Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Jun 17, 2013
In the debate over the Benghazi, IRS, and the Justice Department scandals, there are accusations of corruption, stupidity, and incompetence. In reality, the scandals are a combination of all three.
With Benghazi, there were four foolish acts. First, the Administration failed to quickly collect and analyze the relevant information regarding the attack to produce an accurate report.
Second, the Benghazi emails and accompanying reporting indicate departmental representatives suggested changes to the talking points to insure their department avoided blame for the attack. The result was vague and practically useless talking points.
Third, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice uncritically accepted the talking points and unknowingly added information that turned out to be false. In her desire to defend the Administration to position herself as the next Secretary of State, she took the talking point blaming the Cairo demonstrations, which authorities blamed on an anti-Islamic film, and extrapolated from that to the Benghazi attack.
Fourth, the Obama Administration violated the public trust by blaming the anti-Islamic video for the embassy attack for two weeks when the Libyan government’s report and other evidence quickly arose clearly indicating it was a planned terrorist attack.
Next, the IRS intentionally targeting conservative and Republican groups for closer scrutiny and illegally leaking tax records to a liberal group is a clear abuse of power. Was the abuse a result of bureaucratic blundering or political malfeasance though?
At this time, there is no direct evidence connecting the Obama Administration to the scrutiny. While various IRS administrators claim Washington did not guide the decision, other IRS employees claim “Washington” influenced the decision without identifying who in Washington. Still others claim that Democratic calls for investigations of conservative Super PACs were a signal to the IRS to scrutinize these groups.
Even if the scrutiny was the result of a sloppy bureaucratic screening process, it is shameful and scary that no one in the IRS questioned or challenged the politically motivated targeting. This failure clearly shows a bureaucratic culture that is politicized, unprincipled, and out of control.
Finally, Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to issue search warrants for the Associated Press and Fox News was unwise for violating the political adage of “never get into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel” because alienating the press could result in negative coverage which could adversely affect one’s political career.
The larger problem is that Holder has consistently used poor judgment in managing the Justice Department which suggests incompetence. During his term, Holder has selectively investigated leaks based on whether they make the Administration look bad. He reversed his plan to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York due to political pressure. He hasn’t changed Department rules regarding exculpatory evidence that led to the bungled prosecution of former Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK). He has overseen politically popular prosecutions of former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) and BP executives that have failed or are falling apart.
So what actions would best enable President Obama to put these scandals behind him? He can fire Eric Holder and the department representatives who value protecting their department over the truth. He can admit, however belatedly, that the Administration was too slow in getting the truth out about Benghazi. And after the investigations are completed, he can fire or prosecute the offenders at the IRS to change the culture there.
This is a revised version of an article published in The Jackson Sun on June 15, 2013