There’s really no reason for the press to suggest that the recent slew of scandals involving the Obama administration — Benghazi, the AP phone-record seizure, the snooping in James Rosen’s e-mail, the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, and so on — are a confusing jumble. There is a very clear thread running through all of the administration’s actions:
* The U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, Gregory Hicks, says that he was told not to speak to a member of Congress about Benghazi without a State Department lawyer present, that he received a phone call from Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff disapproving of his discussion with Representative Jason Chaffetz, and that he was “effectively demoted” afterwards.
* The controversy over the editing of the “talking points” revolves around the steady deletion of factual information from the explanation to the American people, leading to the emphasis of a protest that the U.S. personnel on the ground did not report.
* In an effort to ferret out leaks, the Department of Justice secretly reviewed the phone records of at least 20 phone lines of Associated Press reporters — their work, home, and cell-phone lines. The move is unprecedented and has journalists up in arms because it means that a journalist can no longer guarantee the confidentiality of any phone conversation with a source that wishes to not be publicly identified.
* The Department of Justice went before a judge and alleged that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a criminal “co-conspirator” in leaking classified information, in order to access his personal e-mail accounts. No reporter has ever been prosecuted as a co-conspirator under the Espionage Act; in all previous cases, it has been used to prosecute the leaker of classified information, not the recipient. The classified information in question was an analyst’s assessment that North Korea would respond to new U.N. sanctions with another nuclear test.
* In another bit of punishment for whistleblowers, the Department of Justice Inspector General determined that former Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke leaked a document smearing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent John Dodson, an Operation Fast and Furious whistle-blower. The IG concluded that “his explanations for why he did not believe his actions were improper were not credible.”
* Despite all these ruthless efforts to stop leaks elsewhere in government, the Cincinnati office of the IRS leaked unapproved applications for nine conservative groups to the media web site ProPublica. The IRS separately released confidential information about the National Organization for Marriage. The IRS asserted, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration concluded, the releases were “inadvertent.” The problem with the “inadvertent” explanation is that the Human Rights Campaign said they were sent the private IRS filing from NOM via a “whistleblower.”
* The Environmental Protection Agency waived their fees for Freedom of Information Act requests from “green” or environmental groups while keeping them in place for conservative groups.
All of these actions involve an effort to control information.
Some parts of this administration focus on preventing information that is contrary to the administration’s agenda from getting out, or hindering its distribution, and making sure that the only information that goes out supports the perspective of the administration. Other parts leak confidential information designed to attack the reputations of those holding perspectives the administration opposes (NOM, the nine conservative groups) or other whistleblowers (ATF agent Dodson).
This administration prefers to keep the inconvenient parts of the story obscured in darkness.