AUSTIN, Texas — The twin revelations of the IRS targeting conservative political organizations and, now, that the U.S. Justice Department was spying on The Associated Press — all in a few days — mean this: It is time to air the dirty laundry of this administration’s intelligence and surveillance programs — and it is way past time for heads to roll in Washington.
Love it, like it or hate it, one thing is clear about the Obama administration: It is addicted to secrecy. First, Congress should launch a bipartisan, joint and open House-Senate investigation of the domestic surveillance activities of the Obama administration. Two, Attorney General Eric Holder should be forced to testify under oath, with the potential criminal penalties. And then he should be fired. Finally, an investigation by Congress should include investigations into the covert activities of the administration abroad, too.
President Barack Obama entered office amid admittedly difficult economic, let alone political circumstances. He pledged to govern boldly and with transparency, to heal the partisan and other divides of the nation. He has faced intransigence, which borders on hatred frankly, from some in the Republican House. The president won re-election by talking big again. And yet he has governed relatively small. Aside from his health care law — which no one really understands — his achievements have been spare. Yes, Detroit did not fail. Nor did Wall Street. Yet it is hard to accept the administration’s chief argument: Things could have been worse. And that’s only because it is impossible to prove the negative.
Policy aside, this president’s second term is beginning to mirror the temptations of previous presidents’ second terms: The excesses of secrecy, spying and covert wars. It could well be that Obama’s drone wars do not emulate Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra conspiracy — and yet we do not know that for a fact. The administration has even reportedly failed to send a witness to Congress to testify on its secret, robotic assassination program, according to The New York Times.
It is one thing for the president not to particularly like lawmakers who disparage him — sometimes in a way that they would never disparage a white president, frankly. It is entirely another for the national security apparatus of the United States to turn its shoulder to the elected representatives or the people, however ludicrous or comical those representatives might be.
The targeting by the IRS of conservative political organizations is, frankly, potentially chillingly Nixonian, and Congress needs to determine if political considerations beyond the obvious were at work and whether the director of the IRS acted on his own, whether officials at Treasury were involved — and yes, whether anyone had direction, official or otherwise from the White House itself. Congress should not politicize this investigation; it should act in a determined and bipartisan fashion, coordinated between the House and the Senate. If Republicans or Democrats play politics, they should not expect public support.
Last, the fact that the Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records of the AP is a despicable, final outrage. So far, the government has not indicated why it seized the records without prior warning. The administration has not bothered to explain why it broke into the electronic communications of not just this country’s but one of the world’s most trusted news organizations; presumably the government was interested in the AP’s reporting of a leak regarding a CIA operation in Yemen. But department regulations require that none other than the attorney general himself sign off on spying on a news organization. So, there are two logical explanations.
One is that the third leg of the investigative stool for Congress must be the administration’s surveillance operations abroad — including its targeted, drone assassinations. It simply must be exposed to public scrutiny. This administration has killed an American citizen abroad and stolen the information of an American news organization at home, likely all in the name of its covert wars abroad. The Obama administration is hooked on the drug of killing presumed enemies abroad — without any public accountability. Admittedly, it would be nice if Congress would clean up its act and take its intelligence and foreign policy duties a little more seriously; its investigation into what happened in Benghazi has been clumsily politicized.
But contrary to its many promises, the Obama administration loves the darkness of secrecy far more than the disinfectant of sunlight. And that is dangerous for the president, his administration and, more important, the public. The war in Iraq is over. The war in Afghanistan is effectively done. Osama bin Laden is long dead. It is time to come clean about what the Obama administration has done abroad. It is past time for the Obama administration to come clean about what it has done at home. And it is way past time for Eric Holder to go.