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The Threshold Question

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In an editorial last week (“Circling the Wagons”) we noted the efforts by the administration and its supporters to dismiss allegations that the government’s spin on the Benghazi attack was designed to shield the president and that the IRS was improperly used to stifle opposition to Mr. Obama’s reelection.

Since then, yet more charges of improper action have emerged – namely, the Justice Department’s seizure of the records of phone lines of Associated Press reporters in an apparent attempt to identify the source of government leaks. Add to that even newer allegations that a Fox News reporter was also targeted by the DOJ and it becomes difficult not to wonder whether any other disturbing revelations are about to be dropped on the American public.

Moreover, the administration and its supporters have intensified their efforts at downplaying the seriousness of any of the above and turning the Republicans into obstructionist culprits.

It is, of course, impossible at this point to know for sure whether there was any wrongdoing at the highest levels, as is being claimed by many Republicans, or whether the incidents are the products of incompetence rather than criminality, as many Democrats – including President Obama – are essentially claiming. Yet it is clear that there is more than sufficient cause for Congress to assume full investigative mode.

This is hardly a situation where the accusations can be said to have been made out of whole cloth. The question is whether events have crossed a threshold and explanations alone can no longer be accepted as fact without further investigation.

The fact is, administration officials are sounding increasingly Nixonian with their denials, obfuscations and shifting stories. No wonder a CNN poll reports that 53 percent of Americans think the Republicans should push for hearings and probes into all the allegations (roughly the same percentage holds a favorable view of Mr. Obama, making it all the more difficult for Obama partisans to dismiss the sentiments of respondents as being driven by any anti-Obama animus).

Once again we are particularly dismayed by what The New York Times – which, along with administration officials, has taken the lead in pooh-poohing the charges – has had to say. An editorial titled “Scandal Machine,” reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s memorable charge that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was out to wreck her husband’s presidency, portrayed the brouhaha over the current scandals as the product of a concerted Republican effort to weaken Mr. Obama:

When politicians want to turn scandals into metaphors, actual details of wrongdoing or incompetence no longer matter. In fact, the details of the troubles swirling around the White House this week are bluntly contradicting Republicans who want to combine them into a seamless narrative of tyrannical government on the rampage….

The Times then blithely dismissed the charges against the IRS, which it concedes “singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny in evaluating requests for tax exemption,” with the declaration that the IRS “acted inappropriately because employees couldn’t understand inadequate guidelines.” Maybe, maybe not – which is, after all, the point of investigating further.

“The tragedy in Benghazi, Libya,” The Times continued, “never a scandal to begin with, has devolved into a turf-protection spat between government agencies, and the email messages Republicans long demanded made clear that there was no White House cover-up.”

One wonders, though, what the Times makes of the released e-mails showing the administration knew from the start that the Benghazi attackers were jihadi terrorists rather than ordinary Muslims spontaneously reacting to a film considered insulting to the prophet Muhammad that had been released months before.

Yet the official administration line for days was the video angle. And what about the possibility that there was a readily apparent motive for such dissembling in the midst of the presidential campaign during which President Obama claimed to have cleansed Libya of terrorists? The Times apparently considers such a question not even worth asking.

Predictably, the Times made an exception for the administration’s seizure of the Associated Press’s telephone records (a case of whose ox is being gored?). But even this “government overreach,” in the Times’s Milquetoast terms, was merely “the latest episode in the Obama administration’s Javert-like obsession with leakers in its midst.”

This sort of posturing by the administration and its advocates will not work for the simple reason that it is not logical. They may present plausible scenarios. But others can posit sinister motives. If a threshold has indeed been breached, the claims and counterclaims will need to be sorted out, with tough decisions to follow.

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