Democrats Dreading Midterms As Another Potential Scandal Hits State Department
It wasn’t too long ago that the biggest “scandals” that surrounded the Obama administration involved the validity of the president’s birth certificate, his religion of choice, or whether the first lady — because of her “secret” handshake — was a supporter of terrorism.
In recent months, however, a quick-fire series of legitimate scandals has shaken public confidence in the commander-in-chief and — most importantly — exposed the Democratic Party to the possibility of losing the Senate in the upcoming midterm election.
Misstep after misstep…
The White House has been hit with four major scandals from four different agencies in as many months.
First, the IRS came under fire for its attempts to address legitimate concerns about political groups trying to raise campaign cash under the guise of “social welfare” spending. The IRS segregated suspicious applications on the basis of search terms — effectively discriminating on the basis of political views — and released yet-to-be-approved applications to journalists in violation of the Privacy Act.
Second, the Justice Department admitted to seizing the telephone records of reporters from the Associated Press. In May 2012, the AP ran a story that detailed how the CIA stopped a terrorist plot to bomb an airplane with a sophisticated new class of explosive. Information about the terror case was classified. While it is unclear how the AP got its hands on this story, it is clear that it was leaked from within the government. In a dragnet designed to ascertain the leak, the Justice Department obtained subpoenas to investigate the telephone records of White House staffers, AP reporters and Fox News staff.
“I think my first reaction to this story is shock,” said Ben Wizner, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union. “This looks like a fishing expedition. And even if the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation of a leak, this kind of subpoena has to be a last resort and can’t possibly be as broad as this one.”
…Fumble after fumble
Third, revelations came forward that the National Security Agency has access to vast amounts of data on Verizon’s consumers, as well as consumer information from the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, PalTalk, YouTube and Apple. The information was leaked by Edward Snowden — a former employee of American contractor Booz Allen Hamilton — who felt that the systematic surveillance of innocent citizens was intolerable.
While the surveillance program — code-named PRISM — appears to be legal, many experts and lawmakers feel that the program gives the administration a “back door” to eavesdrop on whomever it feels. GIven the program’s veil of secrecy and lack of direct oversight, the situation is ripe for abuse.
In addition, the sense that the United States treats domestic and international communications differently is starting to ruffle feathers among America’s allies — particularly the European Union.
“My data belongs to me, that is the cornerstone of European thinking on data protection,” said Manfred Weber, a member of the European Parliament from Germany, in a statement. He called the differing rules for American and overseas data “completely unacceptable.”
“Programs such as the so-called PRISM and the laws on the basis of which such programs are authorized potentially endanger the fundamental right to privacy and to data protection of EU citizens,” European Commissioner Tonio Berg said.
Finally, the State Department announced on Monday that it will investigate claims that internal inquiries into sexual harassment or other misconduct were quashed or ignored. According to CBS News, a report from the State Department’s inspector general listed eight examples in which higher management may have tried to dilute or divert inquiries from the department’s law enforcement branch. Among the allegations are claims that security personnel assigned to then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton regularly solicited prostitutes while on duty abroad. The inspector general also suspected an ambassador of soliciting prostitutes in a public park, according to the report.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki took offense to the idea that the department ignored criminal behavior.
“We hold all employees to the highest standards,” she said, according to The Washington Post. “We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly.”
The scandal calls to mind the scandal last year in which Secret Service agents hired prostitutes while doing advance work for the president’s visit to Colombia.
“Hindering such cases calls into question the integrity of the investigative process, can result in counterintelligence vulnerabilities and can allow criminal behavior to continue,” the draft inspector general report said, according to CBS News.
A need to reassess
All of this, coupled with Republicans’ continued investigations into the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has created an aura around the White House similar to the one in place during the Bush administration’s second term.
While every administration has its scandals, and while the problems of this administration seem mild in comparison to other presidential fumbles, the sheer number of scandals in such a short period of time causes fear among Democratic trend-watchers. It suggests an administration out of control.
As reported by U.S. News & World Report after the IRS scandal went public, “Obama’s approval rating over the last year looks almost exactly like George W. Bush’s trend. Using a starting point of early May (before Obama’s scandals erupted) in presidential year five and walking backwards from 1495 to 1195 days in office, here’s a sample of what the comparison looks like.
“At 1195 days in office, Bush’s overall approval was 49 percent and Obama’s was 48 percent. Bush had the support of 91 percent of Republicans, whereas Obama had the support of 83 percent of Democrats. At 1255 days in office, both Bush and Obama had overall approval ratings of 47 percent. Bush enjoyed support from 87 percent of Republicans, while Obama had the support of 86 percent of Democrats. Skipping ahead to 1495 days in office, both presidents’ approval stood at 51 percent and each garnered support from 88 percent of their respective partisans. In fact, over the entire period, Bush and Obama are nearly mirror images of one another.”
While Democrats continue to support the president, the question remains: Where will all of this leave independent voters? According to a June 11 Rasmussen Reports poll, 47 percent of all likely voters approved of the president’s performance, while 51 percent disapproved. Twenty-six percent strongly approved of the president, while 39 percent strongly disapproved. In a generic congressional ballot polled June 10, 40 percent of likely voters said they would vote for the Democrat in their district’s congressional race, while 38 percent would vote Republican.
While the public’s breaking point in this chain of controversies is unclear, there is reason to proceed cautiously.
“The White House has to recognize that the Republicans are prepared to spend the entire summer doing anything but legislating, focusing on one so-called scandal after another,” said Jim Manley, former communications aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “They just have to stay focused on the issues, doing what they need to do.”
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