Three Administration Lies to the Public That Must Have a Consequence
President Obama, speaking to the American public, Friday afternoon:
If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.
In the specific issue that Obama is discussing, i.e., oversight of the National Security Agency’s vast data collection on American citizens, there is the problem in that no one within that system of oversight has the role or duty to speak on behalf of those being monitored, or about to be monitored. The executive branch knows what it wants — it wants to monitor people. The Congress may or may not want to advocate the argument, “Hey, that person hasn’t done anything wrong, you have no good reason to collect that information on them” — judging from what we now know, no one argued that perspective very strongly. And the oversight of the judicial branch is pretty weak when we know the Department of Justice goes “judge shopping” when their initial requests are rejected. If the executive branch can keep going to new judges until they get the decision they want, there isn’t really much of a check on their power, now is there?
Regarding that alleged congressional oversight, Senator Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, is coming awfully close to accusing the president of lying:
“Since government officials have repeatedly told the public and Congress that Patriot Act authorities are simply analogous to a grand jury subpoena, and that intelligence agencies do not collect information or dossiers on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans, I think the executive branch has an obligation to explain whether or not these statements are actually true,” Wyden said.
Wyden’s suspicion is driven by a lie he appears to have been told under oath, one we’ll look at in a moment. But more generally, we have seen quite a few folks in the executive branch abuse the public’s trust and then see no real consequences for it.
LIE ONE: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s November 28 explanation about changes made to talking points about the Benghazi attack:
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 — of these two institutions were changing the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility,” because “consulate” was inaccurate. Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect the IC’s best assessments of what they thought had happened.
You can see the twelve rounds of revisions here, well more than a single adjustment, and mostly in response to State Department objections.
After it became clear that Carney had put forth false information, he dug in deeper, insisting that the twelve rounds of revisions were merely “stylistic changes.” Carney paid for his lie with two days of hostile questions from the White House Press Corps . . . and then the storm seemed to have blown over.
LIE TWO: Attorney General Eric Holder, testifying under oath before the House Judiciary Committee, May 15:
Well, I would say this. With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I’ve ever been involved in, heard of or would think would be a wise policy.
Michael Isikoff later reported the precise opposite: The Justice Department pledged Friday to to review its policies relating to the seizure of information from journalists after acknowledging that a controversial search warrant for a Fox News reporter’s private emails was approved “at the highest levels” of the Justice Department, including “discussions” with Attorney General Eric Holder.
There is a claim from the usual suspects — Media Matters — that Holder is in the clear because he was asked about prosecutions for publishing classified information, not solicitation for classified information; they assert that the two actions are totally different. A pretty thin reed for a perjury defense, and one that utterly fails the standard of the chief law-enforcement officer of the United States informing the public of his department’s operations.
For us to believe that, it would mean that during the entire Justice Department discussion of prosecuting Fox News’s James Rosen for soliciting the information, no one suggested or mentioned prosecuting Rosen for publishing it. Remember, Holder didn’t just say he didn’t agree with that idea; he said he never heard of the idea.
LIE THREE: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, testifying under oath before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on March 12, responding to questions from Wyden, Democrat of Oregon:
Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
Clapper: “No, sir.”
Wyden: “It does not?”
Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently perhaps, collect—but not wittingly.”
The subsequent explanation from Clapper: “What I said was, the NSA does not voyeuristically pore through U.S. citizens’ e-mails. I stand by that,” Clapper told National Journal in a telephone interview.
But that’s not what he was asked, nor was it even close to what he was asked. In fact, the light from what he was asked takes several years to reach a question about voyeurism.
If your excuse is that you are incapable of discerning what “any type of data at all” means, you are no longer allowed to have a job title that has the word “intelligence” in it.
This weekend, the Guardian reported, “During a 30-day period in March 2013, the documents indicate, the NSA collected nearly 3 billion pieces of intelligence from within the United States.”
Two of these three were under oath before Congress; the other was to the press, with the cameras rolling, on a topic of high public interest and great controversy.
If Obama were to ask for the resignations of Carney, Holder, and Clapper tomorrow, all of us who don’t trust him would have to at least acknowledge that he’s trying to set a better standard for consequences of lying to the public. But all of us know that he will do nothing of the sort.
Instead, he will continue to give speeches where he expresses incredulity that the public wouldn’t trust him and his administration.