Dorothy: I don’t like this forest! It’s dark and creepy!
Scarecrow: Of course I don’t know, but I think it’ll get darker before it gets lighter.
Dorothy: Do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?
Tin Man: Mmmmmmm. We might.
Scarecrow: Animals that—that eat straw?
Tin Man: Some, but mostly lions, and tigers, and bears.
—Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, and Jack Haley as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz
Those of you who have been following the news—at least as it gets reported by outlets like Fox News and the Drudge Report—are aware that the Benghazi fiasco has resurfaced. In the wake of fresh emails released after a court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by Judicial Watch, House Speaker John Boehner has finally moved to convene a special committee to investigate the administration’s response to the September 11, 2012 attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. I will touch more on that below, but it occurs to me that there is a broader issue here.
One of the hazards of focusing so much on the news of the day—and, I suppose, a collateral benefit to the administration of having serial scandals—is we tend to forget the news of yesterday. In so doing, we lose the forest—the broader pattern of behavior—for the trees. More importantly, we tend not to inquire about the underlying reason for that pattern.
We don’t ask why.
Rewind to October 2008. Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama was on the campaign trail, talking about bringing “a new era of responsibility and accountability . . . to Washington.” It was an old message for him. At a September 4, 2007 roundtable conference in New Hampshire, Obama lamented the “culture of corrosive politics,” and then not only called for more trust and accountability, but touted the pursuit of those virtues in government as his raison d’être:
“The American people want to trust in our government again—we just need a government that will trust in us. And making government accountable to the people isn’t just a cause of this campaign—it’s been a cause of my life for two decades.” (emphasis mine)
Ah. So we’re to believe that Barack Obama spent 20 years of his life—when he wasn’t “organizing communities,” collecting a paycheck for being on sabbatical to write the first of two audacious autobiographies about a life with zero substantive accomplishments, and voting “present” in the Illinois State Senate—crusading for government transparency and accountability.
As President, Obama signed a directive to the heads of all executive departments proclaiming a new era of government transparency and accountability:
“My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government . . . Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.”
Let’s leave for another time the terrifying implications of a Chief Executive who chooses to capitalize “Government,” but not “citizens.” What’s important for our purposes here is to note that this President has repeatedly and for years emphasized the importance of, and his claimed commitment to, government transparency and accountability. And lest we get caught up in some Clintonian semantic debate, Obama was clear that what he meant by that was providing information to the public about what the government is doing, if for no other reason than “[i]nformation maintained by the Federal Government (again, his caps, not mine) is a national asset”—in other words, he knows that that information belongs to you.
With that backdrop, let’s return to the issue of Benghazi. It has been 603 days since the attacks, and the President of the United States still hasn’t substantively addressed the American people about it. He also has yet to explain where he was or what he was doing during the 10-12 hours the two attacks were taking place, despite having been informed within 2 hours after the first attack began that it was happening, and that it was a coordinated military-style terrorist assault. We know from others where Obama wasn’t, and what he wasn’t doing: he wasn’t in the Situation Room, and he wasn’t on the phone with his Secretaries of Defense or State, or with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff inquiring as to what was going on.
We now know from the emails finally released to Judicial Watch last week that the bullcrap tale about protests and a YouTube video then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice took to the Sunday talk shows a few days after the attacks came from the White House’s political spinsters. My question is this: why did it take a Judicial Watch lawsuit to secure the release of that document? It’s been the subject of a Congressional subpoena for nearly two years, but was withheld after persons unnamed retroactively changed its status to “classified” (and by the way, look for yourself and see if you can figure out just what about that email merits a “classified” designation). Why does Judicial Watch now have more information than Congress?
While you’re chewing on that, recall that on November 9, 2012 the House Foreign Affairs committee asked then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to testify on the Benghazi matter, which she refused to do. It took a subpoena and nearly three months to get her on the record, and even then she hemmed, hawed, whined, and ultimately ran out the clock without providing any substantive information. This week, current Secretary of State John Kerry likewise refused to honor a subpoena to appear before Congress to discuss the administration’s response. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has persistently refused to turn over documents, and has blocked access to witnesses.
This is not an isolated occurrence.
Congress has been trying for years to get information about Operation Fast & Furious, the botched gun-running sting that led to the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The Department of Justice has stonewalled the production of documents, eventually hiding behind a bogus claim of “executive privilege.” Attorney General Eric Holder was caught lying about when he learned of the program, and was ultimately held in contempt of Congress after repeatedly changing his story and withholding documents. Other DOJ officials have pled the Fifth and refused to testify.
The IRS got caught targeting conservative political groups for delay or denial of tax-exempt status, and sharing taxpayer information with Democrats, then got caught lying about the issue being isolated to low-level line workers in Cincinnati. Then-IRS official Lois Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment rights by making a self-serving opening statement, then pled the Fifth and refused to testify—twice. She has also been held in contempt of Congress.
FUBARCare is, well, FUBAR. Yet when called earlier this month to testify about it before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Heath, and Human Resources, outgoing HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. . . you guessed it . . . refused to testify, even as she delays her “retirement” just long enough to qualify for lifetime federal pension benefits.
Obama administration officials use personal email accounts for official communication so they can shield it from FOIA requests and subpoenas, which can only reach their official public email accounts.
For all of Obama’s bluster about being all about government transparency and accountability, we know nothing about what this administration is doing, and they not only refuse to tell us, but they arrogantly flip us the bird in the process. And if they manage to hold out long enough, if we continue to ask questions we then face juvenile retorts of “Dude, this was like, two years ago.” The President doesn’t take serious questions from the press. His administration officials refuse to release documents or testify before Congress, and conduct untold amounts of official business in inaccessible private shadows. Everything seems calculated to hide, divert, or delay any attempt to learn what is going on.
Meanwhile NSA is tapping your phones (gonna be different this time) and the federal government is watching you through drones, while non-military agencies of the federal government arm themselves to the teeth with no explanation.
Why? Why is the government going to such lengths to avoid telling anyone (except Vladimir Putin—how does that extra “flexibility after the election” look now?) anything about what it’s doing? And why is almost no one asking why? The press won’t do it. Hell, the GOP will barely do it anymore. Why?
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.