Bob Franken


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“I have done nothing wrong,” she insisted. “I have not broken any laws. I have not broken any IRS rules or regulations … and I have not provided any false information to this or any other committee.” With that, Lois Lerner took the Fifth and refused to answer any questions about her role in the Internal Revenue Service targeting of tea-party groups. If that seemed incongruous, it was, after all, in Congress, before a committee led by snarling Republicans. Is it any wonder she’s now been booted from her job heading the IRS unit that oversees tax exemptions? It’s at the center of a storm, not just because of its hostile actions against conservative groups, but also the tacky way she and her bosses decided to finally go public.
After denying, literally for years, that there was any singling out of right-wing organizations, they came up with a cheesy way to stage their confession. They planted a question with someone in the audience when Lerner appeared before an obscure meeting with tax lawyers. It was on a Friday, no less, which public-affairs geniuses like to think is a news graveyard. They were obviously hoping her revelation wouldn’t create much of a ripple.
Of course, it immediately caused a tidal wave of controversy. Republicans are hoping it will help drown the Obama presidency. His higher-ups seem to be intent on helping them. They grudgingly dribble out the names of those at the top levels who knew about this ahead of time, while insisting they kept POTUS out of the loop. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough was part of the in-crowd, but apparently Barack Obama wasn’t, and should be mighty unhappy about getting so blindsided. Even press secretary Jay Carney said there could be some “legitimate criticisms” after his boss had to tell the world that the first he heard of this outrage was from “news reports,” feeding an already-troublesome story line that he’s not really on top of things.

The president is also disclaiming any knowledge of the heavy-handed attacks on journalists inflicted by his Justice Department. First up, we have the sneaky inspection of Associated Press phone records, and now there’s the even more egregious intrusion into the activities of Fox News chief Washington correspondent James Rosen, who was chasing down a story on North Korea and using a confidential government source. While the feds were trying to build a case against the alleged informant, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, Attorney General Eric Holder himself approved seeking a judge’s permission to pry into Rosen’s emails, relying on an affidavit citing “probable cause” to believe Rosen was “an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator.” In other words, they were suggesting that routine reporting should be criminalized.
It’s entirely plausible that POTUS didn’t know about this case either, but he certainly has created an atmosphere for such aggressive tactics with his unprecedented crackdown on leaks. After a huge uproar, the president is calling on the Justice Department to lighten up.
Similarly, the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead were not only tragic, but have been ignited into partisan flames by a bumbling attempt by leaders from various agencies trying to smooth over the controversy and instead are tripping over one another. Human tragedy has been turned into political farce. Again, it raises embarrassing questions about the competence of those who hold power. Of course, the Republicans haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory, either. One would think that as transparent as they’ve been with their relentless efforts to undermine nearly every initiative and all the disgust that has caused, the Obama team should have a cakewalk. Instead, they get nothing but pies in the face. Thrown by themselves. When called to testify, they should refuse to answer because they’ll simply look foolish.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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