Benghazi! IRS! Government spying on the press!


Former Vice President Dick Cheney last month in Dallas (David J. Phillip/AP)

A scandal trifecta. What our colleague Karen Tumulty said looked “like a tea party fever dream.”

Which one of these might damage President Obama the most?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a phone interview with Fox News Sean Hannity Monday night, leaned toward Benghazi, calling it “one of the worst incidents, frankly, that I can recall in my career,” saying “they lied” for re-election purposes.

But a Pew poll released that same day found the “public paid limited attention to last week’s congressional hearings on Benghazi,” with only 44 percent saying they were following the hearings “very or fairly closely.” That’s down from 60 percent in October.

The problem, said Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center, is that “Benghazi has so many moving parts it’s difficult” for folks “to track what’s going on.”

There are many issues involved, he noted, including precisely what happened, who might have been dispatched to help the four Americans who were killed and the way the administration portrayed the attack.

Then there’s a Public Policy Polling survey also released Monday that found that 39 percent of voters “who think Benghazi is the biggest political scandal in American history. . . don’t actually know where it is.”

Ten percent of that group said it was in Egypt. (Well, that’s close, it’s only about 400 miles along the coast from Libya’s border with Egypt.) Nine percent said Iran, and 6 percent said Cuba, the poll found.

Jay Leno alert! Find some of those 6 percent for the next Jaywalking segment. Better yet, see if anyone confused it with the late actor Ben Gazzara.

In addition, the Benghazi e-mails released so far mention former State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland way too much.

Loop Fans may recall Nuland, a career foreign service officer, was the principal deputy foreign policy adviser to . . . wait for it . . . Vice President Dick Cheney from 2003 to 2005 and then Bush II’s ambassador to NATO. Not exactly hyperpartisan.

The problem with the uproar over the Justice Department’s seizure of phone records of Associated Press journalists is, first, that reporters are not much loved by the public. Second, Justice says it was hunting for leakers of sensitive information on terrorists.

We are thinking the odds are good that new polls will find find a substantial percentage, maybe even a majority, will be inclined to give the administration a pass on this.

That leaves the scandalous IRS treatment of tea party and other conservative groups.

Well, who likes the IRS in the first place? And the agency has already admitted wrongdoing. Obama, gracious to a fault, gave his critics a solid five days to pound him on this before he ventured out Wednesday to weigh in against the IRS actions.

Best of all, Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday said there would be a criminal investigation, which could take a long time. That also brings back memories of the Iran-Contra hearings, where witnesses called to appear at congressional hearings pleaded the Fifth as a result of criminal probe.

The Democrats decried the stonewalling.


View Photo Gallery: Every president is disrupted by unanticipated crises, knocking the U.S. leader off his pins – and his agenda. Here are a half-dozen in President Obama’s past two years:

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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