Obama’s legacy: Obfuscator-in-Chief
President Obama is said to be struggling to establish a legacy – reasons to remember his presidency beyond the fact that he was the first African-American to hold the office.
His efforts have only become more difficult in recent months. His signature healthcare initiative is but a likely Supreme Court loss away from elimination, and a 2016 victory by a Republican likely could spell the end of his misguided financial reform legislation as well. His second midterm shellacking in 2014 means there will be no coattails, no legislative program that survives his term.
Utterly unable to convince Congress to go along with his programs, he is attempting to build the legacy with administrative actions on immigration, the environment and elsewhere. But these also are unpopular, perhaps even illegal and quickly undone by a Republican president.
But there is one area in which this president has excelled, and sadly, future presidents likely will study his work and emulate it. That area is scandal management.
His approach is raw and brutal, but effective. Subpoenas are for suckers, court orders for losers. Ignore the question, tell a little lie. Don’t be afraid to deny or defy. Ignore. Obfuscate. Give up nothing. Then, when the investigations continue to flail, label them as partisan witch hunts and count on your friends in the media to amplify the message.
From the early days of Fast and Furious through last week, his administration has remained largely untouched—though hardly untainted—by scandals far and wide. There is Benghazi, the IRS, the EPA email scandal, monitoring of reporters’ communications, and Operation Choke Point.
There are many more as well. But what they all have in common is we have not come close to getting to the bottom of them and are not likely to before President Obama leaves office.
The reason in virtually every case is an iron fist policy in which the “most transparent administration in history” refuses to provide information, thumbs its nose at court orders, and ignores the powers of its supposedly co-equal branches of government.
Consider just two of the scandals. In 2012, a court ordered then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to turn over 12,000 emails that had gone to her through an email account that had been set up for a fictitious employee named Richard Windsor, frustrating efforts to obtain her correspondence, e.g., via FOIA.
Jackson announced her resignation once that order was handed down, to take effect the week her emails began to be made public. When the first of what were to be four tranches of emails were turned over moments before the court-ordered deadline, it contained about a third fewer emails than the court ordered be released, and even those largely consisted of pages upon pages of news clippings of stories written about the agency.
Other than that, at least 80 percent of the material was redacted.
FOIA allows for redaction only of specific information, the most abused of the nine exemptions being for pre-decisional communications—essentially bureaucrat/client privilege. And these withholdings were at least typically abusive of that exemption.
In one email, Jackson’s press officer tells her she has an interview with a reporter and provides a list of questions she should expect. The questions are redacted, and the exception cited is because they were pre-decisional.
Interestingly, in one email that did slip through the censors, Jackson asked an aide what was EPA’s position on this fracking thing that everyone’s talking about.
In all, the EPA would turn over fewer than 9,000 of the 12,000 documents, and the court, faced with sorting through massive withholdings of records in full or part, concluded the huge amount of blacked out material could remain secret.
Jackson’s successor, Gina McCarthy, appeared to learn from this and began communicating through text messages, seemingly comfortable in the knowledge they would be impossible to discover. And when she was ordered to produce them, she claimed, like the IRS regarding Lois Lerner’s emails, the correspondence had all disappeared.
The distinction was McCarthy, through counsel, said she had indeed deleted them all but that was because they were all “personal.” Every single one of 5,932 texts on her EPA phone over three years was, according to her attorney, “personal.”
As the threat of punishment for destroying what are presumably federal records appears possible, the question is whether the texts will, like Lerner’s emails, be mysteriously discovered. That issue remains pending before a federal court in Washington.
Those trying to get at the truth behind Lerner and the IRS targeting of conservative and pro-Israel groups can identify. So can Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Gowdy is chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The committee’s third hearing, held this week, erupted into a partisan shouting match when Gowdy, a former prosecutor who seems dedicated to fairness, finally blew his top about White House obfuscation.
A State Department bureaucrat called to explain the agency’s delays in turning over documents and making witnesses available said it would be easier if Gowdy would let them know the direction he wants to take the investigation. He said he can’t determine this until the State Department turns over the information.
Kathleen Sebelius was gone from Health and Human Services before anyone got to the bottom of why she was strong-arming companies that do business with the government for “contributions” for the Obamacare website. Attorney General Eric Holder will be long gone before anyone gets to the bottom of Fast and Furious.
Gina McCarthy is never going to turn over those text messages or the results of the studies that underpin most of our Clean Air Act regulations—even though she solemnly vowed to do so during her confirmation hearing.
And nobody will ever get a decent explanation of what made the government think it could tap James Rosen’s phone or monitor Sharyl Attkisson’s computer.
Courts won’t enforce their own orders. Congress won’t enforce its legitimate and legally binding information requests.
In other words, it’s working. President Obama has not figured out how to lead the country to prosperity, but he and his minions have figured out how to get away with virtually anything.