The Obama Scandals: Nixon Redux?

President Barack Obama (D) came into office in 2008 with a strong mandate for sweeping away the perceived corruption and cronyism in our federal government. Among his many campaign promises was a claim that, “No political appointees in an Obama administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years.” But there were signs from the beginning, if you were looking for them, that the Obama administration was no less corrupt than any other.

Obama appointed a Treasury Department Chief of Staff who had been a Goldman Sachs lobbyist a short nine months earlier and an IRS Secretary who had been chief executive at H&R Block only thirteen months earlier. He kept many leftover cronies from President George W. Bush’s (R) administration in high economic positions, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (previously New York Federal Reserve president) and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke (first appointed by Bush, then re-appointed by Obama). In fact, nearly his whole administration was made up of political cronies from the Bush and Bill Clinton (D) administrations, with a few Chicago cronies thrown-in from Obama’s days in the Illinois state house.

So it should be no surprise that the ‘new day in Washington’ is beginning to look like a stale re-hash of an old day in Washington. Scandals are coming to the fore. Corruption and abuses are becoming so evident that even the lapdog media outlets are starting to awaken. Each day, President Obama reminds us more and more of President Richard Nixon (R)—using the machinery of the bureaucracy for narrow, self-serving purposes, targeting his political enemies, attempting to cover-up every error (real or imagined), and lying, lying, lying.

Think I’m over-stating things? Let’s review. . . .

‘Fast and Furious’ Perjury

Most of Obama’s first term was relatively scandal-free. The closest thing we had was the ‘Fast and Furious’ gun-running debacle, which revolved around an ill-advised Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) program that gave guns to Mexican drug-lords in hopes of catching them and their suppliers. Once the Mexican drug-lords had the guns, they predictably used them to kill people—including U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Good going, BATFE.

There is little evidence that Obama or his high-ranking administration officials had anything to do with this program, which in-fact began during the Bush administration and was happening far down the chain of command. But there is plenty of evidence that the Obama administration engaged in a concerted effort to stymie Congressional investigations of the scandal.

The White House claimed executive privilege and refused to hand over related documents (so much for transparency), and Attorney General Eric Holder (D) perjured himself before congressional investigators when they asked about what he knew and when. He even falsely accused former Attorney General Michael Mukasey (R) of having been briefed on the program, a sad variant of the ‘blame Bush’ meme that became a rhetorical staple of Obama administration’s first term.

As a result of all this, Holder became the first sitting cabinet-level officer to be found in contempt of Congress. The House of Representatives voted 255-67 in favor of a contempt resolution last June, but Holder, inexplicably, has not been fired and has not resigned. He still commands the Department of Justice, which is now charged with investigating many of the White House’s other scandals . . . because if you really want to get to the bottom of a political scandal, you should totally trust the guy who lied about the last one.

Benghazi Terror Attack

We got another whiff of scandal just before the 2012 election after terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other officials. The Obama administration falsely blamed the attacks on a spontaneous protest against an online film called Innocence of Muslims, although they knew from the beginning that it was, in-fact, a planned terrorist attack unrelated to the film or to the protests going on in Egypt and elsewhere.

Lying to the public, as Ambassador Susan Rice and other administration officials did in the aftermath of Benghazi, is not a crime . . . although it is politically damaging and morally repugnant. It does, however, lead us to investigate why the administration lied and, in the process, discover much more troubling information.

Stevens and other U.S. officials in Libya had been practically begging the State Department and the White House for additional security at the Benghazi consulate, and those requests had been falling on deaf ears. Worse, once the terrorist attack began, the White House failed to properly deploy military assets to protect the ambassador and our other officials. Libyan civilians found Stevens more than three hours after the attack, and spent another hour trying to save his life, before any American rescue effort had even begun to organize.

The cover story, that this was just some spontaneous protest that got out of hand, helped the administration gloss-over a pattern of dereliction of duty in the State Department hierarchy that seemingly went all the way up to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) and even President Obama himself.

If the truth had come out, the administration would have had to answer hard questions about why the consulate was undefended, and why it took so long to mount a rescue . . . and who wants to deal with those kinds of thorny issues a few weeks before standing for reelection? It was much easier to fudge the story. ‘Oh, how on earth could we have been prepared ahead of time for a spontaneous protest?’ ‘How could we have known we needed to mount an airlift rescue for a bunch of Libyan teenagers complaining about a YouTube movie?’ ‘As soon as it turned serious, we did what we could, but it was too late.’ That’s the ticket!

When the cover story fell apart, the administration (and some willing media sycophants) fell back on claims of ignorance—fog of war, and all that—and denied that there had ever been a cover story at all. We’re supposed to believe that everybody was just a little confused about the facts . . . for weeks . . . and weeks . . . and weeks.

IRS Political Targeting

You might chalk-up the ‘Fast and Furious’ scandal as a carry-over from the Bush administration and the Benghazi mess to innocent errors in judgement, but Obama’s second-term scandals are shaping up to be much more indefensible and much more reminiscent of the Nixon-era political scandals.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from interfering with citizens’ individual and collective rights to free speech—rights that were improperly limited for some time, but then restored by the Supreme Court in 2010. Separately, federal tax law exempts non-profit ‘social welfare’ organizations from taxation under U.S.C. § 501(c)(4), but still allows them to engage in lobbying and political campaigning as long as it is not the organization’s primary activity (vaguely defined).

Unscrupulous federal officials have long used the threat of withholding tax exemptions as a method of discouraging the exercise of free speech rights. This has been most evident with regard to religious organizations, which must tread very carefully around political issues or risk incurring penalties. This kind of pressure, which imposes a ‘chilling effect’ on exactly the kind of political speech that the First Amendment was intended to protect, is undoubtedly unconstitutional . . . but the courts have let it stand anyway. In fact, they have even let it stand in the case of religious groups, which should have protection under both the free speech and free exercise clauses.

On May 10, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) admitted that it had been improperly targeting conservative 501(c)(4) organizations for tax exemption abuse. Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner publicly acknowledged that the targeting had been happening and apologized for it, placing the blame on low-level officials at an IRS office in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The administration has claimed that this was an isolated incident at one office, but it is worth noting that every single tax-exempt organization in the United States has to apply through that one office, and it now seems that as many as eighty-eight employees might have been involved. So it’s an ‘isolated incident’ in the sense that it was a systemic problem that potentially affected every single non-profit organization in America. Obama has condemned the targeting in strong terms, and rightfully so, but it is incredibly hard to believe that he didn’t know it was happening.

Why? Because it’s old news. Conservative organizations, including countless ‘Tea Party’ groups that sprang-up in 2009 and 2010, have long complained of extreme waits and extra scrutiny while their left-wing brethren breezed through the process.

Drew Ryun, founder of a conservative organization called Media Trackers, filed an application for his group and another for a fictional group with a ‘liberal-sounding’ name, Greenhouse Solutions. Greenhouse Solutions—which doesn’t even exist—was approved in three weeks. Media Trackers, on the other hand, languished in an IRS queue for more than sixteen months without a response. Another conservative group, True the Vote, had to wait three years for their approval. The Coalition for Life of Iowa, a pro-life organization, was asked by the IRS to provide information on “the percentage of time your group spends on prayer groups as compared with other activities”—information that is, to put it bluntly, none of the IRS’s damned business.

Of course Obama and his high-ranking officials knew this was going on. It was common knowledge in the conservative ‘blogosphere,’ and I have to believe that somebody in the White House is charged with monitoring political blogs (of all persuasions), watching for stories that might become politically damaging, and raising them to the president’s attention for preemptive action. Obama’s failure to put a stop to IRS abuse tells us that the White House is either directly responsible for it, or, at the very least, that they lent it their tacit approval. The only other plausible explanation is that the White House is completely, utterly, irrecoverably inept . . . which isn’t much better.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration office quietly investigated these blatantly unconstitutional actions starting last year, but did not provide the proper notification to Congress (which was required within seven days but didn’t actually happen for many months). Lerner, for her part, also chose not to inform Congress during testimony, but made her apology in response to a planted question two days later at a private American Bar Association conference. When she was brought before a House committee again, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify.

The Department of Justice is now performing its own investigation . . . under the authority of ‘Fast and Furious’ perjurer Eric Holder (see above). Perfect.

Justice Department Media Harassment

The IRS targeting should not have surprised anybody, given this administration’s consistent pattern of disdain for basic civil liberties, but it was a pleasant surprise to see it on the front page of the Washington Post and other main-stream media outlets after they largely ignored or mis-reported the previous scandals.

It is no secret that most journalists in the United States fall somewhere toward the left-edge of the political spectrum, so they tend to be more friendly to Democratic Party presidents. The media finally started to awaken a bit when the IRS story hit; perhaps they smelled blood in the water, or perhaps they realized that politically-motivated IRS activity was a dangerous precedent that might affect their own pet causes the next time we have a Republican in the White House. Either way, I count it as progress.

But when the Associated Press (AP) scandal hit, all bets were off. The Department of Justice—under the aforementioned perjurer Holder—unconstitutionally seized two months of the AP’s phone records without any warrant, subpoena, or notification. The Justice Department now claims that it was performing an investigation into national security leaks, but they did not limit the scope of the record seizure, which suggests it was actually a broader ‘fishing expedition.’ Say what you will about the press’s average bias to the left; they are, above-all, self-interested. Their tendency to protect a Democratic president doesn’t stand when that president starts to attack the freedom of the press.

Not content to do anything half-way, the Justice Department also obtained a warrant to read Fox News Channel reporter James Rosen’s emails, monitor his movements, and trace the timing of his phone calls . . . all by labeling Rosen a ‘co-conspirator’ in the leak of some State Department information relating to North Korea. Rosen clearly committed no crime except exercising his First Amendment rights. Apparently, simple reporting now makes you a conspirator. As Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post commented (on Twitter) soon after the story broke, “The alternative to ‘conspiring’ with leakers to get information: Just writing what the government tells you.”

The good news is that, from now on, I wouldn’t bet on the media giving Obama a pass on anything. All the scandals that got short-shrift will start getting renewed attention. Any scandals that have been hushed-up by a pliant press will be brought to the fore. Any new abuses of power will get the attention they deserve. Good. It’s a shame that it took an unprecedented violation of the press’s First Amendment rights to make them start acting like the press again, but I’ll take it.

As for the media scandal itself, well, we can rest-assured that Eric Holder is on this case too . . . feeling a “creeping sense of personal remorse.” Surely he won’t lie about this scandal, right? After all, he feels really, really bad about it.


President Obama has done a good job of insulating himself and maintaining ‘plausible deniability.’ ‘Fast and Furious’ happened far down the bureaucracy in some anonymous BATFE office. Before stepping down on her own, former Secretary of State Clinton took full responsibility for the Benghazi mess. The IRS targeting scandal can be blamed on some unnamed, misguided souls at an office in Cincinnati. The media harassment scandals all happened somewhere in the Department of Justice, and even Attorney General Holder—despite his ‘remorse’—can deny that he had anything to do with it personally.

But the buck doesn’t stop in some BATFE office, the State Department, Cincinnati, or the DOJ. The buck stops at the White House, on a desk belonging to President Obama. He is responsible for his own presidential administration. He can’t control everything, but he can set the tone, and he can make corrective actions. But the tone he sets is one of vindictive intransigence, just like the vindictive intransigence he has exhibited against his political opposition in the Congress, and he has refrained from any serious corrective action. He didn’t fire Clinton after Benghazi; he didn’t fire Holder after ‘Fast and Furious’ or the media harassment; he has been tepid at-best in his response to the IRS scandal. The message he sends is that he either orchestrated these scandals himself, he doesn’t care very much about them, or he’s hopelessly blind to how serious they are.

So is the president a criminal, or is he inept? Or both?

In 1974, articles of impeachment against President Nixon were adopted by the House Judiciary Committee. Nixon resigned before those articles could be considered by the full House of Representatives, but it is worth taking a look back at some excerpts that come from articles two and three . . . and reflect on how depressingly familiar they seem today:

He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavored . . . to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.

— Article 2, Item 1 (excerpt)

He misused the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, and other executive personnel, in violation or disregard of the constitutional rights of citizens, by directing or authorizing such agencies or personnel to conduct or continue electronic surveillance or other investigations for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office. . . .

— Article 2, Item 2 (excerpt)

He has failed to take care that the laws were faithfully executed by failing to act when he knew or had reason to know that his close subordinates endeavored to impede and frustrate lawful inquiries by duly constituted executive, judicial, and legislative entities. . . .

— Article 2, Item 4 (excerpt)

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States . . . , contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives. . . .

In all of this, [he] has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as president and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore, [he], by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

— Article 3 (excerpt)

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.