While it’s true that Republicans didn’t launch investigations into President Barack Obama’s nonexistent private business or his campaign, it’s far from true that they never launched a full-scale attack on Obama’s administration. Over the course of his two terms in office, there were at least four issues that prompted significant congressional investigations into Obama’s administration, if not Obama himself.
In fact, there were far more than four issues that prompted congressional scrutiny. In the interest of making the list below manageable, we excluded issues where Republican-controlled committees in Congress held only a hearing or two, such as the investigation into the failure of Healthcare.gov to work as advertised at launch. We also excluded lengthier probes that were more tangential to Obama, such as the investigations into the General Services Administration’s spending habits early in his presidency. Our criteria, generally, were lengthy investigations that resulted in reports and were aimed, at least in part, at questioning Obama himself directly.
(Even within those boundaries, it’s very possible that we missed something, given Congress’s apparent disinterest in preserving old material online once control of committees changes hands.)
Here are the four main investigatory areas Congress explored, most of them at the hands of Republicans.
For the first two years of Obama’s presidency, there were no significant investigations into his administration that focused on him. Once Republicans took control of the House in early January 2011, though, that changed.
Fast and Furious
The first issue that prompted such an investigation was a failed operation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in which the bureau allowed illegal gun sales near the border with Mexico in hopes of tracking where the weapons would end up. The operation was largely unsuccessful, and one weapon that was sold was found near the scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.
Fast and Furious was presented as an example of the Obama administration’s acting to cover up its mistakes.
(All time spans for the investigations listed below refer to the first public hearing or public announcement of the formation of an investigation through to the final report issued by a committee.)
House Oversight Committee, February 2011 to July 2014. Then chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Oversight launched an investigation into the operation aimed at determining what had happened and what administration officials knew about it. In July 2011, the committee released the first part of a three-part report assessing what it had learned.
House Oversight, October 2011 to June 2017. In October 2011, as part of its investigation, the committee subpoenaed materials from the Justice Department, then led by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. While the committee received some of the material it sought, Holder’s did not provide additional documents, resulting in a protracted fight and his eventual censure by the House. The third of the three parts of the Oversight probe focused on this fight and was released only after Obama — and Holder — had left the government.
One of Obama’s focal points as president was to bolster jobs associated with renewable energy. That included making loans through an established Energy Department program that acted as investments in clean-energy companies, including a California-based solar panel manufacturer called Solyndra. It collapsed, defaulting on its loan from the government — although the loan program overall ended up earning a profit for the government.
The investment was presented as an example of “crony capitalism,” an investment made at Obama’s behest to favor a particular company.
House Energy and Commerce Committee, February 2011 to August 2012. The final report on the investment found that the administration did not allow the company to fail earlier than it did, choosing instead to restructure the loan, resulting in heavier losses.
By far the biggest target of congressional investigators were the twin attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012 — shortly before the 2012 election. How the attacks resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, was a subject of intense scrutiny — aimed first at Obama’s administration and, as the 2016 election neared, at Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
Five House committees launched investigations shortly after the attacks took place (and mostly before the 2012 election).
House Armed Services Committee, September 2012 to February 2014.
House Foreign Affairs Committee, November 2012 to February 2014.
House Intelligence Committee, September 2012 to November 2014.
House Judiciary Committee, September 2012 to April 2013.
House Oversight, October 2012 to September 2013.
The five committees released a joint preliminary report in April 2013. Most of the committees continued their work beyond that point, the result of which included broadly rebutting many of the conspiracy theories flying around in conservative media.
Two Senate committees, then controlled by the Democratic majority, also launched probes.
Senate Intelligence Committee, October 2012 to January 2014.
Senate Homeland Security Committee, October 2012 to December 2012.
But the most notable and influential investigation came with the formation of a select committee of members of the House to investigate the attacks.
Select Committee on Benghazi, May 2014 to December 2016. The most important finding from the select committee didn’t relate directly to the Benghazi attacks at all. It was this committee that uncovered Clinton’s private email server, the existence of which prompted an eventual FBI investigation and played a key role in Clinton’s losing the 2016 presidential election. The committee concluded its work shortly after the campaign ended.
There were hints in Obama’s first term that the Internal Revenue Service was applying special scrutiny to certain political groups that were hoping to form 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations. The House Ways and Means Committee began seeking information on the subject in June 2011 but never released a formal report summarizing its findings.
But it wasn’t until IRS executive Lois Lerner admitted publicly in May 2013 that the IRS had singled out certain groups — including some that identified as tea party groups — for additional questioning that formal investigations got underway.
House Oversight, May 2013 to December 2014. Issa’s Oversight Committee was again actively involved in questioning the IRS’s decisions and behavior. It ultimately determined that liberal and conservative groups alike had been subject to additional scrutiny. Despite theorizing in conservative media, no evidence that the White House ordered extra scrutiny of conservatives was found.
Senate Finance Committee, May 2013 to August 2015. The Senate report dealt largely with the IRS’s mismanagement of the process overall.
Overall, according to our tally, the above inquiries of the Obama administration totaled over 8,400 days of investigation, from launch to final report. That’s 23 years of probes covering an eight-year administration.
Obama, too, might have had cause to feel a bit persecuted.