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Circling The Wagons

Two recent revelations have raised serious questions about the kind of government President Obama is running.

First, disturbing – and apparently authoritative – Congressional testimony by people in a position to know about a Benghazi cover-up surfaced. Then it was revealed that since 2010 the Internal Revenue Service has been singling out for particularly harsh treatment conservative political groups opposed to Mr. Obama that were applying for tax-exempt status.

Despite the gravity of these matters, there are those who would dismiss concerns about both. Once again, The New York Times is giving voice to those who wish to circle the wagons around the president.

The issue of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last September 11has been simmering for months and finally came to a head last Wednesday with the explosive testimony of three State Department officials with direct knowledge of the facts surrounding the attack, as well as the release of e-mails and timelines describing the attack and the administration’s tortuous efforts to sanitize the official account of what happened.

It is clear that the episode was, in fact, a terrorist attack, and that it was known to be such from the start, from the president on down. What emerges, though, from the testimony is a painstaking effort by the administration to eliminate any suggestion that a pre-planned terrorist assault had taken place but rather that it was a spontaneous reaction by inflamed Muslims to a video that insulted the prophet Muhammad. The only real question now has to do with motivation.

From the outset we thought the administration had good reason to attempt to draw attention away from any terrorist angle, since there had been a precipitous downgrading of protection for the consulate on the theory that President Obama had cleared out the terrorist infrastructure from most of Libya. To acknowledge the Benghazi attack as terrorism would have given the lie to that conceit and damaged the president’s foreign policy credentials in the midst of his bid for reelection.

Whether those were the motives that drove the administration’s initial response to Benghazi – or whether there are other explanations yet to emerge – there certainly is adequate ground for further Congressional hearings into the matter. Yet there are many who seek to dismiss the latest developments as irrelevant.

In a May editorial, the Times imperiously tried to shoot down any thought of a cover-up. In “The Republicans’ Benghazi Obsession,” the paper argued:

Before Wednesday’s hearing on the attack in Benghazi, Libya, Republicans in Congress promised explosive new details about the administration’s mishandling of the episode. Instead, the hearing showed, yet again, that sober fact-finding is not their mission. Common sense and good judgment have long given way to conspiracy-mongering and a relentless effort to discredit President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton….

The hearing did not prove anything like an administration cover-up or other hysterical allegations of crimes equal to Watergate that some Republicans…have alleged.

The Times hardly made a persuasive case and we believe, as stated, that there is enough to go forward with a full investigation into the events surrounding the attack in Benghazi – and with the selective and unfair treatment by the IRS of conservative groups.

The Times’s main news report on the IRS controversy last Sunday was titled “I.R.S. Focus on Conservatives Gives G.O.P. an Issue to Seize On.” So from the start the Times, by characterizing the affair as basically a political ploy by Republicans, signaled its intent to trivialize the rather serious allegation that IRS bureaucrats targeted groups whose views were out of sync with those of their boss.

There was more, as the article sought to politicize the upcoming Congressional hearings: “House Republicans have vowed to begin their own hearings and investigations. And Republicans fanned out on the political talk shows on Sunday to express outrage that is only likely to grow.”

Now, it happens to be that the Republicans enjoy a majority in the House, so the hearings are hardly “their own.” Indeed, all Congressional hearings in both the House and Senate must be convened by the majority in each chamber. The Democrats currently have a majority in the Senate; would The Times ever dream of labeling hearings scheduled in the Senate as Democratic frolics of “their own”? And the word picture of Republicans having “fanned out” on the Sunday talk shows suggests a coordinated effort to discredit Democrats by spreading a non-story.

The article went on to say along the same lines that

…accusations of I.R.S. abuse are sure to fuel an effort that appears to be uniting dispirited Republicans and their conservative political base: investigating Mr. Obama and his administration. Republicans are pushing a portrayal of an administration overreaching its authority and punishing its enemies.

So for the Times, there is no reason to look further. But there are compelling reasons to do so, even aside from what has most recently come to light about the administration. Not that we’re surprised by any of this. In a series of editorials last year, we explored several instances of dubious actions by the administration.

Thus, we noted the administration’s “scrubbing” of public records of any reference to Jerusalem as being part of Israel. This had come in the course of the Zivotofsky litigation after the Obama Justice Department had assured federal courts that such references, which were key to the government’s case, did not exist.

We also pointed to the administration’s having inserted complimentary references to Mr. Obama in biographical sketches of past presidents – sketches that had been featured on the White House website long before this president took office.

And then there were those leaks of classified information to The New York Times about the inner workings of the U.S. drone war, placing Mr. Obama at its center – fortuitously for the president, since those leaks somehow came during the presidential campaign and could only burnish his foreign policy credentials. An article based on the leaks referred to interviews with three dozen of President Obama’s “current and former advisers” and also said that one quoted official “requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.”

Similarly, the Times ran a story about how President Obama was central to the cyber efforts to destabilize the Iranian nuclear program, citing interviews “with former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program” who demanded anonymity “because the effort remains highly classified….”

Could such high level access have occurred without the president’s approval?

Further, we spoke of White House cooperation with filmmakers Katherine Bigelow and Mark Boal in a project involving the SEALS’ discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden. At the time, we quoted part of what Times columnist Maureen Dowd, usually a supporter of President Obama, had to say about this:

The White House is counting on the Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal big screen version of the killing of bin Laden to counter Obama’s growing reputation as ineffectual…. The moviemakers are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history from an administration that has tried to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration.

It was clear that the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood when Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently – to the surprise of some military officers – at a CIA ceremony celebrating the hero SEALS.

Given this administration’s penchant for putting politics above policy to an extent rarely seen in recent memory, Congress needs to pursue the questions of a Benghazi cover-up and of possible White House involvement in the targeting of conservative Americans by some IRS officials.

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