What’s Up May 22, 2013?

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· After IRS, Benghazi scandals, public trust shifts to GOP

The Democratic Party’s edge over the GOP on who the public trusts more on ethics and corruption issues has flipped in the wake of the IRS and Benghazi scandals, according to Rasmussen Reports.

Not only do voters trust Republicans more now, they have their highest level of confidence in the GOP and the lowest level in Democrats in seven months.

While the Democrats had an eight-point “trust advantage” over Republicans a month ago, Rasmussen’s latest poll said that edge has disappeared and now the GOP has a two-point advantage.

“With growing questions about Benghazi and actions taken by the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department, Democrats’ noticeable edge over Republicans in voter trust in the area of government ethics and corruption has disappeared,” said Rasmussen.

In their latest poll, 39 percent of likely voters trust Republicans more to handle the ethics and corruption issue. Slightly less, 37 percent, still trust Democrats and 24 percent are unsure.

But, said Rasmussen, “this marks a big shift from March when Democrats held an eight-point trust advantage over the GOP – 42 percent to 34 percent. Now the president’s party trails by two. The newest finding is the highest level of confidence in Republicans and the lowest level for Democrats since October. It’s also the smallest gap between the two parties in nearly a year.” Story Continued

· FBI ID’S BENGHAZI SUSPECTS _ BUT NO ARRESTS YET

U.S. officials say they have identified five men they believe might be behind the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year. The officials say they have enough evidence to justify seizing them by military force as suspected terrorists _ but not enough proof to try them in a U.S. civilian court as the Obama administration prefers.

So the officials say the men remain at large while the FBI gathers more evidence. The decision not to seize the men militarily underscores the White House’s aim to move away from hunting terrorists as enemy combatants and toward trying them as criminals in a civilian justice system.

The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss sensitive briefings publicly. Story Continued

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·

Half Of America Wants To Impeach Obama, According To Impeachable Polling Outfit

Big news this week from WorldNetDaily, America’s pre-eminent source of far-right fringe theories and weird scams: about half of America would like to see Obama impeached, including a lot of Democrats. Yeah, sure, you may have heard that Obama’s overall approval ratings have held steady after this past week of scandal reporting, but look between the lines, dude. Un-skew the numbers, man!

Per WND: “It may be early in the process for members of Congress to start planning for impeachment of Barack Obama, but the American public is building a serious appetite for it,” said Fritz Wenzel, of Wenzel Strategies, which did the telephone poll Thursday. It has a margin of error of 4.36 percent.

“Half or nearly half of those surveyed said they believed Obama should be impeached for the trifecta of scandals now consuming Washington.”

Actually, on the issue of the Benghazi scandal, where four Americans were killed when in what may have been a politically motivated series of moves, a surging danger to Americans at the Foreign Service facility there was ignored until al-Qaida-linked terrorists attacked, 50.1 percent of Americans said Obama should be impeached. That included 27.6 percent of the responding Democrats.

Similar numbers are reported using the ongoing IRS inquiry and the Department of Justice’s seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors.

Of course, the wording of the poll questions could be described as “leading,” if we’re being really, really charitable. Here’s one: “The administration of Democrat Barack Obama has still not satisfied congressional and media questions about just what it knew and when it knew it about the terrorist attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, last September 11. That attack killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. The Obama administration has changed its explanation of that attack several times since and has so far refused to identify those officials who made key decisions not to send help to stop the attacks, and who decided not to initially call the killings a terrorist attack. Knowing that and anything else you may be aware of about this issue, do you agree or disagree that President Obama should be impeached over his handling of this situation?”

Back in February, HuffPost Pollster’s Emily Swanson dove deeply into the way poll respondents frequently use the idea of “impeachment” as a catch-all way of expressing disapproval, and found that “simply asking whether people support or oppose it may produce results that overstate their support.” Using three different methodologies, Swanson demonstrated that depending on how the question is asked, support for impeachment varies considerably.

But more importantly, how reliable is Wenzel Strategies? That’s like asking, “How reliable are these six meth-tweakers I found in a mud hole, handed a pile of tin cans and a calculator, and told that they were now a polling organization?” But don’t take my word for it, let’s go to the scoreboard: Story Continued

· Sharyl Attkisson’s computers compromised

Sharyl Attkisson, the Emmy-award winning CBS News investigative reporter, says that her personal and work computers have been compromised and are under investigation.

“I can confirm that an intrusion of my computers has been under some investigation on my end for some months but I’m not prepared to make an allegation against a specific entity today as I’ve been patient and methodical about this matter,” Attkisson told POLITICO on Tuesday. “I need to check with my attorney and CBS to get their recommendations on info we make public.”

In an earlier interview with WPHT Philadelphia, Attkisson said that though she did not know the full details of the intrusion, “there could be some relationship between these things and what’s happened to James [Rosen],” the Fox News reporter who became the subject of a Justice Dept. investigation after reporting on CIA intelligence about North Korea in 2009.

On Sunday, The Washington Post reported that the Justice Dept. had searched Rosen’s personal e-mails and tracked his visits to the State Dept. The court affidavit described Rosen as “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” of his government source, presumably because he had solicited classified information from that source — an argument that has been heavily criticized by other journalists.

Attkisson told WPHT that irregular activity on her computer was first identified in Feb. 2011, when she was reporting on the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal and on the Obama administration’s green energy spending, which she said “the administration was very sensitive about.” Attkisson has also been a persistent investigator of the events surrounding last year’s attack in Benghazi, and its aftermath. Story Continued

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· IRS tea-party bloodbath continues in Congress, as evidence emerges that IRS’s own internal probe ended in May 2012, six months before election, but was hidden from legislators

Tempers flared in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday, with members on both sides of the aisle castigating the Internal Revenue Service for targeting conservative groups with special scrutiny, and then hiding the practice from Congress.

Rep. Darrel Issa, the committee’s chairman, said that the committee learned just yesterday that the IRS completed its own investigation a year before a Treasury Department Inspector General report was completed.

But despite the IRS recognizing in May 2012 that its employees were treating right-wing groups differently from other organizations, Issa said, IRS personnel withheld those conclusions from legislators.

‘Just yesterday the committee interviewed Holly Paz, the director of exempt organizations, rulings and agreements, division of the IRS,’ Issa said. ‘While a tremendous amount of attention is centered about the Inspector General’s report, or investigation, the committee has learned from Ms. Paz that she in fact participated in an IRS internal investigation that concluded in May of 2012 – May 3 of 2012 – and found essentially the same thing that Mr. George found more than a year later.’

‘Think about it,’ he continued: ‘For more than a year, the IRS knew that it had inappropriately targeted groups of Americans based on their political beliefs, and without mentioning it, and in fact without honestly answering questions that were the result of this internal investigation.’

Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin testified that he was unaware of that IRS investigation until he read other officials prepared testimony just a few days ago.

Documents: IRS letters harassing conservative groups came from Washington, DC headquarters and from California offices, despite Inspector General’s focus on Cincinnati employees

Lois Lerner, the Director of Exempt Organizations at the IRS, made a brief opening statement recounting the recent history of the agency’s scandal. Her attorney told the committee on Tuesday in a letter that she would refuse to answer questions by invoking her protections under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

‘I have not done anything wrong,’ she said. ‘I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations and I have not provided false information to this or any other committee.’

Christina King (L) and Lynne Sherrer (C) hold signs during a tea party demonstration against the IRS on Tuesday in West Palm Beach, Florida. Tea party groups were targeted for special vetting by the tax agency for several years.

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Lois Lerner asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege while giving an opening statement defending herself, bringing one committee member to claim she could no longer assert it at all

Lois Lerner: ‘I have not done anything wrong’

Issa dismissed Lerner from the hearing, over objections from South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, who insisted that she should be forced to answer questions since she had ‘waived her right’ to refuse ‘by issuing an opening statement.’

‘She ought to stay and answer questions,’ Gowdy said, to sudden applause from some in the audience gallery.

Issa then kept Lerner in the hearing room, asking her if she would answer any questions at all.

‘I will not answer any questions or testify today,’ she replied.

Issa then asked if she would answer questions about her previous testimony before Congress.

‘i decline to answer that question, for reasons I have already given.’

Lerner was dismissed a second time and left the hearing room with her lawyer, but not before Issa cautioned that she could be recalled and forced to testify in the future if committee attorneys determined that she had forfeited her Fifth Amendment rights by making an opening statement.

It’s unclear if Lerner will be forced to testify at a later date. One Republican said she should be required to face cross-examination as though she were in federal court

Protesters in Washington, DC on Tuesday carried hand-made signs with political messages, including one that wouldn’t be family friendly if it were spelled out

One top Democrat breathed fire, warning that prosecutions could result.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch said that if witnesses stonewalled the committee there would be legal consequences.

‘If you refuse to answer,’ Lynch said, ‘you will leave us no choice but to ask for a special counsel or the appointment of a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of this.’

‘I hope that’s not the approach of the IRS going forward, ‘he added. ‘Because there will be hell to pay.’

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, threatened to call for a special prosecutor if IRS officials stonewalled Congress

Lynch later castigated Douglas Shulman, the former IRS Commissioner who ran the agency while its abuses were going on, for failing to tell Congress the truth about what his agency had already concluded in the investigation that ended in May 2012.

Shulman testified in March 2012, two months earlier that there was ‘absolutely’ no special targeting of conservative groups going on.

‘At no time, to the best of my memory, was I ever given the impression that these [IRS employees] were only [looking closely] at conservative groups’ Shulman told Lynch on Wednesday.

‘You misled Congress. Make no question about it,” Lynch snapped back.

‘You did nothing. You abdicated your responsibility.’

One protester in Washington wore a ‘FREE HEALTHCARE’ t-shirt with plenty of sarcastic fine print on Tuesday. The IRS’s involvement with implementing President Obama’s Affordable Care Act has been a key rallying cry in tea party groups’ criticism of the IRS

Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, linked the tea party scandal with the implementation of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

‘This administration, this agency, the very agency charged with enforcing Obamacare,’ Jordan said in an opening statement, ‘systematically targeted groups that came into existence because they opposed Obamacare – and they started the targeting the very month, March 2010, that Obamacare came into law – expects us to believe it is the work of ‘two rogue agents.’

The Obama administration, Jordan reminded those in the hearing room, also ‘told us and told the American people that the attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi was the work – was caused by a video.

‘The people don’t buy it,’ he said. ‘The American people get it. They just want this administration to give them the truth. And that’s why this hearing is so important.’

The great escape: Lerner leaves the Oversight Committee hearing room as members sparred over whether she could read an opening statement and then refuse to testify. The committee is investigating allegations that the IRS targeted conservative non-profit organizations for special scrutiny

Committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, said Lois Lerner shouldn’t be allowed to assert her Fifth Amendment protection, since she had already defended herself in an opening statement

Wolin also disclosed that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew got a heads-up in March – a month before White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler – that an Inspector General report would soon be issued. That notification, he said, came from the Inspector General himself.

‘On March 15, 2013, Mr. George had a short introductory meeting with Secretary Lew,’ Wolin’s prepared remarks read.

‘At that meeting, Mr. George informed Secretary Lew of a number of matters TIGTA [the Inspector General office] was reviewing. He also indicated that this audit report would be forthcoming. Mr. George did not describe any details of his audit findings. This was also in line with standard practice.’

Lerner told the committee she has ‘done nothing wrong,’ and then invoked her constitutional right to not answer lawmakers’ questions

Florida Republican Rep. John Mica explained in his remarks why the IRS scandal may have overtaken the other two public-perception challenges that the Obama administration faces, whose being the 2012 Benghazi terror attack and the Justice Department’s spying on reporters.

His tax-paying constituents, Mica said, find that it resonates especially well with them.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen any investigation or review by this committee or subject that has so riveted and shocked the American people,’ Mica said.

‘I went home last weekend and almost to a person everyone asked me about this.’ Story Continued and to watch the video

· The Insiders: A special prosecutor in the IRS matter is inevitable

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This administration’s management of the Obama Internal Revenue Service scandal so far consists of a slow-walking, rolling disclosure of facts; equal parts equivocation, amnesia and indignation from IRS witnesses; deer-in-the-headlights non-responses by the White House press secretary; parsed, lawyerly statements from the president himself; and now one of the central key players is taking the Fifth. And all this comes from what the president claimed would be the “most transparent administration ever…”

If we give the president the benefit of the doubt and assume he knows the truth is going to come out, the question remains: Does the administration appoint the special prosecutor sooner or later? The calculus inside the White House is how to best protect the president’s political interests. They have two options. They could delay the appointment and let more of the story develop, weather the ugly piecemeal disclosures, give the players time to get their stories straight and lawyer-up and hope Republicans continue their overreach, giving the whole affair a nutty partisan patina. Or, they could accelerate the appointment of a special prosecutor, thereby slowing the congressional inquiries and giving Jay Carney some relief from his daily embarrassing routine by supplying him with the escape hatch of not being allowed to comment on matters associated with the special prosecutor’s ongoing investigation. Not to mention, the White House all the while could blast the appointed counsel as a partisan ideologue à la the hatchet job that was done on Ken Starr.

Anyway, if the president is innocent, he will end up needing and wanting a special prosecutor sooner rather than later. If he and his White House already have too much to hide, then they must clam up, cry partisanship and hope their allies on the Hill and in the media have the stamina for the long, hard slog ahead.

My personal favorite of all the new revelations from the Obama IRS scandal is that White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler told White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough about the impending IRS inspector general report, but of course the White House chief of staff did not tell the president.

I sat in a White House chief of staff’s office every day for more than two years. The only reason the legal counsel would tell the chief of staff about an impending report or disclosure would be so the chief of staff could tell the president. The legal counsel would assume the chief of staff would know how and when to bring up the matter. The chief of staff would be expected to know if there were additional factors surrounding the issue that needed to be considered before the president was told, or whether or not others needed to be included in the conversation when the information was shared with the president. There are many valid reasons why the chief of staff would tell the president, but I can’t think of a reason why he and the legal counsel would both agree that this news nugget would go no further. It’s very odd.

The legal counsel would never assume that information shared with the chief of staff would not go to the president. In my experience, a legal counsel never would believe that there was information that was appropriate for the chief of staff to know but that was inappropriate for the president to know. Out of all the news that has emerged regarding the Obama IRS scandal, this is the most curious whopper I’ve heard so far. I can’t wait to hear the real story. Story Continued

· Meet the Man Who Set Off the IRS Firestorm

J. Russell George once stalked the halls of the Capitol for senators’ autographs. Now he’s there to testify in a scandal gripping Washington.

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J. Russell George paused for just a moment before he took his seat at the witness table. He wanted to take it all in. The Treasury inspector general whose audit of the IRS had set off a national firestorm had been in this very room before—three decades earlier.

That was back when George was a precocious teenager who had worked his way onto the staff of then-Sen. Bob Dole, the powerful Republican chairman of the vaunted Finance Committee. Then, he’d sorted mail and made carbon copies. Now, he was about to testify before the same panel, to present the findings of an explosive audit that found wayward tax agents who had targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny.

“I could never have dreamed [about this] as a 17, 18-year-old,” George said in a wide-ranging interview with National Journal, one of his first since the audit. “It’s kind of moving for me in that regard.”

Two heads have already rolled in the scandal. One of them, the outgoing acting commissioner of the IRS, Steven Miller, was seated next to George. Pictures of the two of them, their right hands raised, taking the oath, ran in papers across the nation after the scandal’s first congressional hearing last week.

All the attention was new, but George has operated in these halls of power his entire career. He worked for Dole, and then in President George H.W. Bush’s White House. In between, he attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1988 alongside a young Michelle Obama (then Michelle Robinson).

They weren’t in the same section—the academic groupings that Harvard uses to divide its students—but George said they traveled in some of the same social circles, including the Black Law Students Association.

“I think he actually dated Michelle at one point,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, who worked with George when he was staff director for a House oversight subcommittee in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“That is overstating it,” George said. But the two students did socialize in group settings. “Michelle was a lovely person, and down to earth,” he said. “…The BLSA went out for pizza; we would go out together.”

He paused, for a beat. “Don’t get me in trouble,” George said.

George, 49, has been a lot better at finding success than trouble throughout his career. He grew up in New York City, where his father worked for the transit authority and his mother was a secretary. At the age of 10, he was publishing a neighborhood paper, according to a congressional good-bye speech his old boss, former Rep. Steve Horn, R-Calif., gave in 2002.

From an early age, George was fascinated by celebrities. He’d line up outside the stage door of the biggest shows on Broadway to collect stars’ autographs, “Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton …” he said, fondly, “I could go on and on.”

He moved to Washington to study at Howard University, the historically black college, but his fascination—he calls it a “hobby”—with fame followed. And in Washington, the famous were on Capitol Hill. So he decamped to the corridors outside the Senate clutching a piece of cardboard, “with my goal to get every member of the U.S. Senate to sign a single placard,” he said.

That’s where he met Bob Dole. “Who are you missing?” Dole asked George, after scribbling his name. Dole then “went into the Senate chamber and started bringing out, one by one, all these great lions of the Senate,” George recalled. Lions like Ted Kennedy, who would add his name to the signatures of Jesse Helms and Barry Goldwater.

George called Dole the next day to ask for a job. Dole’s staffer asked what party he was with. “I’m 17,” George said. “I’m not registered as anything.” They said he could come in once a week, unpaid. Soon enough, though, he had a full-time job.

Two of the senators whom George would have stalked in the halls in the early 1980s (although they likely weren’t high on his star list then) were among his inquisitors on Tuesday: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the panel’s top Republican.

George, a recent board member of Washington’s tony University Club who can now count himself among the political celebrities he once pursued, can’t remember if he got their signatures. The placard is “at my parent’s house in New York,” he said, likely accumulating dust. “I don’t think I got all 100, because some of them snuck out the side door.”

After Harvard Law, George had a brief stint as a New York prosecutor, before returning to Washington to work for President George H.W. Bush, as a lawyer in the budget office, then as associate director for policy in the Office of National Service. The Clinton era ushered him back to New York, into private practice.

In 1995, with Republicans in control of the House and Speaker Newt Gingrich ascendant, George returned to Washington as chief counsel of a House oversight subcommittee, where he stayed until 2002. There, he won plaudits for his impartiality from both sides of the aisle.

“Russell was a straight-shooter,” said Phil Barnett, then chief counsel to Rep. Henry Waxman of California, who was the top Democrat on the House oversight panel at the time.

“You can take what he does from an objectivity point of view to the bank,” said Davis, the former GOP House member. He said George has the perfect temperament for the current IRS maelstrom. “You couldn’t ask for a fairer umpire in this,” Davis said, “He’s not a fiery Republican type, but obviously he’s not beholden to the administration.”

The second President Bush tapped George for an inspector general role in 2002 (Dole administered the oath to George) and then his current post in 2004. At his confirmation hearing, then-Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., introduced George as a “good friend.” “Credibility, integrity, and competence, those are among the very first words that come to mind,” he said.

With his rounded features, baritone voice and thin-rimmed glasses that rest low on his nose, George has emerged from the witness table unscathed. Of course, it helps that the toughest, most outraged questions aren’t slung his way but at the IRS officials who oversaw the agency as the targeting occurred.

Also working in George’s favor: Some of his congressional questioners know him from his staffer days. George ticked off the names: Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., among them. Count Joe Scarbough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, as among those who worked with George in the House, too.

It probably doesn’t hurt that the communications director at George’s side, Karen Kraushaar, has weathered a Washington scandal storm herself. In 2011, Kraushaar was one of the first women to be named publicly after accusing GOP then-presidential candidate Herman Cain of sexual harassment.

“Truth-telling requires strength of character,” said Kraushaar, who has worked for the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’ Office since 2010.

As tax-administration inspector general, George manages a staff of nearly 800 employees charged with monitoring the IRS. He counts the audit his team produced as among his biggest achievements in nearly two decades as a federal government watchdog.

“Americans need to have trust that the agency, which has so much of their personal information—and has an ability to affect their lives in so many different ways—is operated with the highest degree of integrity,” George said.

In the last week, George has testified before three different congressional committees. That’s likely just the start. At Tuesday’s Finance hearing, he suggested that his office was undertaking a review of nonprofits—known as 501(c)(4)s—that have played in the electoral arena, an issue that Democrats have cried out to be addressed.

In the interview, George wouldn’t address that, specifically, but he said, “As a result of the work that was conducted in preparation of this audit, we have uncovered areas that need further review.”

Or, as he told senators Tuesday, “Suffice it to say, this matter is not over.” Story Continued

· Michelle Said to be Considering an Extended Vacation

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With scandal swirling about the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama may be considering an extended exit from Washington this summer, fleeing for weeks to the Obamas’ traditional summer haven, Martha’s Vineyard.

According to the Boston Globe, “Michelle Obama and the children may be on the island for an extended period.” But the president would hardly be suffering by comparison. He may come up on weekends and then stay for two weeks at the end of the summer, the Globe reports.

The White House has not commented on the Obamas’ vacation plans.

The Obamas are said to be eying a house in Farm Neck on the Vineyard. If they land there, the president will have easy access to the lovely Farm Neck Golf Club and Cafe. Here’s the view from the tee on the third hole.

It appears Michelle may be skipping her usual spring excursion overseas, which in the past has included stops at a luxury resort in Spain and in South Africa. Instead, she’ll accompany her husband next month on an official trip to Africa.

But not to worry, she already spent two weeks in Hawaii this past winter and jetted out for some Aspen skiing in February.

The Obamas opted out of their annual trip to Martha’s Vineyard in 2012, likely because they were campaigning and because a luxury sojourn there would have conflicted with the campaign image Obama was trying to project as a fighter for the middle class. Story Continued

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