Under fire for secret subpoenas of Associated Press phone records, the Obama administration has asked a key senator to revive legislation that would enhance protections for journalists trying to protect their sources.
A White House official called Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday to ask him to reintroduce the media shield law that he supported in 2009 but that never received a vote on the Senate floor. The push comes in the wake of Department of Justice subpoenas of a broad swath of AP's phone records, including several main numbers used by more than 100 reporters.
"This kind of law would balance national security needs against the public's right to the free flow of information. At minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case," Schumer said in a statement.
The shield law would insulate journalists from fines and prison time when they refuse to reveal their sources in court cases. It allows journalists to appeal to a federal judge when they don't want to give up their sources to subpoena -- and let the judge decide whether public interest in the journalist's story outweighs the interests of the government.
But the bill also says that in some national security matters, this "balancing test" wouldn't be applied.
That's in part because of White House concerns about the law. In 2009, the White House objected to the shield law's use in national security situations -- like the one the AP believes triggered the secret subpoenas. The wire service reported in 2012 that a double agent had foiled a bomb plot in Yemen.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday called that leak "a very, very serious leak."
"This is among the top two or three serious leaks that I’ve ever seen," he said.
House Republicans debuted a new line of attack against Democrats on Wednesday, calling the GOP the party of "accountability and trust in government" in the wake of several recent controversies involving the Obama administration.
Armed with new uproars involving the IRS's admission that it had targeted conservative advocacy groups, the release of more emails involving the administration's response to last year's terrorist attack in Benghazi and the Justice Department's having monitored the phone record of AP journalists, the House GOP leadership said that they would emphasize transparency in the coming weeks, and hope to make it a central issue in the 2014 midterm elections.
"The public is beginning to raise questions in their mind as to is this government accountable? We are going to work here in the House to restore the trust in government," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Wash., added: "What the American people expect from their government is accountability."
The new line of attack comes amid a terrible, five-day stretch for the White House. Republican aides told NBC News that the trifecta of controversies had breathed new life into the GOP conference, which recently had been riven my internal disagreements, especially as most legislative action plays out in the Democratic-held Senate.
Democrats, of course, took issue with Republicans' efforts to seize the mantle of transparency.
"Members of both parties want to exercise the appropriate oversight role of Congress into these matters, but the idea that this Republican leadership has been interested in doing anything to the federal government other than destroying it, would be a thorough rewrite of the last two years," said Drew Hammil, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Republicans would have another opportunity to drive their new message on Wednesday afternoon, when Attorney General Eric Holder appears for a House committee for a general oversight hearing. There, he'll he’ll be peppered with questions about why the Justice Department went after reporter’s phone records. And next Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the political targeting by the IRS. Aides say also to expect more hearings related to Benghazi throughout the year.
For his part, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stressed the party would still push the economy as an issue but would also uphold their “responsibility under the Constitution to provide oversight over the Executive Branch."
House Speaker John Boehner comments on alleged scrutiny of conservative groups by the IRS.
The top elected Republican in Congress says he's looking for prison sentences for those associated with IRS efforts to single out conservative advocacy groups applying for tax-exempt status.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stoked conservative ire toward the Obama administration on Wednesday in the wake of an IRS inspector general report chastising agency employees for subjecting conservative and Tea Party groups to additional scrutiny.
"My question isn't about who's going to resign," Boehner said at a weekly press conference on Capitol Hill. "My question's about who's going to jail."
While the IRS report suggested that the employees' actions were not prompted by any outside influence, Republicans have nonetheless seized on the controversy, and openly suggested that the administration was deliberately targeting conservatives through the IRS.
"“Basically all we’ve gotten from the IRS, on the other hand, is an attempt to scapegoat some folks out in Cincinnati and a laughable attempt to move past this whole issue with a ridiculous op-ed claiming ‘mistakes were made,'" Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday morning on the Senate floor.
McConnell and the other 44 Senate Republicans all signed a letter to the administration demanding that IRS witnesses and materials be fully made available to congressional investigators.
"There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse," Boehner said. "Someone made a conscious decision to harass and hold up these requests for tax exempt status. We need to know who they are, and whether they violated the law. Clearly, somebody violated the law."
This story was originally published on Wed May 15, 2013 10:34 AM EDT
Controversies sidetrack the White House, Congress, and the press… The danger for the White House: This could imperil Obama’s second-term legislative agenda… But there’s also a danger in over-analyzing the past seven days… Krauthammer’s warning to Republicans… Obama, Treasury respond to IG report on IRS… On that Ben Rhodes email… Mark Sanford’s first day back on Hill… And Planned Parenthood hits Cuccinelli.
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pauses while speaking to reporters in the briefing room of the White House May 14, 2013.
*** Sidetracked: The Benghazi/IRS/AP stories over the past week have had this additional impact for the Obama White House: They’ve sidetracked the other issues that President Obama has wanted to discuss. (Frankly, they’ve also sidetracked us in media, too.) Last Thursday, Obama was in Austin, TX to talk about the economy; on Friday, he was selling implementation of his health-care law; on Monday night, the president traveled to fundraisers in New York, where expressed his desire to still work with Republicans (even as he raised money for Democrats for the ’14 midterms); and today at 11:00 am ET, he delivers remarks at a national peace officers memorial. Oh, there was another piece of news from yesterday the White House would have enjoyed to tout -- the budget deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is estimated to fall to its lowest level since 2008. But what are the stories still being discussed in Washington today? The IRS targeting conservative-sounding groups. The Justice Department getting the AP’s phone records in a national-security leak investigation. And the Obama administration revising those Benghazi talking points.
*** The danger for the White House: NBC’s Kasie Hunt also notes that the controversies have sidetracked Congress, too. For instance, a weeks-long markup of a major Senate immigration bill received little attention yesterday; Attorney General Eric Holder testifies at a 1:00 pm ET oversight hearing, which will likely focus on the department's seizure of AP phone records and other thorny issues. Moreover, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee (Orrin Hatch) wants the IRS investigation to take priority over dealing with tax reform. And get this: Fully a third of House committees are now focused on investigating the Obama administration. As NBC’s Mike O’Brien writes, all of this COULD imperil the Obama White House’s second-term legislative agenda. “The fact of the matter is House and Senate Republicans have done very little legislating so far this year. This certainly isn't going to help things,” Jim Manley, a former senior Democratic Senate aide, told O’Brien. “Now they're going to feast on investigation after investigation for the rest of the year, while throwing red meat to their base and forgetting about the divisions in their own caucus.”
*** A temporary distraction or a long-term one? So is this a temporary distraction or the beginning of the end of Obama’s second term? Remember the warning we issued months ago about second terms. Legislatively, in the best of times, they last about 18 months. The last four presidents to win second terms saw their ability to drive a legislative agenda get stopped in its tracks in 18 months or less. For Nixon, it was about six months before Washington gave up; Reagan got tax reform done and then Iran-Contra came; Clinton got a year until Monica broke in Jan. 98; and George W. Bush’s second term legislative push ended before Labor Day of that first year
*** Yet the danger in over-analyzing: Despite all the controversies facing the administration -- and how they have sidetracked its agenda -- there is a danger in over-analyzing what has occurred in the past week. After all, the White House has faced even more trying times over the past four and a half years (the U.S. economy in free-fall, the BP spill, the debt-ceiling debacle of 2011), and all of those stories now seem like distant memories. And while some are saying that Washington has turned on Obama, we have this question: When has Establishment Washington ever been a fan of how Team Obama has responded to crises and controversies? (The current issues, and the White House’s stubbornly passive way of handling them, are serving as an excuse for the president’s frenemies to pile on and re-air old grievances, like he’s terrible at personal outreach or he’s or why the person who promised to “turn the page” can’t change Washington.) Politico’s Jonathan Martin puts it well: Will all of these investigations and controversies result in a 2010 (when the public worried about the federal government’s excesses, albeit in a time of 9.0%-plus unemployment) or in a 1998 (when the GOP faced backlash for the Lewinsky investigation)? Right now, we don’t have an answer, but you can begin making a case that everything out there (talk of scandal and investigations, the Dow reaching new highs, the budget deficit declining) looks a whole lot like the 1990s.
*** Krauthammer’s warning to Republicans: Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer warns Republicans not to overplay their hand. “The one advice I give to Republicans is stop calling it a huge scandal. Stop saying it's a Watergate. Stop saying it's Iran Contra. Let the facts speak for themselves. Have a special committee, a select committee. The facts will speak for themselves. Pile them on but don't exaggerate, don't run ads about Hillary. It feed the narrative for the other side that it's only a political event. It's not. Just be quiet and present the facts.”
*** Obama, Treasury respond to IG report on IRS: On “TODAY” this morning, NBC’s Lisa Myers reported on inspector general’s report into the IRS, and the IG concluded that the agency was targeting conservative-sounding groups in their application for tax-exempt status, that the IRS unit responsible was a mess, and that some employees were actually ignorant about tax laws. But the IG also concluded that the targeting didn’t originate OUTSIDE the IRS. “We asked the Acting Commissioner, Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division; the Director, EO; and Determinations Unit personnel if the criteria were influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS. All of these officials stated that the criteria were not influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS,” the report said. President Obama released a statement after the report’s release: “[T]he report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable… I've directed Secretary Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General's recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again.” And Treasury Secretary Jack Lew responded with his own statement: “I strongly agree with the President about the need for accountability at the IRS, and I expect the IRS to implement the Inspector General's recommendations without delay.” That said, the IG report will do NOTHING to satisfy members of Congress who still have lots of questions.
*** On that Ben Rhodes email: Regarding those Benghazi talking points, First Read has now seen the email from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, and it appears to differ from the earlier portrayal that the Obama White House wanted the State Department’s concerns to be addressed. In fact, what Rhodes seemed to want is for all the information to be as accurate as possible. "There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don't compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression,” he said. But it’s important to note that this Rhodes email, via a government source, is a SELECTIVE leak -- just as the earlier portrayal of the email chain was a SELECTIVE leak. This only puts pressure on the White House to release ALL of these emails. You can’t start showing some of them without showing all of them.
*** Sanford’s first day back on Capitol Hill: In other news, “Rep.-elect Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) will be sworn in Wednesday as the new representative of South Carolina’s 1st district, his spokesman announced Tuesday,” the Washington Post writes. “In the House chamber, Sanford will be sworn in approximately 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, spokesman Joel Sawyer said. The Republican will rejoin Congress a week after he defeated Democratic nominee Elizabeth Colbert Busch by nine points, even as he was barraged by Democratic outside spending.”
*** Planned Parenthood hits Cuccinelli: In Virginia’s gubernatorial contest, Planned Parenthood Action Fund is launching a web advertisement hitting Ken Cuccinelli on social issues in advance of this weekend’s Virginia GOP convention in Richmond. “That Ken Cuccinelli -- he’s running for governor, and he keeps showing up where he doesn’t belong. He’s trying to put himself in the middle of our most personal decision,” the ad goes. He sponsored legislation to end funding for Planned Parenthood, and Ken Cuccinelli wants to make abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or when the health of the woman is in danger.” The web ad, which targets women voters, will run through this weekend.
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AP: “President Barack Obama seemed to lose control of his second-term agenda even before he was sworn in, when a school massacre led him to lift gun control to the fore. Now, as he tries to pivot from a stinging defeat on that issue and push forward on others, the president finds himself rocked by multiple controversies that are demoralizing his allies, emboldening his political foes and posing huge distractions for all.”
The Hill: “President Obama’s former press secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday criticized his former boss for what he called a late and ‘exceedingly passive’ response to the controversy surrounding the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of conservative groups.”
Gibbs said on MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports: “The problem is this - the tenor of this briefing would be different if the president had spoken about this on Saturday or Sunday and not on Monday. And if the president had spoken on Monday, less about losing patience on this, which is what I do with my 9-year-old, and used far more vivid language.”
To that point, Dana Milbank labels Obama the “uninterested president.”
USA Today reports that no Tea Party group was approved for 27 months, while dozens of progressive-leaning groups were approved.
It also writes: “An inspector general report into the Internal Revenue Service's heightened scrutiny of Tea Party groups blames ‘ineffective management’ at the agency, but does not address whether the policy was politically motivated.”
But it did say this: “We asked the Acting Commissioner, Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division; the Director, EO; and Determinations Unit personnel if the criteria were influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS. All of these officials stated that the criteria were not influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS. Instead, the Determinations Unit developed and implemented inappropriate criteria in part due to insufficient oversight provided by management. Specifically, only first-line management approved references to the Tea Party in the BOLO [‘be on the lookout’] listing criteria before it was implemented. As a result, inappropriate criteria remained in place for more than 18 months. Determinations Unit employees also did not consider the public perception of using politically sensitive criteria when identifying these cases. Lastly, the criteria developed showed a lack of knowledge in the Determinations Unit of what activities are allowed by I.R.C. § 501(c)(3) and I.R.C. § 501(c)(4) organizations.”
AP: “Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the Justice Department’s secret examination of Associated Press phone records though he declared he had played no role in it, saying it was justified as part of an investigation into a grave national security leak.”
USA Today: “Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Holder said he made the decision to recuse himself in the Justice Department's investigation involving a leak of classified information to the AP, because he was interviewed by the FBI in connection with the probe and had ‘frequent contact with the media.’”
National Journal explores the case for the Justice Department’s investigation.
AP: “The Justice Department is investigating the Internal Revenue Service for targeting tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday, widening a probe that includes investigations by three committees in Congress.”
“President Obama is looking (hoping) to get things back to normal,” USA Today writes. “With his administration buffeted by allegations over the IRS, Benghazi, and the seizure of journalists' phone records, Obama on Wednesday performs a more traditional presidential duty: Speaking to police officers. Obama delivers remarks at the annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service, which the White House describes as ‘an annual ceremony honoring law enforcement who were killed in the line of duty in the previous year.’”
USA Today: “The Pentagon announced Tuesday that most of its civilian workforce will be required to take 11 unpaid leave days this year as part of an effort to save money in the face of mandatory budget cuts.”
Charles Krauthammer warns Republicans not to overplay their hand and “exaggerate.” Don’t compare it to Nixon and other scandals. Let the facts speak for themselves, he said.
A series of recent controversies have forced the Obama administration onto the defensive, emboldening Republicans in Congress and threatening to stymie the president’s already-struggling second-term agenda.
Republicans have already slowed or stopped several of President Barack Obama’s top priorities, including his gun-control proposal, tax plan and a slew of nominations. And this trio of new flaps threatens to further embolden conservatives in Congress, who have at times suffered struggled to unite due to infighting.
NBC's Andrea Mitchell talks to a political panel about how Congress should respond to the IRS and AP investigations.
Revelations that the Justice Department seized phone records from journalists at The Associated Press as part of an investigation into classified leaks has only added to headaches for the White House. Fresh questions about the administration’s handling of last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi and reports that the IRS had singled out conservative groups for scrutiny have further galvanized Republican critics to dig in against the president.
“The fact of the matter is House and Senate Republicans have done very little legislating so far this year. This certainly isn't going to help things,” said Jim Manley, a former senior Democratic Senate aide. “Now they're going to feast on investigation after investigation for the rest of the year, while throwing red meat to their base and forgetting about the divisions in their own caucus.”
Indeed, Republicans have quickly rallied around this trio of controversies – particularly the IRS story, and the continued probe into Benghazi.
“If I were in the opposing party, and the White House were having this kind of week, I’d be smiling,” said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist.
Republicans have thwarted many elements of the president’s second-term agenda over the past few months, showing little or no interest in the kind of compromise Obama hoped might come from his and Democrats’ decisive electoral victories last fall.
"My thinking was when we beat them in 2012 that might break the fever, and it’s not quite broken yet," Obama said Monday at a fundraiser, alluding to that phenomenon. "But I am persistent. And I am staying at it."
But the continued probe into Benghazi and the IRS controversy seems to have renewed Republicans’ focus, making the opposition party as energized and focused as ever in pursuing these issues to their bitter end, so as to hasten the onset of Obama’s “lame duck” status.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
President Barack Obama walks off stage after speaking at a Democratic fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, Monday, May 13, 2013.
But not all of the administration’s allies are panicking.
“I just think that it’s panicking too quickly. Come back in a month and if nothing has changed, then that’s going to be a very bad sign,” said Michael Podhorzer, political director for the AFL-CIO. “It’s been a tough week for the administration, but things go up and down. We’ll just have to see how things go.”
In fact, one of the administration’s biggest priorities – comprehensive immigration reform – continues to steadily make its way through Congress, with the aid of Republicans. That legislation alone would be as much of a signature second-term achievement for the president as anything else on his agenda.
At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney disputed a reporter’s question about whether recent controversies threatened to knock Obama’s agenda off-course.
“The president is focused on what he believes the American people expect from him and their elected leaders in Washington,” he said.
And Democrats have begun to punch back.
“It wasn't long ago that the IRS inappropriately targeted the NAACP, Greenpeace and a California church that was really progressive,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Tuesday. “It was interesting at that time, we didn't hear a single Republican grandstand the issue then. Where was their outrage when groups on the other side of the political spectrum were under attack?”
Simmons counseled the administration to focus on notching small victories on other issues in order to turn the political tide back toward Obama – including by fully going after IRS wrongdoing once the facts in that case are clear.
“There are always announcements to make from government initiatives, people to invite from the White House, executive orders to issue,” he said. “The power of the presidency is the ability to move things forward.”
And progressive supporters of the administration are also on the lookout for any indication that Republicans, in their zeal to ding the administration in any of these recent controversies, overreach in their efforts.
"If the last six years have taught us not much, it’s that Republicans are willing to drive over the cliff, and in a way that’s unprecedented,” Podhorzer said. “I’m not saying anything Earth-shattering to say that Republicans are in their partisan bunker, and they’re looking for any reason to go after the administration. This is a party that was pushing birther arguments six months ago.”
This story was originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 9:07 PM EDT
The IRS acted in an "intolerable and inexcusable" manner in singling out conservative advocacy groups for extra scrutiny, President Barack Obama said Tuesday evening in a statement about the emerging controversy.
Amid an uproar in Washington over revelations that IRS agents targeted conservative and Tea Party groups as part of their oversight of a new crop of political groups established as tax-exempt groups in recent years, the president roundly criticized IRS employees to subjected those groups to additional scrutiny.
"[T]he report’s findings are intolerable and inexcusable," Obama said in a statement. "The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test."
The president had criticized the report during a press conference on Monday, before the publication this evening of an inspector general's report detailing the additional scrutiny of conservative groups. The report pointed to incompetence and poor management for the persistent scrutiny of conservative groups. The IRS also argued that the behavior was relatively isolated, and did not come at the direction of any outside official.
Nonetheless, the IRS controversy has prompted a major uproar among conservatives in Washington, who have openly suggested the Obama administration had deliberately targeted political enemies. Some Republicans have likened Obama to President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.
The controversy comes at an inopportune time, too, for the White House, which has struggled at times to address other imbroglios regarding its response to the terrorist attack last year in Benghazi, Libya, as well as new reports that the Department of Justice surreptitiously monitored the phone records of Associated Press journalists.
Of the IRS uproar, Obama said he had directed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to "hold those responsible for these failures accountable," and implement the recommendations of the inspector general report.
"[R]egardless of how this conduct was allowed to take place, the bottom line is, it was wrong," Obama said. "I expect everyone who serves in the federal government to hold themselves to the highest ethical and moral standards. So do the American people. And as president, I intend to make sure our public servants live up to those standards every day."
Three congressional committees have planned hearing into what interaction, if any, the IRS had with Treasury officials or the White House. Beginning in 2010, the IRS singled out conservative groups that were applying for tax exempt status according to a Treasury Department Inspector General report. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.
Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters Tuesday that he recused himself last year from any involvement in an investigation of national security leaks.
Holder also announced Tuesday that he has ordered an investigation to see if there were criminal violations in the Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of conservative political groups that had sought non-profit status.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who approved getting the AP's phone records to track down the person that leaked classified information, said it was a last-resort effort after having conducted hundreds of interviews. NBC's Pete Williams reports
On the leaks case, Holder – who is slated to testify before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon -- reminded reporters that he testified to a congressional committee last year that he had recused himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The Associated Press reported Monday that phone records of its reporters and editors had been subpoenaed and seized in that probe.
Holder said decisions in that investigation were being made by Deputy Attorney General James Cole and “the deputy attorney general would have been the one who ultimately had to authorize the subpoena that went to the AP.”
He added that since he was recused from the investigation, “I’m not familiar with all that went into the formulation of the subpoena.”
He also said he could not explain why voluntary cooperation wasn’t sought from the Associated Press before the subpoena was executed.
US Attorney General Eric Holder says he's asked the FBI to investigate the "outrageous and unacceptable" behavior at the IRS, and to see if any criminal actions were taken by the agency.
“I am confident that the people who are involved in this investigation, who I know for a great many years and who I’ve worked with for a great many years, followed all of the appropriate Justice Department regulations and did things according to DOJ rules,” Holder said.
He added that it “certainly not the policy of this administration” to target reporters. What has been done in the leaks investigation was, he said, “not as a result of a policy to get the press.”
Referring to the leaks of national security information, Holder said, “This was a very, very serious leak. I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976 – and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, in the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk – and that is not hyperbole.”
Trying to find out who leaked the information “required very aggressive action,” Holder said.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D- Nev., on Tuesday joined other congressional critics of the Justice Department’s search of SAP’ phone records telling reporters “I have trouble defending what the DOJ did. It’s inexcusable. There is no way to justify this.”
In a letter to Holder on Monday, Associated Press President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said, "There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.” Pruitt complained that the records could “disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know."
In a response, Cole wrote to Pruitt Tuesday that seeking phone records from media organizations “is undertaken only after all other reasonable alternative investigative steps have been taken.” He said that the Justice Department sought the AP phone records only after a comprehensive investigation which included conducting over 550 interviews and reviewing of tens of thousands of documents.
This story was originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 7:57 PM EDT
NBC News, via a government source, has obtained an email Obama administration officials believe contradicts last week's reporting that Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that the State Department's "concerns needed to be addressed" in the drafting of the talking points about the Sept. 2012 attack in Benghazi.
In the actual email -- dated Sept. 14, 2012 and with the subject "Re: Revised HPSCI Talking Points for Review" -- Rhodes writes:
"Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects equities, particularly the investigation.
"There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don't compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
"We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies."
CNN was first to report on the actual language from Rhodes' email.
And the email contradicts this reporting on Friday from ABC News, which wrote:
"In an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. - three days after the attack and two days before Ambassador Rice appeared on the Sunday shows - Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email saying the State Department's concerns needed to be addressed.
"We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don't want to undermine the FBI investigation. "We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting."
Then there were three controversies for the Obama administration… The latest: AP says Justice Department secretly obtained two months of phone records in possible leak case… Latest developments with the IRS story… Why did the IRS focus on the small fish -- but not the big ones?... Obama outraged by IRS story, as well as Benghazi “sideshow”… Some perspective, per Charlie Cook: Much of the outrage right now is selective outrage… Dems put changing the filibuster back on the table?... Rubio PAC airs TV ad defending Ayotte … And Christie goes negative.
Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks at a Democratic fundraiser in New York City, May 13, 2013.
*** Then there were three: Finding itself already under siege on two different fronts -- the Benghazi and IRS stories -- the Obama administration now encounters a third controversy, and this one features one of the most influential news organizations in the world. The Associated Press revealed yesterday afternoon that the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records” of AP reporters and editors “in what the news cooperative's top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.” Per NBC’s Michael Isikoff, DOJ confirmed that it obtained these phone records without notifying the news organization, saying the step was needed to avoid "a substantial threat to the integrity" of an ongoing leak investigation. When it rains, it pours, as the conservative Drudge Report gleefully notes. While this Justice Department move is sweeping, chilling for journalists (why didn’t DOJ attempt to negotiate?), and an apparent attempt to intimidate future leakers, let’s don’t forget that Congress asked the Obama administration to investigate all the national-security leaks. “Republicans accused the administration of deliberately leaking classified information, jeopardizing national security in an effort to make Mr. Obama look tough in an election year — a charge the White House rejected. But some Democrats, too, said the leaking of sensitive information had gotten out of control,” the New York Times says.
*** Three makes it harder: While the president’s defiant tone on Benghazi probably would have been enough to quell things under normal circumstances, the times aren’t normal right now. The rule of three (toss in IRS and AP) means the president’s credibility is truly on the line right now with the public. No amount of denial or outrage will be as persuasive to the public right now and the president’s political foes know it. And that’s why you saw some senators yesterday going even further, hitting the White House on the implementation of health care or Mitch McConnell who attempted to use the IRS news to connect the dots and claim a concerted effort was taking place all over the government to target conservatives or limit freedoms. Many of these charges are baseless but the environment right now for the White House is a mess and they are in a position where it’ll be a lot easier for issues to stick to them. The Teflon is wearing off.
President Barack Obama made no explicit mention of the three major controversies surrounding his administration when meeting with supporters on Monday night. Instead, he expressed his frustration that his legislative agenda is stuck in neutral. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports and NBC's Pete Williams joins the conversation.
*** Latest developments with the IRS story: The IRS controversy is only growing as more organizations come forward about exactly how the IRS went about investigating conservative groups. The Washington Post: “Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status… IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations.” (However, it’s unclear in the story if these Washington employees were only targeting conservative groups or if they were scrutinizing a wider scope of groups applying for tax-exempt status.) What’s more, Politico notes That the IRS’s acting commissioner “first learned about the agency’s targeting of conservative political groups more than a year ago, the agency revealed Monday.” As for the White House, the president claimed he only heard about the IRS story when it went public on Friday. Jay Carney later said, the White House Counsel’s office was made aware of the IG investigation in late April but that the president was NOT informed at the time and that the Counsel’s office wasn’t told many specifics about the report.
*** Focusing on the small fish -- but not the big ones: Also regarding the IRS story, the New York Times’ Confessore makes a great point: While the IRS scrutinized relatively small conservative-sounding groups in their application for tax-exempt 501c4 status, the agency has hardly lifted a finger when it comes to the bigger political players. “The I.R.S. has done little to regulate a flood of political spending by larger groups — like Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, co-founded by Mr. Rove, and Priorities USA, with close ties to President Obama… ‘We’ve complained about a few big fish and we’ve heard nothing from the I.R.S.,’ said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, which filed many of the complaints with the agency. ‘We would far rather see scrutiny of these big fish — the groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections — than to see the resources spent on hundreds of small groups that appeared to spend very little on elections.’” One of the unintended consequences of this IRS story: It probably will set back any effort to close the loopholes that allow overtly political organizations to obtain tax-exempt status and to shield their donors.
*** Obama outraged by IRS actions and Benghazi “sideshow”: In his news conference with British Prime Minister Cameron yesterday, President Obama called the IRS story “outrageous,” saying: “If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable.” But in the outrage department, the president got a lot more animated when the topic turned to Benghazi, making it clear he believes it’s nothing more than a partisan sideshow. “The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow. What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were. It happened at the same time as we had seen attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo as a consequence of this film. And nobody understood exactly what was taking place during the course of those first few days.”
*** Dems put changing the filibuster back on the table? Largely lost by all the Benghazi/IRS/AP coverage has been this fact: Senate Republicans have used procedural tactics to so far block many of Obama’s nominees, including his picks to head the Labor Department and EPA. That has spurred Democrats and their allies to reconsider ways to change the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, which has been used for even the most routine of measures. The Hill: “Senate Democrats frustrated with the GOP’s blocking of a string of President Obama’s nominees are seriously weighing a controversial tactic known as the ‘nuclear option.’ The option — which would involve Democrats changing Senate rules through a majority vote to prevent the GOP from using the 60-vote filibuster to block nominations — was raised during a private meeting Wednesday involving about 25 Democratic senators and a group of labor leaders.” Remember, it was that same “nuclear” option threat that spurred Senate Democrats and Republicans to reach the “Gang of 14” compromise to approve some of George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
*** It’s the eye of the beholder: That said, political analyst Charlie Cook provides an important historical perspective: Right now, much of the controversy the White House is facing is selective outrage. “Whether the White House is in Democratic or Republican hands, we have to put up with a degree of selective outrage from one side and the turning of a blind eye from the other,” Cook writes. “Democrats who were quick to pounce on any possible transgression during George W. Bush’s presidency are noticeably quiet these days. At the same time, one wonders whether the same Republicans who are frothing over Benghazi would have been quite as vigilant had they been in Congress after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, which killed 220 U.S. Marines, 18 sailors, and three Army soldiers.” And that selective outrage makes many of the “Nixon” comparisons seem VERY premature right now. Regarding Nixon, Watergate, and that administration’s cover-ups, the condemnation -- of activity that went straight to the top -- was bipartisan.
*** Rubio PAC airs TV ad defending Ayotte: We’ve been covering politics for a while, but we don’t think we’ve ever seen this -- a possible presidential candidate’s PAC airing a TV ad to help a COLLEAGUE who represents an early-nominating state. “Sen. Marco Rubio's political action committee is going up with a TV ad defending New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte's votes on gun control. ‘Safety, security, family - no one understands these things like a mom, and no one works harder for them than this one,’ the ad says, showing a photo of Ayotte. ‘A former prosecutor, Kelly Ayotte knows how to reduce gun violence.’”
*** Christie goes negative: And it’s rare you see this, too: A political candidate who’s leading his opponent by 30-plus points is going negative. But that’s exactly what New Jersey Chris Christie is doing with this new TV ad. As Politico writes, “Sky-high approval ratings be damned — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is going on air next week with an ad that paints his Democratic rival Barbara Buono as a tax-hiker who is yoked to unpopular former governor Jon Corzine, POLITICO has learned.The spot, which begins running Monday, is part of an $800,000 ad buy over the course of roughly a week.” Per last week’s NBC/Marist poll, Christie was leading Barbara Buono 60%-28% among registered voters.
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