The Benghazi, IRS, and AP/DoJ nothing burgers

PPP is out with a poll showing that even Republican voters aren’t buying the professional GOP’s story on Benghazi. Voters trust former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Congressional Republicans on Benghazi by 10 points, 43% don’t know where Benghazi is, only 23% believe Benghazi is the biggest scandal ever, and more people think Congress should be focusing on immigration reform and passing universal background checks on gun purchases than investigating Benghazi.

Respondents who voted for Mitt Romney reject Bengahzi being the biggest scandal ever by 8 points.

It’s fine if some people believe Benghazi is the worst and all that. People are entitled to their opinion. But this poll shows that in the opinion of most Americans, Benghazi isn’t what the professional GOP says it was. They may believe that it could have been prevented and that the Obama administration is responsible for lax security and other issues raised in the independent report.

All things considered, Benghazi is turning out to be another Fast & Furious nothing burger.

But suppose everything the GOP says about Benghazi is true. So what? I don’t ask that in indifference to the lives lost, but to the nearly non-existent options the Republican Party has for doing anything about their complaints.

The chances for a successful impeachment are near zero. I’ll get to that last.

The courts have ruled in previous years that Congress can’t write legislation that hands out fiat orders to executive branch officials, so reform via legislation would be minimal — in fact the only viable and meaningful reform would be more money for better security, but that’s out of the question because it was the GOP that cut funding for security of foreign diplomatic outposts.

Officers in the State Department can be impeached by the House but it’s doubtful there would be enough votes for anyone who wasn’t a low-level scapegoat, and regardless, Congress can’t appoint new people to replace them. That power rests solely with the President. And the Senate certainly isn’t going to vote to convict John Kerry, so trying to get a new Secretary of State is out of the question.

Given the information we have from public hearings and the independent report, nobody who has been critical of Benghazi has yet to make a charge of criminal behavior. Despite constant statements of fact that there’s a cover-up going on by Republicans, nobody has articulated what exactly is being covered up at this point.

It’s debatable whether or not Republicans even have the votes in the House to file charges against anyone. If all Democrats voted against, it would only take 17 GOP defections out of 233 members to prevent a winning vote. It’s even more doubtful that John Boehner would bring charges to the floor knowing the President would be easily acquitted in the Senate.

2014 looks better for this, but only marginally. Republicans could hold all their seats and win every Democratic seat in 2014 and still be one vote short of 67, with a super-majority being required to convict. So that’s not going to happen either.

With polling showing the public doesn’t see Benghazi as anything special and that this President was just elected to a second term, impeaching him would be political suicide for the GOP in 2014 and 2016.

If you accept all GOP accusations as true, what you end up with is there is very little the GOP can do about it now or in the future. Even with full control of Congress, there’s little to nothing to be done other than spend more money to increase diplomatic security.

The reason for that ought to be plain and obvious by now: this isn’t a scandal. It’s a politicized tragedy that probably could have been prevented. Short of beefing up security, there’s simply no role for Congress to play in any of this.

The bottom line: this isn’t a choice between coverup/scandal/impeach and nothing happened as the two extremes. The independent report made clear that mistakes were made, bad policies were in place, and this was an avoidable mess.

But that’s all it was, based on the facts.

* * *

The IRS issue won’t become clear until the inspector general report is made public, but there are a couple of points worth making here with the information that we do have. First and foremost, it’s not necessary for there to be just one scandal. It’s pretty well known that many very large and powerful conservative non-profits who hold tax-exempt status are engaging in political advocacy, which is illegal.

Since the IRS was inappropriately targeting conservative groups but doing so in pursuit of perfectly legal investigations, it feels safe to say that the larger of the two scandals are what these groups are doing, not the inappropriate behavior the IRS undertook because of that.

Rachel Maddow made this point on her show Monday night: the “scandal” was targeting conservative groups instead of going after all the non-profits that are breaking the law.

I’ve also yet to hear anyone note that this all happened under a Bush-appointed IRS chief who was a holdover from the Bush administration, which ought to raise a lot of red flags. This kind of corruption where people and groups are targeted for their ideology is precisely the kind of corruption that George W. Bush instituted at the Department of Justice, the kind that led directly to the U.S. Attorney firing scandal. There were stories of loyalty tests to Bush and the Republican Party at DoJ and reports of liberal and Democratic lawyers not getting hired, getting promotions, and even being fired simply for being liberals or Democrats.

Now tell me that what happened at the IRS under a Bush-appointed chief doesn’t sound exactly like that.

The bottom line: More information is needed, but this would seem to be fairly typical Bush-style corruption that took place under a Bush holdover. That doesn’t exempt everyone else from responsibility, but it certainly explains it. Given that it already stopped two years ago and the person who oversaw it is gone, I’m not sure what else really there is to be done at this point.

* * *

The Department of Justice spying on the Associated Press is almost funny. When the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration had been spying on Americans without warrants or oversight of any kind using the National Security Agency, the rest of the media rolled its eyes and shrugged its shoulders.

It wasn’t the press being spied on, it was filthy commoners, so who cares? Now that it’s the press being spied on, suddenly everybody is outraged.

The Congressional response to Bush’s crimes (the NSA spying scandal was the most impeachment event in the last 100 years) was to come together in true bipartisan fashion and retroactively immunize the nation’s richest telecommunications companies (also their largest campaign donors) and then retroactively make what the NSA did be magically legal.

When Nixon used the FBI to spy on his political enemies, Congress created the FISA courts to give judicial oversight to top secret domestic spying, and strengthened privacy laws. When Bush did it with the NSA, Congress simply made his actions not be illegal anymore.

President Obama, then I believe still running for the Democratic nomination in 2008, voted for all of that.

The National Security/Surveillance state has infected everything the government does, and it’s a fully bipartisan tyranny against the people.

The bottom line: this is what happens when high officials place themselves above the law. Does anyone believe that the Obama DoJ would be spying on the Associated Press today if George W. Bush had been impeached and removed from office for using the NSA to spy on Americans’ private communications?

Amusing note: Democrats tried to pass a federal media shield law in 2007 that would have protected the AP. Republicans, who are about to launch hearings into federal spying on the media, filibustered it. Darrell Issa, who will lead some of those hearings, voted against the shield law.

Whenever the GOP isn’t using something as an excuse to go after their political enemies like they are doing right now, Republicans generally love the surveillance state and loathe the media. Republicans were pretty unanimous in their demands that the NYT reporters who uncovered Bush’s illegal NSA spying program be prosecuted and imprisoned for treason, and as I just noted, they blocked a media shield law in 2007. They seemed to fully support Bush’s spying program while it was running as well. It’s worth remembering all of that.

Paul Tenny

Paul Tenny

I'm not a journalist but I do it anyway. I cover elections and have interviewed television writers and producers.
Paul Tenny

Latest posts by Paul Tenny (see all)

Leave a Reply