The Obama administration is weathering the storm of two Washington scandals — one involving the unfolding details of the attack in Benghazi and the second, revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups.
Both play into the people’s fears of an overreaching federal government. Politically, the stories intensify a bias detractors already had regarding the president and those in his inner circle.
It is becoming clear that early talking points on the terroristic killing of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Benghazi were edited under pressure from the U.S. State Department. Former Ambassador Susan Rice went on the Sunday morning talk shows, pointing to an unknown video as the culprit of the attacks.
“This is a response to a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world,” Rice said on “Meet The Press” on Sept. 16. “Obviously, our view is that there is absolutely no excuse for violence and that what has happened is condemnable.” She compared the reaction “perhaps on a slightly larger scale” to Salman Rushdie’s novel, “The Satanic Verses,” which Muslims angrily proclaimed mocked their faith.
Emails released last week show that the talking points released to Congress and used by Rice went through numerous edits as the State Department and the White House pushed back against the Central Intelligence Agency. The changes were primarily focused on removing references to “ties to al Qaida” and changing “attack” to “violent demonstrations.”
As part of the double whammy, the IRS apologized last week for targeting tax-exempt conservative groups during the 2012 election. The IRS admitted to inappropriately targeting groups that had “tea party” or “patriot” in their name. The inquiry included asking for lists of donor names and asking whether family members of the tax-exempt groups planned to run for public office.
The IRS spokesperson has blamed low-level employees for the activity but an inspector general report is expected to reveal that administration officials knew about the targeting going back to 2011 of tax-exempt groups that criticized the government. This was months before IRS officials assured members of Congress during hearings that it was not happening.
The damage to the reputation of the IRS is hard to measure. As the main tax enforcement agency in the United States it is already unpopular, just as tax collectors have been throughout history. Even the Bible often listed tax collectors along with a list of the members of society considered undesirable.
So the story of the IRS inappropriately targeting groups that disagree with the politics of the current chief executive of the federal government only solidifies those views. The story also will make legitimate IRS inquiries of tax-exempt groups even more difficult going forward.
The Benghazi and IRS stories are unrelated, but both confirm what many have suspected about the federal government. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., addressed the issues in an appearance Monday on a central Arkansas radio program.
“You wonder if there is not a culture where this sort of thing is going on throughout the agencies,” said Boozman. “Anytime you use the agencies against any group that is certainly a serious problem.”
The distrust of government is only growing. Stories like these make it worse.
• • •
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His email is jason@TolbertReport.com.