When President Obama dismisses the IRS’ political targeting of his conservative critics as a “phony scandal,” he is not only stretching credulity — he is undermining our nation’s security.

This week, we have had a chilling reminder of how real the al-Qaeda threat remains, when the government issued a worldwide terror alert that has closed U.S. embassies across the world. Reports indicate that a major terrorist attack may be imminent, citing increased “chatter” among senior al-Qaeda leaders.

Who monitors that “chatter”? The National Security Agency.

Yet the House of Representatives just nearly stripped the NSA of one of its most vital terrorist surveillance tools. The measure failed by just seven votes — thanks to a collapse in public support for the NSA’s activities.

That collapse is a direct result of the disintegration in public trust that has taken place on Obama’s watch. Polls show that, for the first time in Obama’s presidency, half of all Americans say they don’t believe he is “honest and trustworthy” — a 9-point drop in trust since May, and a 27-point drop since Obama took office. Moreover, a majority of Americans say the IRS scandal has caused them to doubt the “overall honesty and integrity” of the Obama administration.

That is disastrous for our national security. The NSA’s activities must, by their nature, remain secret — which means they require a basic bond of trust between the people and their government. The Obama administration has broken that bond of trust. Little wonder, then, that so many Americans simply don’t believe it when Obama officials insist that the NSA is not monitoring the content of their calls and e-mails.

There is no evidence that anyone at the NSA intentionally and improperly searched the records of American citizens. Even Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, has not offered any proof that NSA officials abused the authority given them by Congress and the federal courts. Yet when NSA officials (correctly) point out that it would be illegal for them to monitor the content of Americans’ calls and e-mails, many respond that it is also illegal for the IRS to target conservative groups — yet the IRS did exactly that.

It’s not just the abuses at the IRS that have eroded trust. Many Americans see the IRS scandal as emblematic of an increasingly lawless administration.

When it comes to Egypt, the law clearly requires Obama cut off or at least suspend U.S. assistance following that country’s coup — but the president has refused to follow the law.

When it comes to Obamacare, nothing in the Affordable Care Act allows Obama to suspend or delay implementation of the employer mandate, so that it takes effect after the mid-term elections — yet Obama is doing exactly that.

When it comes to presidential appointments, the Constitution does not allow the president to make “recess appointments” when Congress is not in recess — yet Obama ignored the Constitution and made three “recess’ appointments to the National Labor Relations Board when Congress was in session, and saw his actions declared unconstitutional by the federal courts.

When it comes to immigration, Congress refused to pass Obama’s Dream Act, so Obama issued an executive order directing immigration officers to no longer deport an entire class of illegal immigrants who came here as children, regardless of individual circumstances, and to give them work-authorization permits.

Looking at this record of contempt for the law, it is little comfort for Americans to hear that it would be illegal for the NSA to spy on Americans. That never stopped Obama before, they say.

Of course the NSA is not spying on Americans; it is spying on al-Qaeda. Those very same NSA analysts who have been demonized in recent weeks as a threat to our civil liberties have just given us advance warning of one of the “most specific and credible threats” since 9/11.

They are not interested in the conversations of law abiding American citizens. The only domestic communications they care about are those of al-Qaeda leaders abroad talking to terrorist operatives deployed here at home. If such conversations are taking place, we need them to find out who that operative is, where he is and what he is planning. They cannot do that without the NSA’s metadata program.

Yet the House nearly eliminated that program, and there is a growing consensus that Congress will soon have to do something to respond to public outrage by reining in the NSA’s surveillance capabilities. That would be a tragedy.

If it happens, the fault will lie with Obama’s serial abuses of the law. By breaking trust with the American people, Obama has exposed Americans to greater danger.

That is the real scandal. And there is nothing “phony” about it.

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