First Thoughts: The White House’s terrible, horrible Friday spills over – The White House’s terrible, horrible Friday spills over… Why the IRS story packs a bigger political punch… The White House’s slow response to both the IRS and Benghazi stories… Q&A time for Obama: He holds joint press conference with British PM David Cameron at 11:15 am ET… Recapping Rand Paul’s speech in Cedar Rapids, IA… New Gomez internal shows him trailing Markey by just 3 pts… New Cuccinelli ad focuses on the economy, taxes.. And Herseth Sandlin won’t run in SD.
By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during his daily news briefing at the White House, Friday, May, 10, 2013. Carney responded on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, calling on top-to-bottom review of the Obama administration after the IRS admitted that it had targeted conservative groups during the 2012 election.
*** The White House’s terrible, horrible Friday spills over: Everything that happened last Friday — the reporting on the revisions to the Benghazi talking points, the news that the IRS had targeted conservative groups, reporters pummeling White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at his briefing — represented the White House’s worst day since the first presidential debate. And it all spilled over to the Sunday shows and today’s news. As the Washington Post now reports, “At various points over the past two years, Internal Revenue Service officials singled out for scrutiny not only groups with ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their names but also nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution, according to documents in an audit conducted by the agency’s inspector general.” Indeed, the IRS story is bigger long-term problem for the Obama administration than perhaps it realized on Friday afternoon when its initial response lacked a real sense of outrage.
The Daily Rundown’s Chuck Todd talks about the continuing investigation by House Republicans into the attack.
*** IRS story packs a bigger political punch: One reason why is because Benghazi has already been litigated so much (at congressional hearings, at two presidential debates, during Susan Rice’s consideration for the secretary of state job). But Friday’s revelation that the IRS had targeted conservative-sounding names (and not liberal-sounding ones) in applications for tax-exempt status will trigger new congressional hearings and new questions for the president and his team. More significantly, the IRS news is a political gift to a Republican Party whose base was strained on immigration (remember that Heritage Foundation study?) and even on guns (remember the tough questions Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeff Flake were getting?). Now, you’re seeing a GOP base united by two things they absolutely dislike: President Obama and the Internal Revenue Service. The news also is a gift to Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, or any incumbent Republican in Washington hoping to avoid a tough primary in 2014 — they get to demagogue the heck out of this story and show they will stand up for the Tea Party.
*** Slow ride, take it easy: For the Obama White House, if there’s one common theme to both the Benghazi and IRS stories, it’s how slowly it responded to them. It’s something that Sen. Dianne Feinstein alluded to on “Meet the Press” yesterday when NBC’s David Gregory asked her what she would have liked to see Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton do different after Benghazi. “Oh, to move faster. To say, ‘Yes, this was in fact a terrorist act.’ I mean, it was so evident.” When Gregory asked her why the administration dragged its heels, Feinstein responded, “I think this is a cautious administration. You see it in other respects.” That’s a kind interpretation. On Benghazi, the White House is essentially leading reporters to believe they were ultimately refereeing a bureaucratic turf fight between the CIA and State. But they also, when questioned, claim they’d do nothing differently other than — perhaps — delay giving a public accounting even further in the hours and days after the attack. When it comes to this Benghazi controversy, the questions for non-partisans (because partisans are searching only for what supports what they believe): Why did State push for the big change in the talking points? Was this about pushing back on the CIA, because it thought the agency was deflecting responsibility since the Benghazi outpost was more CIA than State? Was this about State doing CYA regarding CIA warnings about diplomatic security?
*** Q&A time for Obama: Don’t be surprised if these two stories — Benghazi and the IRS — come up at President Obama’s joint press conference with British PM David Cameron at 11:15 am ET. Afterward, Obama travels to New York City, where he hits two DNC fundraisers and then a joint DSCC/DCCC event. Also today, Vice President Biden delivers the commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania.
*** Cedar Rapids: Outside of Washington… Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had a pretty important weekend in Iowa. The dispatch from NBC’s Mike O’Brien: “On Friday, Sen. Rand Paul put his stake in the ground for a possible run in 2016 by mocking the Obama administration and delivering a blistering critique of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The administration has been criticized for failing to provide security during the attack and for its characterization of the incident afterward. Speaking at the Iowa GOP’s annual Lincoln Dinner, Paul questioned the initial response to the attacks and asked, ‘First question to Hillary Clinton: Where in the hell were the Marines?’ ‘It was inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty, and it should preclude her from holding higher office,’ the Kentucky Republican added to loud applause” at the Lincoln Day Dinner in Cedar Rapids, IA. Also, speaking of Paul in Iowa, don’t miss the story in the Washington Post about Rand Paul’s concerted effort to reach out to evangelicals, a core GOP constituency that Rand’s father Ron, rarely courted and usually alienated.
*** New Gomez internal poll shows him trailing Markey by 3 points: In Massachusetts’ special Senate election, which takes place next month, the Gabriel Gomez (R) campaign has released an internal poll (conducted May 5-7) showing him trailing Ed Markey (D) by just three points, 46%-43%, with 11% undecided. That’s in contrast to independent surveys conducted around the same that finds Markey with larger leads (46%-38% per WBUR and 52%-35% per Suffolk). According to the Gomez internal poll, the Republican has a 14-point lead among independents (50%-36%) and is carrying Republican by a 94%-3% clip. Yet Markey leads among Democrats by just 73%-12%. (The question to ask: Does that continue to hold up?) The timing of the release of this Gomez internal poll is important: It comes after Democrats had hammered Gomez on news that he “claimed a $281,500 income tax deduction in 2005 for pledging not to make any visible changes to the facade of his 112-year-old Cohasset home… But Gomez and his wife, Sarah, were already barred from making any changes to the exterior of their home under the bylaws of the local Historical Commission, raising the question as to whether their donation — the price of which is based on the loss of value in their real estate — had any monetary worth.” Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has a new web video hitting Markey for the “bounced check” scandal of the early 1990s.
*** New Cuccinelli ad focuses on the economy, taxes: In Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli (R) is up with his second TV ad of the race, and the spot is all about the economy. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” Cuccinelli says to the camera. “But they are being overtaxed and over regulated I’ve a plan to make Virginia an engine for job growth It starts with closing tax loopholes and putting an end to special interest giveaways. We’ll use the savings to cut taxes for those who’ve earned it.” Last week, NBC’s Mike O’Brien reported that Cuccinelli’s $1.4 billion tax plan “would cut the personal income tax rate to 5 percent (down from 5.75 percent) and reduce the corporate tax rate to 4 percent (from 6 percent)… [T]he attorney general would help offset the $1.4 billion price tag for his tax cuts by identifying and eliminating ‘outdated exemptions and loopholes that promote crony capitalism.'”
*** Herseth Sandlin won’t run in SD: And in South Dakota, here’s a big recruiting loss for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin won’t run for the Senate. MSNBC’s Jessica Taylor gets comment from the DSCC, which had been bullish on Herseth Sandlin’s chances of getting into the race: “There will be a strong Democratic candidate that can seize on the divisive GOP primary and provide South Dakotans with a clear alternative to the dysfunction on the Republican side. Mike Rounds is like the second coming of Tommy Thompson.” Story continued
– The targeting of conservatives by the IRS started earlier and was more extensive than the IRS acknowledged last week, according to a draft IRS inspector general report obtained by ABC News.
As we reported on “Good Morning America” this morning, the IRS began targeting “Tea Party or similar organizations” in March 2010. That was when the Cincinnati-based IRS unit responsible for overseeing the applications for tax exempt status starting using the phrases “Tea Party,” “patriots” and “9/12″ to search for applications warranting greater scrutiny.
During this first phase, 10 Tea Party cases were identified. By April of 2010, 18 Tea Party organizations were targeted, including three that had already been approved for tax-exempt status.
By June 2011, the unit had flagged over 100 Tea Party-related applications and the criteria used to scrutinize organizations had grown considerably, flagging not just “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in group names, but also groups that were working on issues like “government debt,” “taxes” and even organizations making statements that “criticize how the country is being run.”
The report, done by the Inspector General for the IRS, also shows that senior IRS officials in Washington was aware of what was going on as early as August 4, 2011 when, according to the report, the IRS chief counsel held a meeting with the IRS’s Rulings and Agreements unit “so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue.” Story Continued and to watch the video
– The Tea Party has taken the Republicans too far to the right and are as bad as the extreme liberal Democrats and their programs and policies. PdC
· On Benghazi probe, GOP’s Issa says ‘Hillary Clinton’s not a target’ – By Carrie Dann, Political Reporter, NBC News – A top GOP critic pushed back Sunday on charges that Republican efforts to investigate last year’s Benghazi attack are designed to inflict political damage on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Hillary Clinton’s not a target,” said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa on NBC’s Meet the Press. “President Obama is not a target.”
Issa, who heads a panel probing the assault on the diplomatic outpost that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, said he will seek depositions from Benghazi review board heads Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The interagency process of modifying talking points in the wake of the attack scrubbed the fact that the incident was “a terrorist attack from the get-go,” Issa said Sunday.
“The American people were effectively lied to for a period of about a month,” he charged. “That’s important to get right.”
Ambassador Thomas Pickering responds to Congressman Darrell Issa’s claim that the diplomat should testify on the Benghazi incident.
Issa’s committee held a high-profile hearing last week on the Benghazi attack. The California Republican claimed Sunday that Pickering – the man who led an independent review of the attacks on behalf of the State Department – refused to testify at that hearing.
Pickering flatly denied that he was unwilling to appear.
“I said the day before the hearings I was willing to appear, to come from the very hearings [Issa] excluded me from,” Pickering told NBC’s David Gregory. “We were told the majority said I was not welcome at that hearing; I could come at some other time.”
Issa said he was unaware of Pickering’s late notice, which the ambassador said he communicated through the White House, but added that a private deposition – which he intends to formally request Monday from the ambassador – is the more appropriate way to begin the inquiry.
“The fact is we don’t want to have some sort of a stage show,” Issa said.
Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said in a statement that Oversight committee Republicans never received a request for Pickering to testify.
“We challenge him to name the White House official who he was in contact with and the White House official whom he falsely says relayed his interest in testifying to Chairman Issa,” Hill said.
Republicans have been dogged in their questioning of the administration’s response to the attack, with leaked documents revealing last week that officials at the State Department suggested edits to talking points that erased references to terrorist groups.
While Hillary Clinton has stated publicly that she was not involved in that editing process, criticism of the former State Department chief and much-discussed possible presidential candidate has been a strong subtext of the Benghazi debate. Story Continued and to watch the video
Just months after being slimed by President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, Mitt Romney supporter and businessman Frank VanderSloot was informed that he was going to be audited not only by the Internal Revenue Service, but by the Labor Department as well.
VanderSloot’s saga was told by columnist Kimberley Strassel in the Wall Street Journal last July.
In April 2012, VanderSloot, who served as the national co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential finance committee, was one of eight Romney backers to be defamed as ”wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records” in a post on the Obama campaign’s website. The post, entitled “Behind the curtain: a brief history of Romney’s donors,” singled out VanderSloot for being a ”litigious, combative and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement.”
Two months later, the IRS informed VanderSloot he and his wife were going to be audited, Strassel reported. Two weeks after that, VanderSloot was notified by the Labor Department that it was going to “audit workers he employs on his Idaho-based cattle ranch under the federal visa program for temporary agriculture workers,” reported Strassel.
“The H-2A program allows tens of thousands of temporary workers in the U.S.; Mr. VanderSloot employs precisely three,” Strassel wrote. “All are from Mexico and have worked on the VanderSloot ranch—which employs about 20 people—for five years. Two are brothers. Mr. VanderSloot has never been audited for this, though two years ago his workers’ ranch homes were inspected. (The ranch was fined $8,400, mainly for too many ‘flies’ and for ‘grease build-up’ on the stove. God forbid a cattle ranch home has flies.)”
“This letter requests an array of documents to ascertain whether Mr. VanderSloot’s ‘foreign workers are provided the full scope of protections’ under the visa program: information on the hours they’ve worked each day and their rate of pay, an explanation of their deductions, copies of contracts,” she continued.
In her column, Strassel raised the specter that the IRS targeted VanderSloot for his political activism. Story Continued
· WHY OBAMA RELEASED EMBARRASSING IRS BOMBSHELL – Michele Bachmann explains White House’s willingness to take heat
The Internal Revenue Service under the Obama administration – described by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., as the “most feared government agency” – admitted Friday it targeted conservative and tea-party groups during last year’s election because of their politics.
Bachmann, a former tax attorney, told WND in an interview the IRS admission means the credibility of the 2012 election is in doubt.
Americans, she said, should be wondering whether Obamacare, which is to be enforced by the IRS, will target conservative voices opposed to President Obama with delays or denials of medical care.
But why would an administration ever confess to such a flagrant misuse of politics and power?
Bachmann, who chairs the House Tea Party caucus, said it’s the Benghazi scandal.
“There’s no doubt this was not a coincidence that they dumped this story today, a Friday dump day,” Bachmann told WND. “This is when they put their negative stories out.”
But she said the looming storm cloud called Benghazi is the “soft underbelly” of the Obama administration and likely will keep Hillary Clinton from fulfilling her dream of occupying the Oval Office.
That would make it logical to release an IRS story that, while embarrassing, also could be cubbyholed as another “conservative” dispute with the White House.
She was referring to the ongoing hearings on the administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack by al-Qaida-linked terrorists on a U.S. foreign service post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the ambassador.
House Republicans allege the U.S. government knew of a terrorist threat but ignored it. After the attack, critics charge, the administration blamed the deaths on reaction to an obscure anti-Muslim video, despite evidence from the beginning that it was a premeditated terrorist attack.
Locked in a tight presidential race, a deliberate assault on American assets and the murder of Americans by al-Qaida on a date as significant as 9/11 would have damaged Obama’s campaign claim that his administration had al-Qaida under control.
Bachmann said the IRS announcement of misbehavior was intended to provoke conservatives and draw their anger and attention.
“I was in that Benghazi hearing,” she told WND. “I think the Obama administration is desperate to spin Benghazi, and they can’t. I think they saved this story up for a day like today so that conservatives would focus on this admission.”
It won’t work, she insisted.
“Conservatives can handle two shocking stories at the same time,” she said. “Both are equally unconstitutional and call into question the very president.”
The Benghazi investigation has been getting worse for Obama, with witnesses testifying to a House panel Wednesday that military troops were prepared to come to Benghazi but were told to stand down. Today, the White House was grilled about the elimination of references to terrorism in the talking points officials used in the aftermath of the attack.
The IRS confirmation that it misbehaved came from Lois Lerner, chief of the unit that oversees tax-exempt organizations. She confirmed the claim of people dismissed as “conspiracy nuts” that groups that include the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications were put in a political bull’s-eye.
The American Center for Law and Justice under Jay Sekulow’s leadership already has been fighting the battle.
“We knew from the very start that this intimidation tactic was coordinated and focused directly on specific organizations,” said Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ.
It’s a cliché, of course, but it really is true: in Washington, every scandal has a crime and a cover-up. The ongoing debate about the attack on the United States facility in Benghazi where four Americans were killed, and the Obama Administration’s response to it, is no exception. For a long time, it seemed like the idea of a cover-up was just a Republican obsession. But now there is something to it.
On Friday, ABC News’s Jonathan Karl revealed the details of the editing process for the C.I.A.’s talking points about the attack, including the edits themselves and some of the reasons a State Department spokeswoman gave for requesting those edits. It’s striking to see the twelve different iterations that the talking points went through before they were released to Congress and to United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who used them in Sunday show appearances that became a central focus of Republicans’ criticism of the Administration’s public response to the attacks. Over the course of about twenty-four hours, the remarks evolved from something specific and fairly detailed into a bland, vague mush.
From the very beginning of the editing process, the talking points contained the erroneous assertion that the attack was “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved.” That’s an important fact, because the right has always criticized the Administration based on the suggestion that the C.I.A. and the State Department, contrary to what they said, knew that the attack was not spontaneous and not an outgrowth of a demonstration. But everything else about the changes that were made is problematic. The initial draft revealed by Karl mentions “at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi” before the one in which four Americans were killed. That’s not in the final version. Nor is this: “[W]e do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.” That was replaced by the more tepid “There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.” (Even if we accept the argument that State wanted to be sure that extremists were involved, and that they could be linked to Al Qaeda, before saying so with any level of certainty—which is reasonable and supported by evidence from Karl’s reporting—that doesn’t fully explain these changes away.)
Democrats will argue that the editing process wasn’t motivated by a desire to protect Obama’s record on fighting Al Qaeda in the run-up to the 2012 election. They have a point; based on what we’ve seen from Karl’s report, the process that went into creating and then changing the talking points seems to have been driven in large measure by two parts of the government—C.I.A. and State—trying to make sure the blame for the attacks and the failure to protect American personnel in Benghazi fell on the other guy.
But the mere existence of the edits—whatever the motivation for them—seriously undermines the White House’s credibility on this issue. This past November (after Election Day), White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that “The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because ‘consulate’ was inaccurate.”
Remarkably, Carney is sticking with that line even now. In his regular press briefing on Friday afternoon (a briefing that was delayed several times, presumably in part so the White House could get its spin in order, but also so that it could hold a secretive pre-briefing briefing with select members of the White House press corps), he said:
The only edit made by the White House or the State Department to those talking points generated by the C.I.A. was a change from referring to the facility that was attacked in Benghazi from “consulate,” because it was not a consulate, to “diplomatic post”… it was a matter of non-substantive factual correction. But there was a process leading up to that that involved inputs from a lot of agencies, as is always the case in a situation like this and is always appropriate.
This is an incredible thing for Carney to be saying. He’s playing semantic games, telling a roomful of journalists that the definition of editing we’ve all been using is wrong, that the only thing that matters is who’s actually working the keyboard. It’s not quite re-defining the word “is,” or the phrase “sexual relations,” but it’s not all that far off, either. Story Continued
· IRS Mess –
The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups is outrageous. Those who did this should be fired immediately. That’s obvious.
It continues a slovenly week for Barack Obama. The President has been very proud of the absence of scandal in his Administration, and rightly so. The inability of his opponents to find any significant corruption in the historic $800 billion stimulus package was a real achievement, given the speed of the payout. None of his top aides have been caught up in taking bribes while in office — although their race through the revolving door into lucrative private-sector positions is well beyond nauseating.
As in most presidencies, there have been an awful lot of political hacks populating the midreaches of this Administration. In the Obama instance, these have shown an anachronistic, pre-Clinton liberal bias when it comes to the rules and regulations governing many of our safety-net programs, like Social Security disability. And now they have violated one of the more sacred rules of our democracy: you do not use the tax code to punish your opponents.
Lois G. Lerner, the IRS official who oversees tax-exempt groups, said the ‘absolutely inappropriate’ actions by ‘frontline people’ were not driven by partisan motives.
Does anyone actually believe this?
Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government. And the President should know this: the absence of scandal is not the presence of competence. His unwillingness to concentrate — and I mean concentrate obsessively — on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.
Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.
“And suddenly three days ago this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story,” Obama said in response to a question about Benghazi. “There’s no there there.”
The president continued, “Keep in mind by the way these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice, five, six days after the event occurred, pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing.”
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama strongly condemned officials at the Internal Revenue Service for singling out conservative groups during the lead-up to the 2012 elections.
In a press conference on Monday, Obama called the reports “outrageous” and intolerable, while saying he would reserve harsher judgment for when a fuller report on the IRS’s actions is formally released.
“This is pretty straightforward,” said Obama. “If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a non-partisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party.”
“But I have got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this,” he added.
The remarks were the president’s first on the evolving scandal surrounding the tax collection agency. News broke last Friday that the IRS had targeted groups with the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their name, forcing them to fill out additional questionnaires and provide more information in order to get approval for their tax-exempt status. Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the IRS had also given extra scrutiny to organizations that focused on government spending, debt and taxes.
Lawmakers have responded with anger and outrage. On Monday morning, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called on the IRS commissioner to be fired. The senator’s office confirmed to The Huffington Post that he was referring to Steven Miller, the acting commissioner. The Senate has not yet confirmed a full-time commissioner since Douglas Shulman, a Bush appointee, stepped down this past fall.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), meanwhile, called for a “congressional investigation to determine” how the IRS scandal took place. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said that “The IRS should be prepared for a full investigation into this matter by the Senate Finance Committee.”
The results of such an investigation will ultimately determine whether the story amounts to a case of terrible bureaucratic judgment or becomes a wider political scandal.
The IRS began taking on additional campaign finance regulatory responsibilities after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which led to an uptick in filings for 501(c)(4) organizations seeking social welfare status. The agency’s Cincinnati office became the central clearing point for those applications. Officials there, the agency said, were the ones who inappropriately targeted conservative groups for scrutiny.
As early as mid-2011, however, high-ranking IRS officials became aware that the Cincinnati office was engaging in this activity, a forthcoming Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report will reportedly reveal. Why nothing was said or done prior to last Friday is unclear.
The president on Monday said that neither he nor his advisers were aware that this was taking place.
“I learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this,” said the president. “I think it was on Friday.”
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reported that a government official who had reviewed a copy of the report said no one outside the IRS was involved in encouraging the targeting of conservative groups. Story Continued and to watch the video