The Bogus Obama Administration "Low-Level" Employees Argument
Townhall.com ^ | May 15, 2013 | Katie Pavlich
Posted on May 15, 2013 7:10:50 AM EDT by Kaslin
Throughout Barack Obama's tenure as President of the United States and throughout every major scandal during that time period, nobody important has known anything important about anything...important. Every time a new scandal breaks, the White House comment is "we found out about this through news reports," "we need to wait for all the facts," and of course, "this was just a few low-level employees in X-state or X-city, nobody in Washington was involved."
Operation Fast and Furious
After it was discovered in early 2011 the Department of Justice [DOJ] had knowingly and willingly trafficked 2500 semi-automatic Ak-47 style rifles, or what President Obama would call "military grade assault rifles," to Mexican drug cartels, DOJ officials in Washington D.C. immediately blamed a "few low-level, rogue ATF agents working in Phoenix." It turned out, not only did senior DOJ officials know about Fast and Furious from the beginning, which started in September 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder received regular memos about the operation.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 Benghazi terror attack, the entire Obama administration, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama, Press Secretary Jay Carney and UN Ambassador Susan Rice, all blamed a rogue and irrelevant YouTube video for the violence. After investigation by the House Oversight Committee, a handful of investigative press reports and whistleblower testimony from acting Libyan Ambassador Greg Hicks last week, we now know Clinton knew the 9/11 attack was in fact a terrorist attack on the day it happened.
"At 2 a.m. Secretary of State Clinton called me along with her senior staff were all on the phone and she asked me what was going on and I briefed her on developments. Most of the conversation was about the search for Ambassador Stevens. It was also about what we were going to do with our personnel in Benghazi and I told her that we would need to evacuate," Hicks said. "The only report that our mission made through every channel was that there had been an attack."
Now that the White House and Clinton have been caught in their lie about a YouTube video, they're blaming the "intelligence community" for bad information.
In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed not to know anything about requests for more security at the consulate in Benghazi. Those requests, of course, were handled by the people below her.
“The specific security requests pertaining to Benghazi, you know were handled by the security professionals in the department,” Clinton told Congress in January. “I didn’t see those requests, they didn’t come to me, I didn’t approve them, I didn’t deny them.”
It turns out, Clinton did in fact receive at least one cable requesting more security.
The House report suggests that Clinton received and signed a request for more security from Gene Cretz, who preceded Christopher Stevens as ambassador to Libya.
“On April 19, 2012, the response cable from the Department of State to Embassy Tripoli, bearing Secretary Clinton’s signature, acknowledges Ambassador Cretz’s request for additional security but instead articulates a plan to scale back security assets for the U.S. Mission in Libya, including the Benghazi Mission,” the House report says.
IRS Targeting Tea Party Groups
As the IRS scandal continues to unfold, so does the story of IRS officials. Initially when this story broke, senior IRS officials denied Washington D.C. had anything to do with the specific and inappropriate targeting of tea party and conservative groups. We were told this was the work a few "low-level" IRS agents working in Cincinnati. Turns out, that isn't true. Senior IRS officials in Washington D.C. knew about, and participated in, the targeting of conservative groups as early as 2011. So much for those "low-level" employees.
We Get Our Information From the News
Another argument repeatedly used by senior Obama administration officials when taking cover in the wake of scandal is, "We only found out about this through news reports."Operation Fast and Furious
President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano all claimed they found out about Operation Fast and Furious through "news reports."
IRS Targeting Tea Party Groups
Yesterday during a joint press conference with Prime Minister David Cameron, President Obama said, "I first learned about it from the same news reports I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday."
Department of Justice Secretly Monitoring the Personal Phones of AP Reporters and Editors
Asked about when exactly the White House knew of the Department of Justice secretly monitoring the personal phones of Associated Press reporters and editors, Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration found out through "press reports."
“Other than press reports, we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP,” he said. “We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department. Any questions about an ongoing criminal investigation should be directed to the Department of Justice.”
President Obama and his administration have claimed not to know anything about Fast and Furious, Benghazi, the IRS scandal or DOJ targeting the private phones of reporters and editors, but they sure know a whole lot about about openly gay NBA player Jason Collins, feminist activist Sandra Fluke, March Madness, Golf, Whitney Houston, Justin Timberlake, Rush Limbaugh and others.
This is the typical Obama administration scandal playbook: question the "facts," blame those at the bottom, cite press reports for information and repeatedly deny any responsibility.
IRS official Lerner speedily approved exemption for Obama brother’s ‘charity’
Posted By Charles C. Johnson On 5:06 PM 05/14/2013 In Politics | No Comments
Lois Lerner, the senior IRS official at the center of the decision to target tea party groups for burdensome tax scrutiny, signed paperwork granting tax-exempt status to the Barack H. Obama Foundation, a shady charity headed by the president’s half-brother that operated illegally for years.
According to the organization’s filings, Lerner approved the foundation’s tax status within a month of filing, an unprecedented timeline that stands in stark contrast to conservative organizations that have been waiting for more than three years, in some cases, for approval.
Lerner also appears to have broken with the norms of tax-exemption approval by granting retroactive tax-exempt status to Malik Obama’s organization.
The National Legal and Policy Center filed an official complaint with the IRS in May 2011 asking why the foundation was being allowed to solicit tax-deductible contributions when it had not even applied for an IRS determination. In a New York Post article dated May 8, 2011, an officer of the foundation admitted, “We haven’t been able to find someone with the expertise” to apply for tax-exempt status.
Nevertheless, a month later, the Barack H. Obama Foundation had flown through the grueling application process. Lerner granted the organization a 501(c) determination and even gave it a retroactive tax exemption dating back to December 2008.
The group’s available paperwork suggests an extremely hurried application and approval process. For example, the group’s 990 filings for 2008 and 2009 were submitted to the IRS on May 30, 2011, and its 2010 filing was submitted on May 23, 2011.
Lerner signed the group’s approval [pdf] on June 26, 2011.
It is illegal to operate for longer than 27 months without an IRS determination and solicit tax-deductible contributions.
The ostensibly Arlington, Va.-based charity was not even registered in Virginia despite the foundation’s website including a donation button that claimed tax-exempt status.
Its president and founder, Abon’go “Roy’ Malik Obama, is Barack Obama’s half-brother and was the best man at his wedding, but he has a checkered past. In addition to running his charity, Malik Obama ran unsuccessfully to be the governor of Siaya County in Kenya. He was accused of being a wife beater and seducing the newest of his twelve wives while she was a 17-year-old school girl.
Sensing something wrong when he and a group of Missouri State students visited Kenya in 2009, Ken Rutherford, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on banning landmines, determined that Malik Obama was an “operator” and elected to give a donation of 400 pounds of medical supplies to a local clinic instead.
“We didn’t know what he was going to do with them,” Rutherford told the New York Post in 2011.
It is also not clear what the Barack H. Obama Foundation actually does. Its website claims the organization has built a madrassa and was building a imam’s house but there is no other evidence that the nonprofit was actually helping poor Kenyan children.
“The Obama Foundation raised money on its web page by falsely claiming to be a tax deductible. This bogus charity run by Malik had not even applied and yet subsequently got retroactive tax-deductible status,” Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, told The Daily Caller. Boehm described Malik Obama’s attempt to raise money as constituting “common law fraud and potentially even federal mail fraud.”
Boehm doubted that the charity is doing what it says it’s doing and wondered why the charity was given tax-exempt status so quickly after the evidence of wrongdoing came to light.
“How do you get retroactive tax-exempt status when you haven’t even applied to get it in the first place?” Boehm said.
Lerner continues to draw fire for her handling of the IRS targeting of conservative and citizen groups, but her colleagues have started to defend her, alleging that she behaves “apolitically.”
Larry Noble, who served as general counsel at the FEC from 1987 to 2000, hired and promoted Lerner. “I worked with Lois for a number of years and she is really one of the more apolitical people I’ve met,” Noble told The Daily Beast. “That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have political views, but she really focuses on the job and what the rules are. She doesn’t have an agenda.”
Lerner could not be reached for comment. Calls to the Barack H. Obama Foundation went directly to the organization’s voicemail and were not returned.
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URL to article: http://dailycaller.com/2013/05/14/irs-official-lerner-approved-exemption-for-obama-brothers-charity
IRS approved liberal groups while Tea Party in limbo
Brendan Smialowski, AFP/Getty Images
File photo: Tea Party activists gather on Capitol Hill April 6, 2011 in Washington, DC.
by Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
Published: 05/14/2013 11:26pm
WASHINGTON -- In February 2010, the Champaign Tea Party in Illinois received approval of its tax-exempt status from the IRS in 90 days, no questions asked.
That was the month before the Internal Revenue Service started singling out Tea Party groups for special treatment. There wouldn't be another Tea Party application approved for 27 months.
In that time, the IRS approved perhaps dozens of applications from similar liberal and progressive groups, a USA TODAY review of IRS data shows.
As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like "Progress" or "Progressive," the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups. They included:
• Bus for Progress, a New Jersey non-profit that uses a red, white and blue bus to "drive the progressive change." According to its website, its mission includes "support (for) progressive politicians with the courage to serve the people's interests and make tough choices." It got an IRS approval as a social welfare group in April 2011.
• Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment says it fights against corporate welfare and for increasing the minimum wage. "It would be fair to say we're on the progressive end of the spectrum," said executive director Jeff Ordower. He said the group got tax-exempt status in September 2011 in just nine months after "a pretty simple, straightforward process."
• Progress Florida, granted tax-exempt status in January 2011, is lobbying the Florida Legislature to expand Medicaid under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, one of President Obama's signature accomplishments. The group did not return phone calls. "We're busy fighting to build a more progressive Florida and cannot take your call right now," the group's voice mail said.
Like the Tea Party groups, the liberal groups sought recognition as social welfare groups under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, based on activities like "citizen participation" or "voter education and registration."
In a conference call with reporters last week, the IRS official responsible for granting tax-exempt status said that it was a mistake to subject Tea Party groups to additional scrutiny based solely on the organization's name. But she said ideology played no part in the process.
"The selection of these cases where they used the names was not a partisan selection," said Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations. She said progressive groups were also selected for greater scrutiny based on their names, but did not provide details. "I don't have them off the top of my head," she said.
The IRS did not respond to follow-up questions Tuesday.
Congressional critics say the IRS's actions suggest a political motives: "This administration seems to have a culture of politics above all else," said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas. "A lot of the actions they take have a political side first, and put government second."
Flores complained to the IRS last year after the Waco Tea Party's tax-exempt application was mired in red tape. The IRS asked the group for information that was "overreaching and impossible to comply with," Flores said: Transcripts of radio interviews, copies of social media posts and details on "close relationships" with political candidates.
When Flores complained last year -- asking pointed questions about the IRS treatment of Tea Party groups -- the IRS response didn't acknowledge that it had treated conservative groups differently. "They did more than sidestep the issue," he said. "They flipped me the finger."
Before the IRS started separating out Tea Party applications, getting tax-exempt status was routine -- even for conservative groups. The Champaign Tea Party's treasurer, Karen Olsen, said the process was smooth, with no follow-up questions from the IRS.
Olsen, a retired IRS revenue agent, defended the agency.
"If you suddenly see a great increase in some kind of activity, and you don't understand why, then it might be reasonable to look more closely at what's happening with those applications," she said. "I'm not certain that there was an error on the part of the IRS at all. I know that's not a popular opinion."
Some liberal groups did get additional scrutiny, although they still got their tax-exempt status while the Tea Party moratorium was in effect. For the "independent progressive" group Action for a Progressive Future, which runs the Rootsaction.org web site, the tax-exempt process took 18 months and also involved intrusive questions.
Co-founder Jeff Cohen said tax-exempt status is a privilege, so he didn't mind answering the intrusive questions, as long as those questions were consistent and fair.
"From my perspective, if the IRS can hold up legitimate Tea Party applications today and get away with it, then who knows if progressive groups will be held up and specially scrutinized in a few years. It's utterly unacceptable, if that's what happened," he said.
Follow @gregorykorte on Twitter.
Copyright 2013 USATODAY.com
Obama's Scandals Stem from His Lawless Presidency
Posted 05/14/2013 07:05 PM ET
President Obama answers questions ranging from Benghazi to the IRS during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the... View Enlarged Image
Last Friday, after the Associated Press learned about the Justice Department's sweeping seizure of its phone records, AP CEO Gary Pruitt said "there can be no possible justification" for the action.
No doubt that's true. But there also seems to be no possible justification for the many other scandals now swamping the Obama administration — from Benghazi, to the IRS scandal to the White House's attempt to shake down health companies for ObamaCare money.
Except that they all stem from a common root — President Obama's callous disregard for the rule of law.
When not grousing about "this big, messy, tough democracy," or joking about having the IRS audit groups that don't do his bidding, or talking about how "we're gonna punish our enemies" (meaning his political opponents), Obama has repeatedly and casually flouted legal roadblocks whenever they got in the way of his agenda.
Last year, for example, his Health and Human Services department said it would allow waivers to work requirements for welfare benefits, despite the welfare reform law's clear prohibition against such waivers.
His National Labor Relations Board put out a "snap elections" rule meant to achieve the same goal as a union-backed "card check" law that Congress defeated. And he unilaterally gutted No Child Left Behind by offering blanket waivers to states.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor issued a scathing report on the Obama administration last October, titled "The Imperial Presidency," in which he documented these and dozens of other examples of "breakdowns in the rule of law" under Obama.
Even the New York Times took notice of the "increasingly deliberate pattern by the administration to circumvent lawmakers."
And on at least two occasions, courts have ruled that Obama's actions violated the law.
In January, a federal court said Obama improperly made several "recess" appointments, despite the fact that the Senate was still in session.
In April, a judge ruled against Obama's effort to enact parts of the controversial DREAM immigration law by executive order, saying the Department of Homeland Security "does not have discretion to refuse to initiate removal proceedings" of illegal immigrants.
So it should come as no surprise that other government officials have been following Obama's lead, brushing aside legal niceties when they got in the way of their political agendas.
In its attempt to determine the source of a leak about a foiled terrorist attack that AP reported on, for example, the Justice Department seized records of 20 phone lines that more than 100 journalists had access to.
That's despite a legal requirement that such seizures be a last resort and tightly focused.
AP's Pruitt called the DOJ's action an "overboard collection" of information that could "reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the news gathering activities undertaken by the AP."
The DOJ's seizure looks less like an attempt to ferret out one whistle-blower and more like an extra-legal attempt to intimidate future whistle-blowers and the press.
The IRS scandal fits this same pattern. As it turns out, the agency had been systematically targeting conservative groups during Obama's first term — a clear, blatant and deeply troubling violation of law — which it then conveniently failed to disclose to lawmakers when asked about complaints of IRS intimidation by conservative groups.
In addition, one news outlet — ProPublica — now admits that IRS officials leaked confidential tax-exempt application documents submitted by several conservative groups.
Meanwhile, one conservative organization credibly claims that the IRS disclosed its donor list to an opposing liberal group.
Given the standards set by Obama, it's no wonder IRS officials felt comfortable taking advantage of this gold mine of information to help advance the liberal cause.
With Benghazi, administration officials clearly felt that it was acceptable to mislead the American public about the nature of the attacks on the consulate simply to help Obama politically.
And that it was OK to intimidate whistle-blowers who could unravel this scandal if they had the chance to talk.
As Ron Fournier, editorial director of National Journal, put it this week, "This is now clear: The Obama administration let political considerations cloud the public record."
Then there's the emerging scandal involving Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has been strong-arming health care companies to donate money to a private group closely tied to the White House and charged with helping to implement ObamaCare.
The Campaign Legal Center's Meredith McGehee told the Washington Post recently that Sebelius seemed to be "using the power of government to compel giving or insinuate that giving is going to be looked at favorably by the government."
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., compared Sebelius' actions to Iran-Contra, because, like the Reagan administration, she is trying to raise private funds to finance something for which Congress refused to appropriate money.
"Such private fundraising circumvents the constitutional requirement that only Congress may appropriate funds," Alexander explained.
In the lawless culture Obama has cultivated over the years, Sebelius no doubt feels justified in doing "whatever it takes" to get ObamaCare off the ground.
But as Cantor put it in his report, and the press and the public at large are only now beginning to understand, "this is no way to govern."
Obamacare to penalize nearly half a million Native Americans
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Published time: May 15, 2013 20:43
Reuters / Rebecca Cook
Native Americans are entitled to free and subsidized medical care at some federally-funded health clinics, but 'Obamacare' will soon force many of them to buy insurance or else face hefty fines if they are not “Indian enough”.
“A lot of folks are going to get stuck with the bill,” Jay Stiener of the National Council of Urban Indian Health told the Associated Press.
Members of federally-recognized American Indian tribes have received government-funded health services since 1787. Throughout the US, there are 33 hospitals and 59 health centers that provide services including prenatal care, baby well-checks, dentistry and eye glasses to Native Americans.
The US government has treaty obligations to care for the well-being of Native Americans, but may soon abandon many of its legal responsibilities. President Obama’s health care reform will force thousands of Native Americans to purchase their own health insurance or pay a minimum fine of $695 to the Internal Revenue Service. Indian health advocacy groups estimate up to 480,000 people will be affected, AP reports.
Only those who can prove that they are “Indian enough” will be exempt from the mandate. Native Americans will have to show documentation that they belong to one out of 560 tribes that are federally recognized by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs.
There are more than 100 US tribes that are recognized by states, but not the federal government. Members of these tribes would no longer receive the free or subsidized healthcare that they are guaranteed by the Indian Health Service (IHS), which is a division within the US Department of Health and Human Services.
“This could lead to some tribal citizens being required to purchase insurance or face penalties even though they are covered by the HIS,” Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican congressman and member of the Chickasaw Nation tribe, told AP.
Additionally, Native Americans who do not have documentation of their tribe membership will be forced to purchase insurance or pay a fine. This becomes particularly troublesome for Native Americans under the age of 18, since many tribes only provide official membership to adults. Even if both parents of the minors are members, their healthcare coverage may not apply to their children unless they also have the proper documentation.
The health care reform would also complicate the situation for Native Americans who live in metropolitan areas or suburbs. Some tribal governments require members to live on the reservation to gain documentation, which few people do. Nearly two-thirds of American Indians and Alaska Natives currently live in cities, which hinders their ability to receive membership cards from their tribes.
News of the restrictions that Obamacare will impose upon American Indians has sparked outrage, particularly among those who will face financial consequences due to something that is out of their control.
“I’m no less Indian than I was yesterday, and just because the definition of who is Indian got changed in the law doesn’t mean that it’s fair for people to be penalized,” Liz DeRouen, a Native American who usually receives healthcare at a government-funded clinic in North Carolina, told AP. “If I suddenly have to pay for my own health insurance to avoid the fine, I won’t be able to afford it.”
DeRouen is a former tribal administrator for the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, but she lost her membership due to an argument with other members. But even though she lost documentation as a tribe member, she is still genetically considered a Native American.
The Obama administration currently has no solution to the hardships the Affordable Care Act will inflict upon the Native American population, but the IRS and the US Treasury have jointly scheduled a public hearing forMay 29to discuss establishment of who qualifies for the exemption from the insurance coverage requirement.
Nearly 30 percent of all Native Americans live below the poverty line, and forcing them to pay fines or purchase insurance would likely just increase this number.
Amid sequester and scandal in Washington, the White House announced Friday that the president and first lady will be hosting another concert as part of their “In Performance at the White House” later this month.
The event will be held in the East Room of the White House and honor singer and song writer Carole King, who will be awarded the 2013 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. King will be the first woman to receive the award, the White House noted in their announcement.
The program — to be streamed on the White House website and broadcast on PBS stations the evening of May 28 — will also feature performances by Gloria Estefan, Billy Joel, Jesse McCartney, Emeli Sandé, James Taylor, Trisha Yearwood and King herself.
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In 2002, Carole King sang “You’ve Got a Friend” for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro at a warming-relations dinner in Havana.
“The Gershwin Prize commemorates George and Ira Gershwin, the legendary American songwriting team whose extensive manuscript collections reside in the Library of Congress,” the press announcement explains. “The prize is awarded to musicians whose lifetime contributions in the field of popular song exemplify the standard of excellence associated with the Gershwins.”
Past winners of the Gershwin award have included Stevie Wonder in 2009, Sir Paul McCartney in 2010, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David in 2012.
“Carole King: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize In Performance at the White House” will be the eleventh “In Performance at the White House” program that the Barack and Michelle Obama have hosted.
“Starting in February 2009, these events have honored the musical genius of Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and Hal David; celebrated Hispanic musical heritage during Hispanic Heritage Month; marked Black History Month with events featuring music from the Civil Rights Movement, Motown, Memphis Soul and the Blues; spotlighted Broadway and the unique spirit of the American musical; and explored the rich roots and resiliency of Country Music,” the press announcement reads.
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In recent days, the administration has come under fire for the Internal Revenue Service targeting of conservative groups, the administration’s handling of the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, and the Department of Justice’s secret gathering of Associated Press phone records.
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Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2013/05/17/amid-scandals-white-house-announces-star-studded-concert-at-white-house/#ixzz2TZNR8LUu
Obama’s Defenders: He’s Not Corrupt, Just Dishonest and Incompetent
Seth Mandel | @SethAMandel 05.17.2013 - 12:40 PM http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2013/05/17/obamas-defenders-hes-not-corrupt-just-dishonest-and-incompetent
There was a running joke in the fall of 2008 that John McCain should simply re-air Hillary Clinton’s “3 a.m. phone call” ad, which highlighted Barack Obama’s lack of experience and meager knowledge of world affairs, and just tack on “I’m John McCain, and I approve this message” at the end of the ad. The point was that thanks to the bitter primary battle between the Clintons and Obama, Democrats had already developed the most effective lines of attack against Obama, and Republicans needed only to nod their heads in agreement.
Something similar is taking place amid the several Obama administration scandals that have surfaced almost simultaneously. (There has been new information on Benghazi, but the issue itself isn’t new; the IRS and AP phone records scandals, in contrast, hit less than a week apart.) Both Democrats and Republicans are raising the prospect that the GOP could get carried away or bungle their response to the scandals–surely a possibility. One way to prevent that, however, would be to simply echo the way Obama’s supporters have tried to defend him.
As I wrote on Monday, one clear lesson from this is the danger of ever-expanding, unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy at the center of an increasingly powerful central government. That also happens to be the crux of President Obama’s governing strategy. Indeed, the IRS’s reach and power is expanded as part of ObamaCare–itself an expansion of government along demonstrably failed strategic lines. So it’s no surprise that after the IRS systematically targeted conservative and pro-Israel groups in order to eviscerate the First Amendment rights of those who disagreed with President Obama (and at the direction of high-ranking elected Democrats), the IRS official responsible for overseeing tax-exempt groups has since been moved over to run the IRS office responsible for ObamaCare.
Because this critique of big government is so difficult to deny without appearing foolish, many on the left have tried another tack to minimize the scandals. They argue that President Obama is not corrupt, but rather that he is dishonest and incompetent. This was the defense (such as it was) of Obama and Clinton with regard to Benghazi. The Accountability Review Board, which sought to exonerate Clinton as much as possible, noted that the State Department was a complete mess under Clinton. Security requests were ignored, because Clinton didn’t take the time to understand what was going on in Libya. And the chain of command was difficult to discern, leading to total chaos within the department. In other words, Clinton, who seems to be planning a run for the presidency, is a dangerously poor executive with a shallow grasp of geopolitical realities.
And a similar defense has arisen from the left of Obama on the issue. Here is Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post claiming that Benghazi was brought about by incompetence and carelessness. And here is the New York Times editorial board trying to shift the conversation from Obama’s initial failure in Libya to his ongoing failure in Libya. Liberal “defenses” of Obama and Clinton paint a picture of two hopelessly unqualified leaders.
It doesn’t get much better from there. As Pete noted this morning, Obama’s former chief strategist David Axelrod defended his former boss by saying that the government has become so vast and unwieldy that Obama couldn’t possibly know what his own government was doing or why it was doing it. The fact that Democrats can acknowledge this while still planning to make the government larger and less accountable shows the ideological nature of their obsession with expanding the state at the expense of the people.
And Jeffrey Rosen utilizes this explanation for the Obama administration’s seizure of the Associated Press phone records. Obama isn’t Nixon, Rosen argues, nor George W. Bush. According to Rosen he’s more like the maniacally antidemocratic Woodrow Wilson (again, this is a defense of Obama):
Unlike Obama, George W. Bush never ran for president by touting his praise of government transparency and whistleblowing. As a result, while Bush never pretended to be a defender of whistleblowers, he was sensitive, at least in his first term, to avoiding subpoenas that might threaten press freedom…. Obama has no similar self-doubts about his own credentials as a First Amendment advocate: Didn’t he defend the American free speech tradition at the U.N. even as he put pressure on YouTube to reconsider its decision not to remove the Innocence of the Muslims video?
And that law points to a better historic comparison. Obama’s rediscovery of the 1917 Espionage Act is grimly appropriate, since the president whose behavior on civil liberties he is most directly channeling isn’t, in fact, Richard Nixon or George W. Bush. It’s Woodrow Wilson.
Rosen, who calls this “technocratic arrogance,” is making two separate points here. One point is the inevitability of abuse when the president locks out criticism and empowers unelected bureaucrats to put his worldview into practice. The other point is that Rosen makes Obama out to be a fundamentally dishonest person. Obama gave grand addresses praising free speech while acting to undermine it. Obama offered self-righteous blather about the supposed evils conducted by his predecessors, and therefore he was entitled to expand on those supposed evils.
Conservatives are probably thinking they couldn’t have said it better themselves. And liberals seem determined to save them the trouble.
Report: US apologizes to Israel for disclosing that Israel was behind Damscus strikes
Israel Matzav ^ | 5/19/13 | Carl in Jerusalem
Posted on Sunday, May 19, 2013 1:07:07 PM
Israel Radio reported this morning (Sunday) that the United States has apologized to Israel for disclosing that Israel was behind the strikes on Damascus two weeks ago. According to the report, the decision to disclose that Israel was behind the strikes was made at a low level in the Pentagon, and the US Department of Defense is investigating how that happened. According to the report, Israel believes that it is now facing much stronger threats from Bashar al-Assad as a result of the disclosure.
(Excerpt) Read more at israelmatzav.blogspot.co m ...
Report: Obama Administration Apologizes for Another National Security Leak
May. 19, 2013 http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/05/19/report-obama-administration-apologizes-for-another-national-security-leak
Israel Channel 2 broadcast this satellite image showing a Damascus airport warehouse before and after the airstrike (Screenshot: Channel 2 News)
The Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press reporters’ phone records was reportedly one element of a “sweeping” federal investigation to find out who leaked classified information about a failed Al-Qaeda plot to bomb an American airliner.
Now, the Obama administration has reportedly apologized to Israel for another leak of classified information to the media, one that occurred earlier this month and which Israeli officials are concerned could place Israeli lives at risk.
Israel Radio’s diplomatic correspondent Chico Menashe reported Sunday morning (via the Jerusalem Post):
American officials apologized to their Israeli counterparts for confirming that Israel was behind the airstrikes on the Damascus airport earlier this month, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.
The confirmation reportedly came from the lower ranks at the Pentagon, and the reasons for the leak are being investigated.
Menashe tweeted: “The U.S. has apologized to Israel for leaking details of the attack in Syria. Senior administration officials said to their [Israeli] counterparts that they are examining the issue and that low-level [officials] were responsible for the leak.”
Menashe also wrote, “US officials told that they [will] review the matter. The leak forced Assad to react harshly.”
U.S. apologized for leaking details of Israel. US officials told that they review the matter.The leak forced assad to react harshly.
about 19 hours ago via TweetCaster for AndroidReplyRetweetFavor
The New York Times attributed its report about the bombing on May 3 to an Obama administration official: “Israel aircraft bombed a target in Syria overnight Thursday, an Obama administration official said Friday night, as United States officials said they were considering military options, including carrying out their own airstrikes.”
CNN, which broke the story first on May 3, quoted two unnamed U.S. officials:
The United States believes Israel has conducted an airstrike into Syria, two U.S. officials first told CNN.
U.S. and Western intelligence agencies are reviewing classified data showing Israel most likely conducted a strike in the Thursday-Friday time frame, according to both officials. This is the same time frame that the U.S. collected additional data showing Israel was flying a high number of warplanes over Lebanon.
One official said the United States had limited information so far and could not yet confirm those are the specific warplanes that conducted a strike. Based on initial indications, the U.S. does not believe Israeli warplanes entered Syrian airspace to conduct the strikes.
Two weeks later, Israel still has not officially taken responsibility for the bombings, which allegedly targeted Iranian Fateh-110 missiles intended to bolster Hezbollah’s arsenal.
Israeli security analysts suggest that confirmation of Israel Defense Forces involvement – even if leaked via American sources – not only could potentially endanger any agents still on the ground in Syria, but would also put pressure on embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad to retaliate against the Jewish state.
Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, told TheBlaze, “It requires the Syrians to react officially rather than deny that it happened or that it was an accident. It forces Syria and Hezbollah and Iran to react officially and say they want to seek revenge, which makes things more dangerous for Israel.”
“Can you imagine if things were reversed and somebody did that to the U.S.?” he added.
Assad may already be responding. Britain’s Sunday Times reported that the Syrian military has placed advanced weapons on standby to strike Israel, in the event Israel strikes targets again in Syria.
The report said that reconnaissance satellite images show Syria has surface-to-surface Tishreen missiles ready for use and aimed at Tel Aviv. Each can carry a half ton payload, according to the paper.
In an interview with CNN shortly after the airstrikes, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad called the attack a “declaration of war,” adding that Syria would retaliate in its own time and way.
At the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the tumult facing the Middle East, calling it “one of its most sensitive periods in decades with the escalating upheaval in Syria at its center.”
“We are closely monitoring the developments and changes there and we are prepared for any scenario. The government of Israel is working responsibly and with determination and sagacity, in order to ensure the supreme interest of the state of Israel – the security of Israeli citizens in keeping with the policy that we have set, to – as much as possible – prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah and to [other] terrorist elements,” he said.
“We will work to ensure Israelis’ security interest in the future as well,” Netanyahu added.
Last week, Russia said it would move forward with a sale of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria, after Netanyahu made a visit to Moscow in person to try to convince the Russians to halt the deal. Once deployed, the advanced system will make future Israeli sorties over Syria more difficult, as well as rendering any notion of a U.S. or European-led no-fly zone much more complicated to implement.
A rare peek into a Justice Department leak probe
By Ann E. Marimow, Published: May 19
When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.
They used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails.
The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the Associated Press.
At a time when President Obama’s administration is under renewed scrutiny for an unprecedented number of leak investigations, the Kim case provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of one such probe.
Court documents in the Kim case reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist — and raise the question of how often journalists have been investigated as closely as Rosen was in 2010. The case also raises new concerns among critics of government secrecy about the possible stifling effect of these investigations on a critical element of press freedom: the exchange of information between reporters and their sources.
“Search warrants like these have a severe chilling effect on the free flow of important information to the public,” said First Amendment lawyer Charles Tobin, who has represented the Associated Press, but not in the current case. “That’s a very dangerous road to go down.”
Obama last week defended the Justice Department’s handling of the investigation involving the AP, which is focused on who leaked information to the news organization about a foiled plot involving the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. AP executives and First Amendment watchdogs have criticized the Justice Department in part for the broad scope of the phone records it secretly subpoenaed from AP offices in Washington, Hartford, Conn., and New York.
“The latest events show an expansion of this law enforcement technique,” said attorney Abbe Lowell, who is defending Kim on federal charges filed in 2010 that he disclosed national defense information. A trial is possible as soon as 2014. “Individual reporters or small time periods have turned into 20 [telephone] lines and months of records with no obvious attempt to be targeted or narrow.”
The president said press freedoms must be balanced against the protection of U.S. personnel overseas. According to the office of Ronald Machen Jr., the U.S. attorney for the District, its prosecutors followed federal regulations by first seeking the information through other means before subpoenaing media phone records. Machen’s office is investigating both the Kim and AP cases. The Justice Department said in a statement that in both cases it had abided by “all applicable laws, regulations, and longstanding Department of Justice policies intended to safeguard the First Amendment interests of the press in reporting the news and the public in receiving it.”
The Obama administration has pursued more such cases than all previous administrations combined, including one against a former CIA official charged with leaking U.S. intelligence on Iran and another against a former FBI contract linguist who pleaded guilty to leaking to a blogger.
The Kim case began in June 2009, when Rosen reported that U.S. intelligence officials were warning that North Korea was likely to respond to United Nations sanctions with more nuclear tests. The CIA had learned the information, Rosen wrote, from sources inside North Korea.
The story was published online the same day that a top-secret report was made available to a small circle within the intelligence community — including Kim, who at the time was a State Department arms expert with security clearance.
FBI investigators used the security-badge data, phone records and e-mail exchanges to build a case that Kim shared the report with Rosen soon after receiving it, court records show.
In the documents, FBI agent Reginald Reyes described in detail how Kim and Rosen moved in and out of the State Department headquarters at 2201 C St. NW a few hours before the story was published on June 11, 2009.
“Mr. Kim departed DoS at or around 12:02 p.m. followed shortly thereafter by the reporter at or around 12:03 p.m.,” Reyes wrote. Next, the agent said, “Mr. Kim returned to DoS at or around 12:26 p.m. followed shortly thereafter by the reporter at or around 12:30 p.m.”
The activity, Reyes wrote in an affidavit, suggested a “face-to-face” meeting between the two men. “Within a few hours after those nearly simultaneous exits and entries at DoS, the June 2009 article was published on the Internet,” he wrote.
The court documents don’t name Rosen, but his identity was confirmed by several officials, and he is the author of the article at the center of the investigation. Rosen and a spokeswoman for Fox News did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
Reyes wrote that there was evidence Rosen had broken the law, “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator.” That fact distinguishes his case from the probe of the AP, in which the news organization is not the likely target.
Using italics for emphasis, Reyes explained how Rosen allegedly used a “covert communications plan” and quoted from an e-mail exchange between Rosen and Kim that seems to describe a secret system for passing along information.
In the exchange, Rosen used the alias “Leo” to address Kim and called himself “Alex,” an apparent reference to Alexander Butterfield, the man best known for running the secret recording system in the Nixon White House, according to the affidavit.
Rosen instructed Kim to send him coded signals on his Google account, according to a quote from his e-mail in the affidavit: “One asterisk means to contact them, or that previously suggested plans for communication are to proceed as agreed; two asterisks means the opposite.”
He also wrote, according to the affidavit: “What I am interested in, as you might expect, is breaking news ahead of my competitors” including “what intelligence is picking up.” And: “I’d love to see some internal State Department analyses.”
Court documents show abundant evidence gathered from Kim’s office computer and phone records, but investigators said they needed to go a step further to build their case, seizing two days’ worth of Rosen’s personal e-mails — and all of his e-mail exchanges with Kim.
Privacy protections limit searching or seizing a reporter’s work, but not when there is evidence that the journalist broke the law against unauthorized leaks. A federal judge signed off on the search warrant — agreeing that there was probable cause that Rosen was a co-conspirator.
Machen’s office said in a statement that it is limited in commenting on an open case, but that the government “exhausted all reasonable non-media alternatives for collecting the evidence” before seeking a search warrant.
However, it remains an open question whether it’s ever illegal, given the First Amendment’s protection of press freedom, for a reporter to solicit information. No reporter, including Rosen, has been prosecuted for doing so.
In the hours before Rosen’s story was published, Kim was one of more than 95 people who saw the intelligence report through a classified database, according to court documents.
Kim’s phone records showed that seven calls lasting from 18 seconds to more than 11 minutes were placed between Kim’s desk telephone and Rosen’s cellphone and desk phone at the State Department, according to the court documents. Investigators pulled at least two months of phone records from Kim’s desk and found 36 calls with numbers associated with Rosen.
Investigators also scrutinized computer records and found that someone who had logged in with Kim’s user profile viewed the classified report “at or around” the same time two calls were placed from his desk phone to Rosen, according to the documents.
Two months later on an August evening, diplomatic security secretly entered Kim’s office and found a copy of Rosen’s article next to his computer. Kim, who worked in a secure facility, was subject to daily office inspections. The Fox News article was also in “plain view” during follow-up visits in late September.
Kim initially told the FBI in an interview that month that he had met the reporter in March but had not had contact since. Later, Kim admitted to additional contacts, according to the affidavit.
© The Washington Post Company
Chief IRS Counsel Got Jeremiah Wright's Church out of IRS Probe Before Joining Agency
by Matthew Boyle
20 May 2013
News reports from the time indicate the now-chief counsel of the IRS, William Wilkins, helped a church connected to President Barack Obama’s friend Rev. Jeremiah Wright get out of an IRS probe in 2008 while working as a private attorney.
“Lawyers from Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr have won the dismissal of an IRS case against United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama's denomination,” The American Lawyer’s Zach Lowe wrote on May 22, 2008.
The IRS initiated an investigation early this year after a speech by Obama at a 50th anniversary celebration of the church last June. It was a reference by Obama to his presidential candidacy in a talk otherwise focused on faith that caught the agency's attention. Tax laws prohibit non-profits--including churches--from engaging in political speech or promoting candidates. The IRS can withdraw an organization's tax-free status if the organization is found to violate the rule.
Lowe noted that Obama had been a “member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago--a UCC congregation--for more than 20 years. The church has been in the headlines for several months now as the congregation lead by the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright.”
William Wilkins, then a WilmerHale law firm partner, said, “We were so interested in the case we offered to do it pro bono."
Lowe wrote that Wilkins and other firm lawyers worked with the church’s national counsel, Donald Clark, and proved they had invited Obama to the event before he announced his candidacy for president. “Evidence presented in a letter sent to the IRS in late March pointed to ground rules the organization had established for Obama's visit; the church even cautioned churchgoers against engaging in any political activity,” Lowe wrote. “Had the IRS pursued the matter, it would have raised serious questions about the First Amendment's application to church activities, Wilkins says.”
When President Obama nominated Wilkins to be the IRS’s chief counsel on April 17, 2009, his White House cited Wilkins’ experience as an attorney on issues relating to tax-exempt status organization. “He has a broad tax practice that includes counseling nonprofit organizations, business entities, and investment funds on tax compliance, business transactions, and government investigations,” according to the White House release announcing Wilkins' nomination.
Prior to joining WilmerHale, Wilkins was Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the United States Senate Committee on Finance. Wilkins joined the Democratic staff of the Committee in 1981 and served as tax counsel before becoming Staff Director and Chief Counsel in 1987.
In the release, which included the announcement of a second Treasury Department nominee, President Obama himself said he was "confident in the abilities of these two fine public servants as we work to turn our economy around and give American families the relief they need during these difficult times. Under the leadership of Secretary Geithner, they will work to serve the American people and bring their unique areas of expertise to the job as we work to put America on the path to prosperity."
Upon the resignation of Steven Miller, several news outlets have pointed out that Wilkins will likely become a public target of congressional investigators digging into the scandal surrounding the IRS’s targeting of conservative and Tea Party organizations.
Reuters wrote that GOP lawmakers’ aides said their bosses will soon “focus” on Wilkins as they “seek to determine whether the White House acted improperly.”
“Wilkins' office was made aware of the targeting of conservative groups as early as August 2011, according to the inspector general report,” Reuters wrote. “The report does not make clear whether Wilkins - who reports to the Treasury Department's general counsel - himself knew of the targeting in 2011, or when he first learned of it.”
“Another question is whether Wilkins, whose office employs about 1,600 lawyers, might have taken the matter elsewhere within the Obama administration,” Reuters added. “The IRS issued a statement saying Wilkins did not participate in the August 2011 meeting, which the agency said involved ‘staff attorneys several layers below Wilkins.’”
As Town Hall magazine highlighted recently, White House spokesman Jay Carney has already been pressured by reporters on Wilkins' role in this scandal.
Too-Big-To-Jail Dogs Obama's Justice Department As Government Documents Raise Questions
Posted: 05/22/2013 10:04 pm EDT | Updated: 05/23/2013 9:15 am EDT
The U.S. Department of Justice appears to have neither conducted nor received any analyses that would show whether criminal charges against large financial institutions would harm the economy, potentially undermining a key DOJ argument for why the world’s biggest banks have escaped indictment.
Testimony by a top Justice official and fresh documents made public on Wednesday during a House financial services committee hearing revealed that financial regulators and the Treasury Department did not provide warnings to prosecutors weighing the economic consequences or fallout in the financial system of criminal indictments against large financial groups. DOJ also could find no records that would substantiate its previous claims that it weighed potentially negative economic or financial impacts when considering criminal charges, said Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general for the criminal division.
Wednesday’s revelations are likely to increase criticism of the Obama administration, which has been accused of a lackluster enforcement record against big banks in the financial crisis and other matters.
It also may put further pressure on the Justice Department to strengthen future prosecutions. Recently, instead of filing criminal charges against large financial groups, federal prosecutors have begun to file criminal cases against subsidiaries. Observers including lawyers at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, a top defense firm, have warned that Justice may expand its limited use of criminal indictments in part due to public pressure.
Leading Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), have pilloried the administration for its approach, which they allege has been focused on settlements at the expense of justice.
The lawmakers, and others, may be encouraged to apply even more public pressure on efforts to crack down on big banks. Past missteps by the Obama administration and by big banks have added momentum to efforts to forcibly break up large financial groups.
The hearing comes as DOJ, Treasury and financial regulators battle perceptions that they consider some large financial institutions are either too big or too important to the economy to fail. Congressional Republicans and some leading current and former regulators have claimed that the 2010 law overhauling financial regulation known as Dodd-Frank failed to end “too-big-to-fail.” The Obama administration and most regulators insist that if the problem has not yet been solved, it soon will be.
Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress in March that some banks were “too large,” impeding attempts to bring criminal prosecutions. Holder's comment is perhaps the most explicit public admission of concern by a senior Obama administration official regarding big banks.
Though Holder has since attempted to walk back those comments, at the time he said that the size of large financial institutions “has an inhibiting influence -- impact on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate.” He further told lawmakers: “And I think that is something that we -- you all -- need to consider.”
DOJ officials have previously defended the lack of criminal charges against banks suspected of wrongdoing in large part by pointing to the so-called “collateral consequences” associated with filing a criminal indictment against a leading financial institution.
Two examples occurred in December, when HSBC, the U.K. banking giant, settled allegations that it violated U.S. sanctions and facilitated the movement across the U.S. financial system of tainted money by Mexican drug cartels, and UBS, the Swiss bank, settled claims it manipulated world interest rates.
At the Justice Department’s news conference to announce the HSBC settlement, Lanny Breuer, then-assistant attorney general for the criminal division, was asked why the agency did not pursue a criminal indictment.
“If you think that by doing a certain thing you risk either a charter being revoked, you think that counterparties in a massive financial institution may go away, you think that there is a risk that many, many innocent people will be harmed from a resolution,” Breuer said, “and by another resolution you think you can mitigate the risk of innocent people suffering, the economy being affected, and you can hone in on those and the institutions and address the issues underlying. To the Department of Justice, that's a very real factor, and so it is a factor you consider.”
Asked whether jobs were a factor in DOJ’s decision, Breuer replied: “Collateral consequences were absolutely a factor.”
Criminal charges in the financial services industry can be the equivalent of a corporate death sentence. The failure of Arthur Andersen, one of the five largest accounting firms in the U.S., was due to a criminal indictment related to accounting fraud at Enron.
During a separate news conference to announce the UBS settlement, Breuer said: “In the world today of large institutions where much of the financial world is based on confidence, one of the things we want to ensure as we come forward to a right resolution is to ensure that counterparties don't flee an institution, that jobs are not lost, that there is not some world economic event that is disproportionate to the resolution we want.”
Holder then stepped in and quickly added: "The impact on the stability of the financial markets around the world is something we take into consideration. We reach out to experts outside of the Justice Department to talk about what are the consequences of actions that we might take, what would be the impact of those actions if we want to make particular prosecutive decisions or determinations with regards to a particular institution."
In letters to Congress from the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, made public by McHenry, top financial policymakers said they could find no records of such analyses that had been shared with DOJ.
In one letter, Tom Curry, OCC chief, said that Breuer had contacted him prior to the agency’s settlement with HSBC, but all he did was explain to Breuer during a single phone call how the agency revoked banks’ charters, or their legal license to operate.
In another, Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, said that in the HSBC case, all that the Fed and DOJ discussed was how to “better coordinate information sharing”.
“This meeting did not include discussion of the views of the Federal Reserve on collateral consequences of prosecuting any institution, either specifically or as a general matter,” Bernanke added.
Alastair Fitzpayne, Treasury assistant secretary for legislative affairs, told Congress: “We have not identified any analyses prepared by the Department of the Treasury for the DOJ regarding the potential prosecution of large, complex financial institutions.”
During a March hearing, David Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said that DOJ had asked Treasury for “guidance” on the potential impact a criminal charge against HSBC could have on the financial system.
Cohen said Treasury told DOJ it was “not in a position to offer any meaningful guidance.”
Treasury documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Public Citizen, an advocacy group, appear to show that the agency made no attempt to conduct any such examination internally.
The letters, testimony and documents obtained by Public Citizen and shared with The Huffington Post, appear to undermine a separate May letter to McHenry from Peter Kadzik, Justice principal deputy assistant attorney general, in which he told McHenry that DOJ has “contacted relevant government agencies to discuss such issues.”
“Those government agencies include domestic regulators, as well as foreign regulators where the financial institution is multi-national or is otherwise based,” Kadzik wrote.
DOJ's Raman said Wednesday that the agency had not found any internal records concerning threats to the economy or the financial system when weighing criminal indictments against big banks in past cases. She also said the agency could not locate any such documents from U.S. or foreign regulators.
Breuer did not return a call seeking comment.
DOJ representatives declined to comment beyond Raman’s testimony.
sooooo....whats up with that bet you laid out a couple of days ago?
is thats thing a go?
Lisa Jackson To Join Apple After Serving As EPA Chief
The Huffington Post | By James Gerken Posted: 05/29/2013 10:56 am EDT | Updated: 05/29/2013 11:03 am EDT
Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson will be joining Apple, CEO Tim Cook announced Tuesday. The news came at All Things Digital's D11 conference in Southern Calif.
Jackson will coordinate environmental practices for the company, All Things D reported. “Apple has shown how innovation can drive real progress by removing toxics from its products, incorporating renewable energy in its data center plans, and continually raising the bar for energy efficiency in the electronics industry,” she told Politico in an email.
Apple's 2012 environmental report showed all of the company's data centers, and 75 percent of all facilities, were powered by renewable energy. Yet Apple's overall estimated greenhouse gas emissions rose 34 percent between 2011 and 2012. Apple explains 98 percent of its carbon footprint comes from "the manufacturing, transportation, use and recycling," of its products.
Politico notes the company left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009 after comments from the group "opposing the EPA's effort to limit greenhouse gases," according to Apple's resignation letter.
Jackson stepped down from her role as EPA chief in February, after serving for four years. Her replacement at the EPA, Gina McCarthy, is currently awaiting confirmation from the full Senate. McCarthy's nomination was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on May 16 after an initial boycott from Republicans.
Capital Flows, Contributor
Select commentary curated by the Opinions editors
5/30/2013 @ 6:00AM |16,392 views
Obamacare's Slush Fund Fuels A Broader Lobbying Controversy
Barack Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act at the White House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
By Stuart Taylor
A little-noticed part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act channels some $12.5 billion into a vaguely defined “Prevention and Public Health Fund” over the next decade–and some of that money is going for everything from massage therapists who offer “calming techniques,” to groups advocating higher state and local taxes on tobacco and soda, and stricter zoning restrictions on fast-food restaurants.
The program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has raised alarms among congressional critics, who call it a “slush fund,” because the department can spend the money as it sees fit and without going through the congressional appropriations process. The sums involved are vast. By 2022, the department will be able to spend $2 billion per year at its sole discretion. In perpetuity.
What makes the Prevention and Public Health Fund controversial is its multibillion-dollar size, its unending nature (the fund never expires), and its vague spending mandate: any program designed “to improve health and help restrain the rate of, growth” of health-care costs. That can include anything from “pickleball” (a racquet sport) in Carteret County, N.C. to Zumba (a dance fitness program), kayaking and kickboxing in Waco, TX.
“It’s totally crazy to give the executive branch $2 billion a year ad infinitum to spend as they wish,” said budget expert Jim Capretta of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Congress has the power of the purse, the purpose of which is to insure that the Executive branch is using taxpayer resources as Congress specified.”
The concerns are as diverse as the critics. The HHS Inspector General, in a 2012 “alert,” was concerned that the payments to third-party groups came dangerously close to taxpayer-funded lobbying. While current law bars lobbying with federal money, Obama administration officials and Republican lawmakers differ on where lawful “education” ends and illicit “lobbying” begins. Nor have federal courts defined “lobbying” for the purposes of this fund. A health and Human Services (HHS) department spokesman denies that any laws were broken and the inspector general is continuing to investigate.
Republicans in both the House of Representatives and Senate have complained that much of the spending seems politically motivated and are alarmed that some of the federal money went to groups who described their own activities as contacting state, city and county lawmakers to urge higher taxes on high-calorie sodas and tobacco, or to call for bans on fast-food restaurants within 1,000-feet of a school, or total bans on smoking in outdoor venues, such as beaches or parks. In a May 9 letter to HHS Secretary Sebelius, Rep. Fred Upton (R,Mich) wrote that HHS grants “appear to fund lobbying activities contrary to the laws, regulations, and guidance governing the use of federal funds.” His letter included the latest in a series of requests for more documents and complaints about responses to previous requests.
Some Democrats, including Obamacare champion Sen. Tom Harkin (D, Iowa), are extremely unhappy with another use of Prevention Fund money. The Obama Administration plans to divert $453.8 million this year from that fund to use for administrative and promotional efforts to enroll millions of people in health insurance exchanges that are said to be vital to Obamacare’s success. Harkin calls this shift, which has not been authorized by Congress, “an outrageous attack on an investment fund that is saving lives.”
This extraordinary fund transfer coincides with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s much-criticized solicitation of health industry officials for large “voluntary” corporate donations — on top of hefty tax increases — to help implement Obamacare. Together, they give the appearance of a desperate Administration effort to avoid the kind of “train wreck” that Senator Max Baucus (D, Montana), a principal architect of Obamacare, recently said he fears. That’s also one reason why Republicans who want to kill Obamacare refuse to provide additional funding for the exchanges.
An HHS spokesperson responded to an inquiry about the “lobbying” complaints by saying that “HHS is committed to proper oversight and monitoring of appropriated funds, and to awardees’ compliance with all applicable regulations and statutes related to lobbying activities.” As to the shifting of the $453.8 million, the spokesman said that it was necessary “because Congress did not provide the resources requested” and it would help individuals “sign up for affordable health coverage by supporting . . . call centers that provide customer service, consumer education and outreach.”
The lobbying controversy is akin to conservative complaints about the 2009 “stimulus” legislation, in which HHS directed some $373 million to a “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” fund to states, counties and cities and then onto to health advocacy organizations described in a Wall Street Journal editorial as “liberal pressure groups lobbying for fast-food taxes.”
With those stimulus grants largely spent, the Administration has used Prevention Fund money — dispensing more than $290 million in fiscal 2012 and 2013 combined — for very similar “Community Transformation Grants.” As in the case of the earlier grants, HHS made the grants through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Public documents, including CDC descriptions of grants’ goals as well as the reports that grantees must file, are honeycombed with references to seeking state and local policy changes, such as tax hikes on sugary beverages and tobacco and zoning restrictions on fast-food establishments.
Congressional investigators point to documents and federal websites, which detail the spending that critics call “illegal lobbying.” A few of the more than 100 examples cited by critics:
•In Washington state, the Prevention Alliance, a coalition of health-focused groups, reported in notes of a June 22, 2012 meeting that the funding for its initial work came from a $3.3 million Obamacare grant to the state Department of Health. It listed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), “tobacco taxes,” and increasing “types of outdoor venues where tobacco use is prohibited” as among “the areas of greatest interest and potential for progress.”
•The Sierra Health Foundation, in Sacramento, which received a $500,000 grant. in March 2013, described its plans to “seek local zoning changes to disallow fast food establishments within 1,000 feet of a school and to limit the number of fast food outlets,” along with restrictions on fast food advertising. A $3 million grant to New York City was used to “educate leaders and decision makers about, and promote the effective implementation of. . . a tax to substantially increase the price of beverages containing caloric sweetener.”
•A Cook County, Ill. report says that part of a $16 million grant “educated policymakers on link between SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and obesity, economic impact of an SSB tax, and importance of investing revenue into prevention.” More than $12 million in similar grants went to groups in King County, Wash. to push for changes in “zoning policies to locate fast-food retailers farther from . . . schools.” And Jefferson County, Ala., spent part of a $7 million federal grant promoting the passage of a tobacco excise tax by the state legislature.
Among those who have expressed concern about questionable and possibly illegal use of Obamacare Prevention Fund money to lobby — an ambiguous term that the Administration interprets narrowly and its critics broadly — are HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson; Sen. Susan Collins (R, Maine); and Chairmen Darrell Issa (R, CA) of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Fred Upton (R, MI) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Inspector General Levinson, a respected and veteran independent investigator, was first appointed to his position overseeing the vast HHS bureaucracy by President George W. Bush. He was retained in that job by President Obama, who also named him to the Government Accountability and Transparency Board. Last June 29, Levinson sent CDC Director Thomas Frieden an “EARLY ALERT.”
It warned that reports posted by CDC grantees “contain numerous examples of activities that, on their face, may violate anti-lobbying provisions,” and that “some of the CDC information, as well as the non-CDC resource materials posted to the CDC web site, appear to authorize, or even encourage grantees to use grant funds for impermissible lobbying.” The “alert” said that the IG would continue to “evaluate more broadly” compliance with lobbying restrictions. A Levinson spokesman declined recently to elaborate.
Collins, a leading Senate moderate, cited copious evidence in a May 1, 2012 letter to Sebelius that CDC has provided “official guidance to grantees that appears to include an expectation that federal funds are to be used for strategies that result in changes to state and local policies and laws.”
While stressing strong support for “the wellness and prevention mission of the CDC,” Collins cited examples including a report to the agency by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which received a $1.5 million CPPW anti-tobacco grant in 2010. Thanks to the federal money, the Health Department reported, “210 policy makers were contacted . . . 31 ordinances were passed . . . there were 26 community presentations made to local governments .. . and 16 additional ordinances were passed this quarter, for a cumulative total of 47.”
HHS and CDC say that not only have they heeded these complaints, but as HHS stressed in an April 1 letter to Upton, they have been committed all along to “proper oversight and management of appropriated funds, and to awardees’ compliance with all applicable regulations and statutes related to lobbying activities.”
Spending to influence state and local legislation, critics claim, violates a web of overlapping federal laws, beginning with the federal Anti-Lobbying Act of 1919, as amended in 2002, which says: “No part of the money appropriated by . . . Congress shall . . . be used directly or indirectly to pay for any personal service, . . . telephone, letter, printed or written matter, or other device, intended . . . to influence in any manner a member of Congress, a jurisdiction, or an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation.”
This language is clear, unambiguous, and much broader than the HHS regulations on lobbying. To be sure, these restrictions have long been interpreted narrowly by the executive branch, a bipartisan tradition that goes back at least to the administration of President George H.W. Bush. And the Justice Department has never enforced the law against anyone.
Still, the Sebelius interpretation of the Anti-Lobbying Act takes narrow interpretation to extremes, flying in the face of the statute’s very specific language. Sebelius testified on March 1, 2012 that the statute’s lobbying provisions don’t apply to “local lobbying” or lobbying by grantees, while acknowledging that a 2012 appropriation provision — which unlike the Anti-Lobbying Act provides no penalties for violators — barred such forms of lobbying.
HHS Assistant Secretary for Legislation Jim Esquea made a more detailed argument to the same effect in an April 1, 2013 letter to Rep. Upton, asserting that the statute prohibits “only large-scale, high-expenditure, ‘grass roots’ lobbying campaigns conducted by federal agencies that expressly encourage members of the public to contact their elected representatives with respect to legislative matters.” But Esquea relied on strained interpretations of obsolete precedents predating major amendments that, in 2002, explicitly broadened the Anti-Lobbying Act to cover for the first time lobbying of state and local officials.
CDC guidelines permit the state and city agencies that it funds “to work directly on policy-related matters across their equivalent branches of state or local government.” That sounds reasonable enough. But to critics it sounds like the guidelines would allow, if not encourage, a city health department to spend federal money on lobbying (in the fullest sense of that word) state and local lawmakers to raise taxes on tobacco and sugary beverages.
Some grants seem to fit this interpretation. A $7.6 million CPPW grant to the County of St. Louis to fund an anti-smoking “Community Action Plan” for local activists. Under that plan, “the Leadership Team will meet with the Governor and state legislators to advocate for the repeal of [the state law] that prohibits municipalities from levying their own cigarette excise taxes.” In quarterly reports to CDC for late 2010 through mid-2012 on how it had spent the federal grant, St. Louis County said: “Leadership Team members . . . met with officials from two municipalities about adopting a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance. . . . Coalition members met with two County Council members and the County Executive about strengthening the County’s new smoke-free ordinance. . .. Several people, including restaurant owners, testified at three consecutive County Council meetings in support of removing exemptions from the County’s smoke-free ordinance.”
Finally, St. Louis County used almost $2 million of its federal grant to pay the public relations-lobbying firm Fleischman Hillard for a media campaign to strengthen an anti-smoking ordinance and push related agendas.
Many grantees and the federal bureaucrats who finance them maintain that they can legally engage in efforts to “educate” both the public and officials about, say, the public health benefits of taxing tobacco and sugary beverages so as to reduce consumption. Chairman Upton, on the other hand, rejected in an August 2012 letter what he called “the improper distinction made by CDC between lobbying and ‘education campaigns.’ ”
Enlisting other levels of government to do things [the federal government] can’t do openly on its own is the latest example of propaganda and politicizing efforts that only pretend to represent policy reform,” said Tom Miller, an expert in health policy and law at the American Enterprise Institute.
Other conservative health care policy advocates, such as Dr. Eric Novack, an orthopedic surgeon in Phoenix, complain that using federal dollars to lobby for more taxes and other liberal causes at the state and local levels is an abuse of power that skews the natural balance of state and local political forces. “With the hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars annually flowing their way, [health care advocates] are engaging in the lobbying equivalent of ‘shock and awe’ to get ever more money for themselves and to thwart efforts at real reform”, said Dr. Novack.
Critics have also suggested that Sebelius (and Obama) “lack the legal authority,” as Rep. Issa put it in his April 19 letter to Sebelius, to divert $453.8 million in Prevention Fund dollars to help pay for the establishment and operation of health insurance exchanges. Argues Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, an Alexandria, Virginia-based health-care think tank:
“The Obama administration is being very creative in devising programs it says fit within the definitions of ‘prevention’ and ‘public health.’ The reality is that this is a slush fund. The administration is using taxpayer dollars to further its political goals, without any congressional input. That is an open invitation to misuse and abuse of taxpayer dollars.”
But short of an unlikely bipartisan agreement, there’s not much that anyone in Congress can do about such complaints.
Strikingly, the most passionate denunciations of the $453.8 million diversion have come from a senior Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin, self-described author of the Prevention and Public Health title of the Affordable Care Act. Harkin succeeded the late Ted Kennedy, (D, MA) as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and has vowed to carry on Kennedy’s legacy of seeking universal access to health care and, especially, full funding of prevention programs.
“It is ill-advised and short-sighted to raid the Prevention Fund, which is making absolutely critical investments in preventing disease, saving lives, and keeping women and their families healthy,” Harkin said in his May 7 floor speech. “When it comes to Prevention, this Administration just doesn’t get it. . . . To slash money from this fund . . . is to cannibalize the Affordable Care Act in ways that will cost both money and lives. It is a violation of both the letter and spirit of this landmark law.”
In other words, the Democratic Chairman of the Health Committee is calling the Democratic President’s “raid” on the Prevention Fund illegal. But an HHS spokesperson counters that “this short term investment will result in a long-term public health gain by helping millions of people get access to care and improve our nation’s health.” Other officials stress that with an October 1 Obamacare deadline to start enrolling millions of individuals online, finding the money to create and implement the insurance exchanges is a major challenge to the success of Obamacare.
And money for setting up the exchanges is very, very short, despite an overall Obamacare price tag of trillions over coming years. One reason is that the Administration underestimated the cost, in part because contrary to its expectation, only 17 states have chosen to operate their own insurance exchanges. Another reason is Congress’s refusal to appropriate more money for such administrative expenses.
Meanwhile, it may not be easy to convince young or healthy people without employer-based insurance — especially men, and especially with incomes too high to qualify for Obamacare subsidies — that it would be a rational economic choice to buy a government-approved insurance policy costing (the Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2010) over $4,500 a year for an individual. By contrast, the Obamacare fine will be far smaller for some individuals.
The alternative choice of paying a relatively inexpensive Obamacare penalty for refusing to buy insurance may seem more attractive to many, especially after the Supreme Court stressed last June that such a choice carries no stigma of law-breaking. The Affordable Care Act set the penalty (which varies depending on income and the year) at only a fraction of what the insurance would cost people who don’t qualify for subsidies. At the same time, it guarantees a healthy person who chooses the penalty rather than the insurance the right to reverse course and buy the insurance at no extra cost not too long after he gets sick or injured.
So, as the Administration sets out to recruit enough young, healthy people to keep premiums from soaring, it may need every dollar it can find for advertising and outreach.
What some critics call a “slush fund,” may well turn out to be Obamacare’s own insurance policy.
Stuart Taylor, Jr. is a Nonresident Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution. The American Media Institute, a non-profit that promotes investigative journalism, contributed to this report.
This article is available online at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/05/30/obamacares-slush-fund-fuels-a-broader-lobbying-controversy/