What’s Up May 29, 2013?

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· Obama embraces role as consoler in chief to remain above the frayPresident Obama will gain one more day of respite from the controversies that have crowded in on his administration Tuesday, as he tours the New Jersey coast to inspect the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The Garden State visit follows a presidential speech Monday to mark Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery and a trip to tornado-stricken Oklahoma on Sunday.

Both weekend occasions permitted Obama to appear above the fray — the commander in chief and consoler in chief, respectively — rather than as a political figure pinned down in the Washington trenches.

The trip comes as his administration faces tough questions over a trio of controversies: the IRS political targeting scandal, the Justice Department’s leak probes and the handling of the Benghazi mission attack.

Tuesday’s New Jersey trip will be undertaken in the company of Gov. Chris Christie (R), a visit that will evoke memories of their joint tour of affected communities shortly after Sandy hit. At that point — late October last year — the presidential election campaign was in its closing days.

Some conservatives reacted with fury to Christie’s praise of Obama at the time, contending that any chance of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney riding a surge of late momentum was choked off by Sandy and its aftermath. Radio host Rush Limbaugh dismissed the New Jersey governor as “a fool.”

Last year’s Obama-Christie appearance was dramatic and high profile, but it is not unusual for the sharp edges of political partisanship to be softened in the wake of a disaster, as the president’s day in Oklahoma showed.

Two of the state’s most prominent Republicans, Gov. Mary Fallin and Rep. Tom Cole, accompanied Obama. Both expressed their admiration for the president’s actions in the days since a massive tornado ripped through Oklahoma City suburbs.

Late last year, Cole described Obama’s initial plan to avert the “fiscal cliff” of tax rises and spending cuts as “laughable” and “the most fraudulent position ever” in an interview with The Weekly Standard.

But after he and Fallin had seen Obama off on Air Force One for the trip back to Washington over the weekend, Cole told reporters gathered on the tarmac that the president had “made an awfully good impression on the people of Oklahoma.”

Obama, for his part, was able to make explicit what is often implicit in the role of a president, as he spoke next to the ruins of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., where seven children perished.

“I want to make sure everybody understands I’m speaking on behalf of the entire country,” he said. “I’m just a messenger here today, letting everybody here know that you are not alone, that you’ve got folks behind you.”

Obama’s Memorial Day address at Arlington also permitted the president to embrace the role of head of state rather than political player.

He even spoke of Washington itself in grander, more elevated terms than usual — especially for a man who often struggles to contain his contempt for the political culture of the nation’s capital.

“Beyond these quiet hills, across that special bridge, is a city of monuments dedicated to visionary leaders and singular moments in the life of our Republic,” Obama said. “But it is here, on this hallowed ground, where we choose to build a monument to a constant thread in the American character.”

Skeptics would note that fine words often bring little change. Obama has delivered well-received speeches at more intense moments of national trauma yet the basic political landscape has gone unaltered afterward. The two most notable examples came in the wake of the January 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and after the massacre in Newtown last December.

The Memorial Day weekend did not bring a total cessation of political hostilities.

On Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told ABC’s “This Week” that he believed the three controversies centered upon the IRS, Benghazi and DOJ meant that Obama was “really losing the moral authority to lead this nation.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested that the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups had its roots in Obama’s own “take no prisoners attitude.”

The political arrows were not all being fired in one direction, either. Briefing the media aboard Air Force One on the way to Oklahoma, White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest responded to a reporter’s question about what the disaster said about the role of government by first saying: “It’s not a day for politics.”

He then continued: “That said, I think it is evident to any impartial observer here what an important role the federal government can play in providing assistance to our people at their time of urgent need. And you talk about an agency like FEMA that, when this president took office, did not have a very good reputation.”

The jab at the president’s predecessor, George W. Bush, and the widely criticized response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was unmistakable.

Such moments fuel skepticism even among politically-unaligned observers.

“[Obama] can walk along what’s left of the boardwalk with Chris Christie, but if he then goes out the next day and starts jabbing Republicans in the House and the Senate, it doesn’t do anything to show he’s bipartisan or nonpartisan,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communications.

Still, as he readies himself for Tuesday’s New Jersey trip, the president has plenty of reasons to savor another day’s break from politics as usual. Story Continued

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· Washington launches four different investigations into IRS scandal

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Capitol Hill aides spent their Memorial Day weekend scanning hundreds of pages of documents related to the IRS scandal in order to prepare their bosses for what will inevitably be a frantic month of June involving multiple simultaneous investigations into government wrongdoing. By the time lawmakers return to session next week, at least four different investigations will be underway.

As The Daily Caller has reported, at least five different IRS offices including Cincinnati, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois and El Monte and Laguna Niguel, California improperly targeted conservative nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny between 2010 and 2012.

The IRS’ shenanigans, chronicled in a damning report by Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George, started when a “team of [IRS] specialists” came together in April 2010 to process the tax-exempt nonprofit status of conservative groups that might be “potential political operations” (page 13 of the IG report). The IRS added “additional specialists” to this effort in December 2011.

The IRS also launched audits of existing conservative nonprofit groups including the Virginia-based Leadership Institute, demanding to see training materials and personal information about the organization’s 2008 college interns.

So for those of you keeping score at home (this reporter is still waiting for Ken Starr to send in his bracket picks) The Daily Caller presents a list of some of our favorite investigations into potential IRS wrongdoing. Which one will come up with the “Alexander Butterfield” quote?

1. The House Ways and Means Committee – Oversight Subcommittee

As head of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, Republican Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany has conducted the toughest probe into the IRS scandal so far. Boustany managed to acquire “all communications containing the word ‘tea party,’ ‘patriot,’ or ‘conservative,’” from recently-resigned IRS acting director Steven T. Miller. He also got the names of everyone involved with the improper targeting.

Republican Ways and Means chairman Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan also raised awareness of the issue by reaching out to the public, asking Americans to write in with their own stories of IRS harassment.

“Your story is critical to moving the investigation forward,” according to a form created on the Ways and Means’ Committee’s website asking for users’ stories, which also includes a two-year timeline of the scandal beginning in August 2010.

Boustany was in prime position to jump on the IRS scandal. Back in September, long before the current scandal, his subcommittee grilled Steven T. Miller with concerns about the IRS’ implementation of Obamacare. Story Continued

· Claim: Holder ‘Beginning to Feel a Creeping Sense of Personal Remorse’President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, is “beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse.” The feelings of “remorse” began for Holder after he read an article in the Washington Post about how the Justice Department, which he heads, investigated Fox News reporter James Rosen.

At least, this is the story unnamed aides are telling the Daily Beast.

“[F]or Attorney General Eric Holder, the gravity of the situation didn’t fully sink in until Monday morning when he read the Post’s front-page story, sitting at his kitchen table. Quoting from the affidavit, the story detailed how agents had tracked Rosen’s movements in and out of the State Department, perused his private emails, and traced the timing of his calls to the State Department security adviser suspected of leaking to him. Then the story, quoting the stark, clinical language of the affidavit, described Rosen as ‘at the very least … an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator’ in the crime,” reports the Daily Beast.

“Holder knew that Justice would be besieged by the twin leak probes; but, according to aides, he was also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse.”

But while Holder could deny knowing about the Justice Department looking into the Associated Press’s records, he had signed off on the Rosen case. “In the Fox case, however, Holder knew he bore a direct measure of responsibility. He had approved a search-warrant application that equated a reporter’s newsgathering activities with criminal conduct. That put Holder at the center of the brewing controversy, all while the Obama administration was being buffeted over allegations that the IRS had targeted conservative groups and by the continuing Benghazi tempest.” Story Continued

· Terror police called in after prison warden stabbed in attack ‘inspired by Woolwich murder’ 

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Three prisoners were reported to have held the warden, who suffered a fractured cheekbone, hostage before stabbing him during a four-hour stand-off with guards on Sunday afternoon.

The attack at Full Sutton prison in East Yorkshire was said to have left the officer “badly shaken”, while a female prison guard was also understood to have been injured as she tried to intervene.

The incident reportedly took place after a prison imam called for inmates to pray for Drummer Rigby.

The North East Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) has been called in to lead the investigation.

A spokesman said: “Inquiries are ongoing to establish the circumstances surrounding the incident. Given the potential nature of the incident and the range of skills and expertise within the North East CTU, the unit is leading the investigation at this time.”

A source told The Sun: “This had all the hallmarks of a pre-planned attack inspired by the Woolwich atrocity.

“It’s something officials have feared could happen for years and now it finally has.

“The officer was frankly lucky to survive. The attack was brutal.”

The warden, said to be in his 30s, was reportedly set upon near the kitchens of the jail’s E Wing.

A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman said: “An incident involving three prisoners took place at HMP Full Sutton on 26 May from 4.25pm and was successfully resolved at 8.40pm after staff intervened.

“A police investigation is ongoing.”

The MoJ would not comment on reports that the attackers were Islamic extremists.

Drummer Rigby was hacked to death in the street in Woolwich, south east London, last week.

Two suspected Islamist terrorists, Michael Adebowale, 22, and Michael Adebolajo, 28, are accused of his murder.

In 2009, nine prisoners, including some terrorists, were caught planning to escape from Full Sutton in a hijacked helicopter.

Last year’s annual report on Full Sutton by the Independent Monitoring Board said the prison had seen an increase in Muslim prisoners and referred to “tensions between them and other prisoners.”

More than a fifth (22%) of the prison’s inmates in 2012 were Muslims. Story Continued

· NIKE CUTTING TIES TO LIVESTRONG 

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Nike, which helped build Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong cancer charity into a global brand and introduced its familiar yellow wristband, is cutting ties with the foundation in the latest fallout from the former cyclist’s doping scandal.

The move by the sports shoe and clothing company ends a relationship that began in 2004 and helped the foundation raise more than $100 million, making the charity’s bracelet an international symbol for cancer survivors.

But the relationship soured with revelations of performance-enhancing drug use by Armstrong and members of his U.S. Postal Service team.

Nike said Tuesday it will stop making its Livestrong line of apparel after the 2013 holiday season. Foundation and company officials said Nike will honor the financial terms of its contract until it expires in 2014.

Those terms were not disclosed.

Nike dropped its personal sponsorship of Armstrong last October after U.S. Anti-Doping Agency exposed the team doping program and portrayed Armstrong as its ringleader. And after years of denials, Armstrong admitted earlier this year he used performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France seven times.

Officials at Livestrong, which announced the split on Tuesday, said the foundation remains strong and committed to helping cancer patients worldwide through its survivorship programs.

Armstrong, who started the charity in 1997 as the Lance Armstrong Foundation, was pushed off the board of directors in October and the organization later changed its formal name to Livestrong.

In a statement, Livestrong officials said the foundation is “deeply grateful” to Nike.

“Together, we created new, revolutionary ways of thinking about how non-profits fuel their mission and we’re proud of that,” the foundation said.

A Nike spokesman did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

Armstrong declined comment, noting he no longer has a relationship with Livestrong or Nike.

Livestrong officials say the charity remains on solid financial ground.

“This news will prompt some to jump to negative conclusions about the foundation’s future. We see things quite differently. We expected and planned for changes like this and are therefore in a good position to adjust swiftly and move forward with our patient-focused work,” the foundation said.

The foundation said it reduced its budget nearly 11 percent in 2013 to $38.4 million, but said Tuesday that revenue is already 2.5 percent ahead of projections. The foundation also noted that last month, it received a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities based on financial health, accountability and transparency. Story Continued

· The Taxonomy of Scandals: Is Obama Nearing a Breaking Point?  – From Iran-Contra to Charles Rangel, Americans can tolerate some of Washington’s transgressions. But the president’s cluster may signal more trouble to come. By Lloyd Green..

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Not every scandal is Watergate Redux. If the God-fearing voters of South Carolina could forgive Mark Sanford for his “hike” off the Appalachian Trail, then it may not come as a shock that Americans are cutting the president some slack over IRS overreach, a concerted Justice Department war on the press, and the deadly fiasco in Libya, followed by a bumbling attempt to get the story straight.

Even scandals have hierarchies. Nowadays, voters are prone to judge politicians less harshly when the alleged wrongdoings involve defending the country or sins of the flesh. Avarice will likely bring a politician down, unless the pol can be portrayed as a champion of the little guy or a cause. However, when the scandal is hatched in the White House, and is a raw abuse of power for its own sake, all bets are off.

National security? Think back to the Iran-Contra affair, in which the Reagan administration traded arms for hostages with Iran and used the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Newspapers howled, Congress investigated, and the “I” word, impeachment, was bandied about. In the end, however, Ronald Reagan served his two full terms, and Vice President George H.W. Bush won the 1988 presidential election going away.

Sex? Louisiana gave Senator David Vitter a pass, just as Sanford’s constituents did this month. By contrast, New York’s Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner resigned in disgrace because their proclivities struck too many as just too odd.

Greed? It ranks in the upper tier of the scandal scale. Unless the accused can garner sympathy, the pol is usually finished. In the last decade, Representatives Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, William Jefferson—a diverse lot—took bribes and went to prison. Nobody shed a tear.

But, if a politician can transform financial irregularities into something bigger than himself, he can grow up to be president. Take Richard Nixon, who as a senator in the early 1950s, was aided by a donor-funded campaign slush fund. After having been tapped by Dwight Eisenhower to be his running mate on the 1952 Republican presidential ticket, Nixon’s salary supplement came to light.

Invoking his daughters’ dog and his wife’s cloth coat, Nixon delivered his infamous Checkers Speech. The speech riffed off Nixon’s own class resentments, and played to the GOP’s Main Street base. Ike, the five-star general, had been outflanked.

More than a decade later, when faced with an investigation and expulsion from Congress for misusing congressional funds, Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell told his supporters to “keep the faith,” and for a while they did. After he was expelled from the House, Powell’s constituents reelected him, until he was defeated in the 1970 Democratic primary by a former federal prosecutor named Charles Rangel.

History can repeat itself. Rangel, after having been censured by the House in late 2010 for a litany of abuses, survived reelection.

Watergate? It remains the gold standard of scandal. Nixon harnessed his own personal demons to the presidency, orchestrated a criminal conspiracy from the White House, subverted the FBI, and, yes, unleashed the IRS upon his political enemies. A broad bipartisan House Judiciary Committee majority found his sins to rise to the level of impeachable offenses. The late New York Congressman Hamilton Fish, Jr., personally took Nixon to task for failing to supervise his subordinates. According to Fish, “the size and complexity” of the Executive Branch did not excuse the president from lax or nonexistent oversight.

So where does today’s scandal cluster leave President Obama? In a recent CNN poll, a majority said the wave of scandals raises important issues, and that Congress isn’t overreacting. Nearly three in four told Washington Post pollsters the IRS acted inappropriately. Six of 10 told a Fox News survey that the administration went too far in seizing Associated Press phone records. As for the IRS, its reputation has taken a beating.

Still, the public’s view is nuanced, buffeted by the competing concerns of free expression and national security, a tension alluded to by Obama during his speech at the National Defense University on Thursday. If Iran-Contra teaches us anything, it is that Americans will live with a modicum of Executive Branch law-breaking if it is the price for keeping our enemies at bay. Story Continued

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· House Republicans express “great concern” about possible Holder perjuryRepublicans on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday expressing “great concern” about the possibility that Holder lied under oath during his testimony earlier this month on the Justice Department’s seizing of journalists’ records, CBS News has learned.

On May 15, Holder told the committee he wasn’t involved in “the potential prosecution” of a member of the press under the Espionage Act for disclosing classified information. “This is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy,” he said.

WH: “Self-evident” that Holder’s congressional testimony was truthful

Shortly thereafter, reports began to surface that the Justice Department, in addition to seizing telephone and email records of Associated Press reporters, had seized the the emails and phone records of Fox News correspondent James Rosen. While Holder had recused himself from the AP proceedings, the Washington Post reported that the attorney general had personally signed off on the search warrant for Rosen’s records.

In the search warrant, the FBI called Rosen a “criminal co-conspirator” and suggested there’s probable cause that he violated federal law. Rosen was not charged with any crime.

House Judiciary Republicans, in their letter, raise the possibility that Holder perjured himself by issuing an ironclad denial of any involvement in the investigation and potential prosecution of reporters. “The media reports and statements issued by the Department regarding the search warrants for Mr. Rosen’s emails appear to be at odds with your sworn testimony before the Committee,” they wrote. “We believe – and we hope you will agree – it is imperative that the Committee, the Congress and the American people be provided a full and accurate account of your involvement in and approval of these search warrants.”

The White House defended Holder on Wednesday, with press secretary Jay Carney saying it was “self-evident” that Holder told the truth. “I think based on what he said, he testified truthfully,” Carney said. “The attorney general talked about prosecution,” he explained, while the case in question was completed with no further charges or prosecution slated.

Asked Tuesday if he regrets signing off on the warrant, Holder told reporters: “I’m not satisfied (with the Justice Department’s guidelines involving the news media in criminal investigations).”

Holder in the hot seat at congressional hearing

Holder: I wasn’t involved in AP secret phone probe

The leak investigation sprang from Rosen’s report in 2009 that North Korea would respond to sanctions with more nuclear tests. That information was classified when Rosen reported it, leading to an FBI investigation to uncover Rosen’s source that quickly shifted focus to scrutinize Rosen himself.

Agents monitored Rosen’s movements in and out of the State Department. They searched his personal emails and combed through his cell phone records, an unprecedented level of government surveillance of a journalist.

Last week, President Obama, who’s come under bipartisan criticism for the digging into journalists’ records, said he directed Holder to conduct a review of Justice Department’s guidelines for probes that involve journalists and said Holder would meet with media groups as part of that review.

Those meetings will begin on Thursday, with Holder scheduled to meet the Washington bureau chiefs of several major media organizations to chart a path forward for leak investigations that balances law enforcement and national security concerns with a respect for press freedom.

An official close to Holder told CBS News the meetings would be “forward looking,” and will not include a discussion of the facts surrounding the AP subpoena and the Rosen search warrant.

On Tuesday, Holder voiced optimism about the likelihood that the meetings will result in a truce of sorts between the Justice Department and the press, which has savaged Holder’s department and the rest of the Obama administration for what they see as an overzealous prosecution of security leaks. Story Continued and to watch the video

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