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Whether it’s Benghazi! or the I.R.S. v. “tea party” scrum or the Associated Press/Justice Department phone record grab, conservatives have been – bless their hearts – doing their dead-level best to somehow pin blame to President Barack Obama and his administration with zeal.  As of this writing, however, they’ve still come up short; but if you’re watching any cable news outlet or enjoying dinner while watching the network new, or you've spent any time on your favorite social media platform, you might not know that.  

More after the jump...

Let’s start with Benghazi; when ABC “scooped” the world with (important word here) “summaries” of internal e-mails that painted a picture of deception and “terror” being whitewashed from the “talking points” the American people initially received.  There are three avenues conservatives have tried to attack the Obama administration on, post-Benghazi:  

1. Embassy/Consulate security needs being met (they screwed the pooch on that one with their embassy funding cut vote last summer),

2. the lack of a response, militarily, to the consulate attack, which both the Pentagon and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates scoffed at) and

3. (I’m paraphrasing here) “the American people were lied to!”  Well, with the first two contentions not sticking, the third was about all that remained; until CNN’s report today coughed up White House e-mails (not merely nuanced summaries of them) that ran counter to the ABC report.  The entire e-mail is HERE.

The CNN pieces wraps with this:

   

…whoever leaked the inaccurate information earlier this month did so in a way that made it appear that the White House – specifically Rhodes – was more interested in the State Department’s concerns, and more focused on the talking points, than the e-mail actually stated.
…which is about all you need to know, but feel free to comb through the CNN piece anyhow if you wish.  It would appear, then, that Benghazi is now a useless political football for the G.O.P.  Those four casualties can now stop being chess pieces for political gain.  Finally.

So the next big “scandal” to rock the White House (if you can really even say that), is the Internal Revenue Service’s handling of the various tea party organizations that arose after President Obama’s first presidential victory.  In essence, IRS agents from Cincinnati to D.C. gave extra scrutiny to politically-motivated 501(c)4 organizations that were tea party-like or flat-out tea party-based.  From Mother Jones:
   

It began back in March 2010, when the tea party movement was all the rage. According to a leaked timeline (PDF) from a draft report by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, IRS staffers began flagging applications from groups with politically themed names like “We the People” and “Take Back the Country.” Staffers also targeted groups whose names included the words “tea party” and “patriots.” Those flagged applications were then sent to specialists for a more rigorous review than is typical.
Further into the piece…

   

In June 2011, Lerner reportedly became aware of what was going on and directed staffers to change to how they vetted nonprofit applications.
Alright; problem solved, right?  Well, no.  After all the super-scrutiny, many in these some 298 organizations had complained enough to their elected friends that Congress started asking questions about in the summer of 2012.  Other than some queries by Rep. Charles Boustany (R-Louisiana) and a hearing by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), not much really came of it, until Lois Lerner, the IRS official who oversees the agency’s tax exemption division, publicly apologized for the agency’s prior actions, when speaking with a group of tax lawyers, last Friday.

But here’s the thing: as Jeffrey Toobin in  the New Yorker magazine asks: “Did the I.R.S. actually do anything wrong?”

   

It’s important to review why the Tea Party groups were petitioning the I.R.S. anyway. They were seeking approval to operate under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. This would require them to be “social welfare,” not political, operations. There are significant advantages to being a 501(c)(4). These groups don’t pay taxes; they don’t have to disclose their donors—unlike traditional political organizations, such as political-action committees. In return for the tax advantage and the secrecy, the 501(c)(4) organizations must refrain from traditional partisan political activity, like endorsing candidates.

    If that definition sounds murky—that is, if it’s unclear what 501(c)(4) organizations are allowed to do—that’s because it is murky. Particularly leading up to the 2012 elections, many conservative organizations, nominally 501(c)(4)s, were all but explicitly political in their work. For example, Americans for Prosperity, which was funded in part by the Koch Brothers, was an instrumental force in helping the Republicans hold the House of Representatives. In every meaningful sense, groups like Americans for Prosperity were operating as units of the Republican Party. Democrats organized similar operations, but on a much smaller scale. (They undoubtedly would have done more, but they lacked the Republican base for funding such efforts.)

    So the scandal—the real scandal—is that 501(c)(4) groups have been engaged in political activity in such a sustained and open way. As Fred Wertheimer, the President of Democracy 21, a government-ethics watchdog group, put it, “it is clear that a number of groups have improperly claimed tax-exempt status as section 501(c)(4) ‘social welfare’ organizations in order to hide the donors who financed their campaign activities in the 2010 and 2012 federal elections.”

Remember when campaign finance reform as so popular?  Remember how sick and tired “we, the people” get every election cycle with the inundation of campaign ads from candidates and “special interest” groups?  Understand this: the Federal Election Commission oversees campaign finance; the I.R.S., however, is charged with watching non-profits and their political activities.  And with these tea party groups allowing deep-pocketed donors to donation as much as they wish, they’re, in essence, cover groups for those who could seek to skirt campaign finance limitations and push a political agenda all the same.

An old media friend (and right-wing radio host), Austin Rhodes, chimed in on a Facebook thread of mine when I broached the question as to whether or not politically motivated non-profits should even BE tax exempt with this question:

    "Like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, etc etc etc, You really wanna go there???"

My reply, in essence: “….or the NAACP or Greenpeace (both targeted by the IRS during the Bush presidency.  Incidentally, you listed organizations who both have primary purposes OTHER than political action.”

What sort of “social welfare” do tea party groups offer?  They aren’t feeding the hungry; they don’t build houses for the homeless or find homes for stray animals.  What IS their “social welfare?”  Back to the New Yorker…

   

…the I.R.S. employees thought that these groups might be doing explicit politics—which would disqualify them for 501(c)(4) status, and set them aside for closer examination. This appears to have been a pretty reasonable assumption on the part of the I.R.S. employees: having “Tea Party” in your name is at least a slight clue about partisanship. When the inspector-general report becomes public, we’ll surely learn the identity of these organizations. How many will look like “social welfare” organizations—and how many will look like political activists looking for anonymity and tax breaks? My guess is a lot more of the latter than the former.
Indeed.  More:

   

Campaign finance operates by shaky, or even nonexistent, rules, and powerful players game the system with impunity. A handful of I.R.S. employees saw this and tried, in a small way, to impose some small sense of order. For that, they’ll likely be ushered into bureaucratic oblivion.
Indeed 2.0.

Late today, came word that the IRS Inspector General shot down any notion of political malice, instead labeling the agency’s actions as “incompetence,” thus absolving the Obama administration of wrongdoing.

   

A 48-page IG report explicitly stated that the IRS behavior was “not politically biased,” that it was due to lower-level staff who did not understand their jobs and sometimes acted insubordinately, and that it was not driven by the White House.
Did I mention, by the way, that the IRS commissioner at the time – Douglas Shulman – was a George W. Bush appointee?  Two scandals dead; what’s left?  

Oh yeah, the A.P./Justice Department phone bill flap…

Apparently the Justice Department secretly obtained phone records of employees and reporters with the Associated Press, in connection to a probe on the leak of information regarding a foiled terror plot.  The goal was to determine the AP’s sources.  Late today, Attorney General Eric Holder recused himself from the investigation; however he defended the DOJ’s conduct in what he described as being one of the more damaging leaks he’s seen.  From the Washington Post:
   

“The decision to seek media toll records in this investigation was made by the Deputy Attorney General consistent with Department regulations and policies,” the Justice Department said in a statement shortly before Holder made his remarks.
And what did Holder say, exactly?

   

He said that since he became a prosecutor in 1976, “this is among the top two or three serious leaks that I’ve ever seen.” He added that “it put the American people at risk” and that “trying to determine who was responsible for that required very aggressive action.”
So this “scandal” is pretty boring right now, but with Benghazi!!! and the I.R.S. scandal failing to avail themselves to an “Impeach Obama!” agenda, this will assuredly be the drum-beat of neo-cons and their right-wing media outlets for the foreseeable future.  That being the likely case, it’s important to point out three things…

1. Wasn’t this sort of shady, behind-the-scenes snooping “on our own” quite the norm under a Bush presidency, and made allowable by the invasive PATRIOT Act?

2. Didn’t the Bush administration stonewall any effort to investigate said wiretapping?  (Yes, they did).

3. Because many Republicans suspected the intelligence leaks came from the White House (as some sort of ginned-up P.R. opportunity), the Justice Department basically did what they wanted: they got busy investigating vigorously.   Rememberthis?

   

“I continue to call on the president to immediately appoint a special counsel to fully investigate, and where necessary, prosecute these gravely serious breaches of our national security.” – Senator John Mccain (R) Arizona
I mean, as egregious and shocking an over-reach as this may well be, there was a subpoena, in this case; not so much with those wiretaps.   Add to that the PATRIOT Act the Bush administration and it’s allies in Congress drafted,  passed into being and re-authorized, it seems the snagging of phone records may well have been nothing but legal.  Is it wise to piss off the press?  No; was the activity legal?  Possibly and probably.

So if ANY “scandal” is going to stick to President Obama personally, ironically it may be the one current flash fire that progressives would normally go bat-shit crazy about and neo-cons would say is “necessary” if a Republican were in the White House, and the action(s) was/were done in the name of national security.  And, hey, they wanted an investigation into those leaks, after all … but we all know that Republicans will pounce anyhow, forgetting their prior role in making such activity even remotely possible and likely legal thanks to murky PATRIOT act lingo.  The irony…

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Comment Preferences

  •  SouthernDR - I think it is way too early (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fou, praenomen, cheforacle, SouthernDemRon

    to tally the score on how these issues will impact the President and the Democratic Party and its ability to pursue its legislative agenda. I agree, to date the President has done a good job dodging the blows but the MSM how has a real interest in all three of these stories and I don't think they are going to quickly blow over.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Tue May 14, 2013 at 09:59:46 PM PDT

    •  What legislative agenda? (6+ / 0-)

      Between the vandals in the House, and Mitch McConnell in the Senate, the President and the Democrats have NO possibility of passing anything of any substance.

      I agree that all three of these "scandals" are nothingburgers. I distinctly remember that on 9/11/2012, there were riots in the streets of Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities.  And those riots WERE about that stupid movie, and just general anti-infidel stuff.  So the mob in Benghazi happened at the same time.  So initial reports may have thought it was the same thing, when it really was seized on as an opportunity for a local militia/extremist group/whatever to load up their RPGs and take on the Great Satan.

      AND let us not forget that the "safe house" was a CIA compound, and most of the people involved were CIA assets.  I can TOTALLY understand why Susan Rice wouldn't be sent onto Sunday TV to explain our CIA presence in any detail.  D'oh!  To me, it looks like the State Dept. is taking one for the team instead of calling out the CIA BS.

      Does ANYONE have the concept of "fog of war" anymore?  Contrary to the crap we see on TV and in the movies, chaotic happenings must be sorted out before things make any sense.

      •  The problem with AP is not going to go away (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SquareSailor

        anytime soon. As Digby said:

        Anyway, I hate this kind of scandal mongering. It's exhausting and makes your head hurt. And we are, unfortunately, dealing with a package of administration scandals in which two are arguably partisan nonsense that are easy to man the barricades over --- and one is actually very disturbing. So it's not as clear cut as the administration might like
        Obama can survive the Benghazi and the IRS stories, but the other one has legs...I'll be very surprised if this one doesn't do some damage...at the very least, it could cause him to become a lame duck.
        •  I think the IRS story will hurt Obama more than (0+ / 0-)

          the AP one because the right-wing is reluctant to push the latter story as they believe in taking extraordinary measures to catch leakers and they don't want reminders that Obama stopped another terrorist attack.

          By contrast, the IRS story plays into the narrative that all gov't is evil and irresponsible.  Tea Party types will never let this go and their outrage will keep the MSM involved.  The MSM's first test on what to cover is any controversy where 1 side bitches about something the other side has done or they claim they had done.  Whether the thing they are bitching about lacks total merit is irrelevant to today's press.

          I would agree with those who believe the AP story is actually the most serious.  It worries me the most at least.      

          •  I have to disagree...I think (0+ / 0-)

            both scandals are sort of "hands off" for them, because the LAST thing they'd want is for the public to become wise to their 501(c)4 charade, using this tax exempt status to hide political action committees, flush with dirty money.

            This is ammunition for the "get the money out of our political process" crowd - aka progressives and libertarians - to push for that agenda.  This could actually be a HUGE blessing in disguise.

            You KNOW the GOP doesn't want THAT!

            GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO DAWGS!! Sic 'em! WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF

            by SouthernDemRon on Wed May 15, 2013 at 10:39:59 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Inclined To Agree (0+ / 0-)

            Because:

            [T]he next big “scandal” to rock the White House (if you can really even say that), is the Internal Revenue Service’s handling of the various tea party organizations that arose after President Obama’s first presidential victory.
            And:
            [But] the scandal—the real scandal—is that 501(c)(4) groups have been engaged in political activity in such a sustained and open way. As Fred Wertheimer, the President of Democracy 21, a government-ethics watchdog group, put it, “it is clear that a number of groups have improperly claimed tax-exempt status as section 501(c)(4) ‘social welfare’ organizations in order to hide the donors who financed their campaign activities in the 2010 and 2012 federal elections.”
            Also:
            But while the politics is heating up, some important context is emerging, like the fact that liberal groups were targeted as well, and in fact the only group to have its application denied was a liberal group.
            From this diary: Liberal Groups Targeted Too

            "Treat others as you would like them to treat you." -St. Luke 6: 31 (NEB) Christians are given a tough assignment here: Love the people you don't even like...

            by paz3 on Wed May 15, 2013 at 11:14:14 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  What initial reports would those be? (0+ / 0-)

        I have seen no after-action reports detailing any demonstration, let alone motives for same, prior to the assault on the consulate.

        So initial reports may have thought it was the same thing
    •  Don't read into (0+ / 0-)

      what I've written to presume I think these will blow over anytime soon; no, in fact I have FAITH in the Republican party to continue trying to squeeze the juice out of these three lemons as long as possible.  ANYthing to keep a negative term/headline in the media cycle.  That's their goal.  

      GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO DAWGS!! Sic 'em! WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF

      by SouthernDemRon on Wed May 15, 2013 at 10:23:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Here is hoping the Rethugs over play their hands. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Linda1961

    2014, seems like an uphill climb for our side to retake the House. But, if there's one thing that could turn the tide I believe it's all this phony scandals.

    People will see the President going about his job, and working for the folks. While the other side foams at the mouth over stupid crap like make believe scandals. Remember 1998.

  •  SouthernDR - our friends at Politico have (0+ / 0-)

    an opposing view. This story, "DC Turns on Obama", is worth reading:

    http://www.politico.com/...

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Tue May 14, 2013 at 10:05:35 PM PDT

  •  well said -- too bad Dem members (4+ / 0-)

    of Congress don't hit the media to talk about the real scandal, which is the failure of Congress to address any of the nation's problems and the nihilistic and destructive approach of the Republicans in Congress to governance. Where to begin? Federal agencies without heads, courts without judges, and so on. There's a true scandal about in the land and no one is talking about it . .

  •  What's Really Going To Tick The GOP Off..... (7+ / 0-)

    beside their three pseudo scandals, is the CBO coming out yesterday w/ huge news.

    The deficit has been decreased to $642 BILLION mainly due to, of all things, tax revenues & bailout payments by Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac.

    The deficit is now 2.1% of the economy mostly due to the above two reasons.  The 2015 deficit is projected to be decreased to $378 BILLION.

    There goes the GOP rationale to gut education, impoverish single mothers & their children, cut other entitlements & push austerity.  Obamacare medical savings haven't hurt either.

    Face it.....all the GOP has is their three "scandals".

    The IRS is mandated by congress to investigate ALL new apps for 501's including those of the Tea Party.  That scandal will go away too.  The DOJ has a duty to subponea phone numbers from the telephone company if they are investigating a leak potentially endangering national security.  Ditto.

    •  Sort of Explains the GOP "scandals" (0+ / 0-)

      They've been beating the debt for years and it did not work and they need to re-focus fast becasue taxing the top does fix the debt problems.

      An if a strengthed IRS chases and catches the tax cheats with their overseas accounts it would wipe the debt out.

  •  These poor Teabaggers (2+ / 0-)

    They have no problems with forcing people who need public assistance and unemployment benefits into taking drug tests but try to apply the same standards to them they whine like stuck pigs.

  •  Too early to tell re the AP one (0+ / 0-)

    wishfull thinking is not the same as constructive analysis.

  •  Anything's possible, but history suggests a (0+ / 0-)

    rough sleigh ride.

    Since nearly all Americans interact with the IRS, I'd say this 'incompetence' feeds their prejudices, and does not reflect credit on those in charge. I'm also mystified by the consistent mention of who installed Douglas Shulman as IRS commissioner. What's the implication? It seems to me the implications are worse for this administration than the last one.

  •  I agree, gang; I think the AP (0+ / 0-)

    issue is going to be a nasty one, but the reason the GOP can't make hay with it is because they're complicit in the manufacture of this very scenario.

    When they were quick to allow George W. Bush and his administration to bend the rules and nuance procedure - in the name of national security, of course ;-) - they didn't just alter laws for Bush; they altered them for his successor and future Presidents, as well.  This is the bed they made.

    I don't at ALL think the DOJ should be excused from any wrath they face; in fact, I hope this uproar leads to repeals of portions of the PATRIOT Act that allows this sort of activity to happen.  Remembering that when we do that for THIS President, we're doing it for future Presidents, too.

    Until the GOP gets one in the White House and suddenly (again) sees the need, again... see a cycle, here?

    GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO DAWGS!! Sic 'em! WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF

    by SouthernDemRon on Wed May 15, 2013 at 10:21:53 AM PDT

  •  Point Of (Non-Profit) Order! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SouthernDemRon
    What sort of “social welfare” do tea party groups offer?  They aren’t feeding the hungry; they don’t build houses for the homeless or find homes for stray animals.  What is their “social welfare?”
    The activities listed above are almost always conducted by 501(c)(3) organizations, which can conduct no partisan political activities. Food banks and pantries, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society, United Way, Planned Parenthood are examples of legit "true" charities.

    "Treat others as you would like them to treat you." -St. Luke 6: 31 (NEB) Christians are given a tough assignment here: Love the people you don't even like...

    by paz3 on Wed May 15, 2013 at 11:28:28 AM PDT

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