Pick your scandalous poison

Al Kamen
Columnist May 16, 2013

It’s been a spectacular, dizzying week for Obama-phobes on the right and left: Benghazi! IRS! Government seizing reporters’ phone records!

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

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

Which one might damage President Obama the most?

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

But a Pew poll released the same day found that 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 following the investigation closely in October.


President Obama listens to a question about the Internal Revenue Service scandal during a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Thursday in the White House Rose Garden. (JASON REED/REUTERS)

The problem, said Andrew Kohut, founding director of the Pew Research Center, is that Benghazi has “so many moving parts,” it’s hard 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’s 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, the poll said, and 6 percent said Cuba.

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 that Nuland, a career Foreign Service officer, was the principal deputy foreign policy adviser to . . . wait for it . . . Vice President Cheney from 2003 to 2005 and then George W. Bush’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’re thinking the odds are good that new polls will find a substantial percentage, maybe even a majority, will be inclined to give the administration a pass on this.

That leaves the scandalous Internal Revenue Service 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 said Wednesday that 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 a criminal probe.

The Democrats decried the stonewalling.

Quote of the week

John Yoo , the author of the notorious torture-is-okay memos in the Bush administration, offered an observation regarding the Justice Department’s seizure of AP phone records as part of a leak investigation.

(The Washington Post has joined other news organizations in a letter to Attorney General Holder saying the seizure violated established guidelines and pressed the department to return the records.)

“If something like that had ever come up during the Bush administration in my time at [the Justice Department], I would have said it was unconstitutional,” Yoo, who’s now a law professor, told Jennifer Rubin, who writes the Right Turn blog for The Post. “The only comparable thing was cases where a court tried to get a journalist to reveal a source.”

Bedfellows can be most strange at times.

One easy confirmation

The Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed Ernest Moniz, a scientist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to be secretary of energy.

Environmental groups had opposed his nomination early on, saying they were concerned about his support for natural gas and nuclear power.

Seems Moniz was able to assuage those concerns. The Senate vote was 97 to 0.

In other action Thursday, Senate committees also sent to the floor the nominations of Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez to be secretary of labor and Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

The committee votes, however, indicated that both nominees may have some difficulties obtaining confirmation from the full Senate. Both Perez and McCarthy were approved on straight party-line votes.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved Perez by a vote of 12 to 10, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s vote for McCarthy was 10 to 8.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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