pfeiffer then continued to say that Rice deserves an apology for the false accusations that Republicans have been accusing her of doing.
Yet Republicans made another accusation on the issue regarding the IRS and whether Obama’s administration is the one to blame.
Sen. Rand Raul, R-Ky., who appeared on CNN’s State of the Union, suggested there was a written policy to target political groups opposing the president. But when pressed for proof, he was unable to provide details. In response to these allegations, Pfeifer went on ABC to state that the law governing the targeting of conservative groups Senator Raul was suggesting is “irrelevant” and the Obama administration has nothing to do with it.
A Treasury Department inspector general report revealed that Tea Party and other groups that had been critical of Obama received extra scrutiny when applying for a tax-exempt status from the government. According to the report, IRS agents had not flagged similar liberal or progressive groups.
This incident was traced back to an Ohio IRS office that had singled out conservative groups and held up their applications or demanded information from them, such as donor information, which is illegal. Many groups would not or could not provide the confidential information and as a result the IRS had to suspend their applications. By not providing the appropriate documentation in order to get the tax-exemption, those groups were flagged and suspended solely by the IRS.
In a press conference, Obama called the reports “outrageous” and “intolerable”, while saying he would reserve harsher judgment for when a fuller report on the IRS’s actions is formerly released. Obama explains that if the IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable. He continues by saying that the IRS as an independent agency that requires absolute integrity and people should have confidence that they are applying the laws in a non-partisan way. Obama added that he will make sure that they find out what exactly happened and to put an end to it.
As one of the roughest weeks continued for Obama and his administration, the last of the trifecta questioned one of the amendments: freedom of press.
The president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press called the government’s secret seizure “unconstitutional.” The seizure was of two months worth of telephone records of journalists at four Associated Press bureaus including Washington and New York. The Justice Department disclosed the seizure in a letter the AP received May 10, which didn’t explain why the organization was being targeted.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt criticized the move saying the Justice Department’s secret subpoenas sent a strong ad negative message to sources and made them less willing to talk to AP journalists. Pruitt also said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” it was not only unconstitutional but also damaging to the ideal of a free press in the country.
Prosecutors later said they were looking into government leaks on a foiled Al Qaeda plot in Yemen before it was made public last year. The AP disclosed that the Justice seized 2012 records of outgoing calls for the work and personal numbers of 20 lines assigned to the new service in an attempt to find out who leaked news of the U.S. government’s intervention of a terrorist plot in Yemen. Justice officials also alleged the AP’s story would have put Americans at risk.
Even with all of these scandals hitting the White House, a new CNN poll released Sunday, May 19th, indicates that the IRS, AP, and Benghazi scandals haven’t dragged down the president’s approval rating. The president’s 53 percent approval rating is essentially unchanged after a week of bad news. The poll indicates most Americans are satisfied with the White House response so far.