How Benghazi will test Republicans

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify at at a Senate hearing on Benghazi in February 2013. Photo: Office of the Secretary of Defense, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify at at a Senate hearing on Benghazi in February 2013. Photo: Office of the Secretary of Defense, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Let me outline what we know so far about the attacks on US embassy staff last September that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

First, it’s a big deal. There are strong indications — and the US State Department’s own internal review concludes as much — that security for US personnel in Libya was lax and requests for additional protection were bungled.

“Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the “Department”)resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” that report concluded.

We also know conclusively that in the hours and days after the attack, the Obama administration worked aggressively to contain political fall-out from the attack, which occurred in the final months of the 2012 presidential campaign.

A former State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, sent an email arguing for changes to official talking points, arguing that the original language would “be abused by members of Congress to beat the State Department for not paying attention to agency warnings so why would we want to seed the Hill.”

It also appears that probes of the Benghazi attacks carried out so far left some significant questions unanswered. There is a strong and reasonable argument to be made for further investigation, despite protestations from some on the left.

We absolutely need to know who was responsible for that lax security and, if the military response following the attacks was less robust and aggressive than it might have been, why that happened.

At the same time, we very much need congressional leaders — who are serving a vital oversight role — to place enormous daylight between themselves and the crazy anti-Obama fringe that exists on the right. So far that hasn’t occurred.

Senior Republican officials and lawmakers have compared what happened in the days following Benghazi to Watergate and to the Iran-Contra Scandal, and suggested that it might be grounds for impeachment of Barack Obama.

They’ve begun fundraising on the issue, launched political advertisements and dialed Fox News’ 24/7 agitprop machine up to 11.

This isn’t just AM talk radio nonsense.

It’s a dangerous distraction from Congress’s constitutional duty to provide a check on and a degree of transparency into the workings of the executive branch.

It may well be that the Obama administration deserves some significant level of condemnation for what happened in Libya. But if this devolves into another Whitewater-style-stained-blue-dress political witch hunt, it will be disastrous.

Fortunately, there are indications that House Speaker John Boehner is taking a personal leadership role in this matter. That’s a good thing.

He should make it clear that this isn’t a fundraising opportunity, or a chance to give Mr. Obama a black eye. It’s not an opening to establish solidarity with far-right tea-partiers, as Politico suggested.

It’s certainly not a way to distract the public’s attention from the GOP’s own struggles and shortcomings.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party entered this moment in history with a major credibility problem. There have been too many crazy conspiracy theories and end-times exaggerations.

Conservatives have shouted fire in our national movie theater so many times since Mr. Obama came to office — and been factually wrong so many times — that they have a serious task ahead establishing their own gravitas.

If the nation hopes to reach any kind of meaningful outcome, the rhetoric needs to be dialed down and a great deal more objective, factual evidence is needed.

Republicans like to claim that where foreign policy is concerned, they’re the grownups in the room. This is an opportunity for them to prove it by providing a clear-eyed, sober assessment of what happened and why.

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86 Comments on “How Benghazi will test Republicans”

  1. Peter Hahn says:

    The republican complaint seems to be that there was a conspiracy to deny them a chance to politicize Benghazi more successfully before the election. The republicans are not the grownups in the room.

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  2. Jim Bullard says:

    Fortunately, there are indications that House Speaker John Boehner is taking a personal leadership role in this matter. That’s a good thing.

    He should make it clear that this isn’t a fundraising opportunity, or a chance to give Mr. Obama a black eye. It’s not an opening to establish solidarity with far-right tea-partiers, as Politico suggested.

    It’s certainly not a way to distract the public’s attention from the GOP’s own struggles and shortcomings.

    Unfortunately, the Republican Party entered this moment in history with a major credibility problem. There have been too many crazy conspiracy theories and end-times exaggerations.

    “Conservatives have shouted fire in our national movie theater so many times since Mr. Obama came to office — and been factually wrong so many times — that they have a serious task ahead establishing their own gravitas.”

    He won’t. He’ll cave the far right.

    “Republicans like to claim that where foreign policy is concerned, they’re the grownups in the room. This is an opportunity for them to prove it by providing a clear-eyed, sober assessment of what happened and why.”

    They won’t because they aren’t grownups.

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  3. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    This reminds me of the cruise missile strike against bin Laden’s training camp in Afghanistan back when Clinton was being persecuted in that Republican witch hunt. At that time Republicans shouted “wag the dog, wag the dog” and missed the opportunity to take the al Qaeda threat seriously because they were more interested in cheap domestic politics.

    In this case there needs to be a serious assessment of the security failings in Libya and there has been a serious investigation by Thomas Pickering. Nobody is more concerned about security for State Department personnel than State Department personnel. When Republicans in Congress failed to invite Pickering to testify and then claimed he refused to testify it became pretty clear that this is just a witch hunt.

    In reality world it has to be said that Libya was one of the most dangerous places in the world and Ambassador Stevens was among the most knowledgeable people about the security situation in Benghazi at the time. He made a decision to go there and to keep other staff there, unfortunately the decision lead to his own death and of others as well. We need to learn from the situation in order to keep Embassy personnel safe in other places and political squabbling won’t help.

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  4. myown says:

    It is possible there were bad decisions surrounding the Benghazi incident and maybe we can learn something from it. But any investigation has to be done objectively.

    The sad joke is – why weren’t all these Republicans and Tea Partiers just as exercised and calling for investigations into the Bush Administration’s failures that led up to 9/11? – a disaster of far greater proportions.

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  5. Paul says:

    “If the nation hopes to reach any kind of meaningful outcome, the rhetoric needs to be dialed down and a great deal more objective, factual evidence is needed.” I wonder if we would know what we know now if there was not pressure from the GOP on this issue? Maybe? But yes facts are what are needed.

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  6. Paul says:

    Cry wolf, yes. But to see this IRS stuff and to also learn that the government is secretly investigating AP journalists in the past few days is creepy. I don’t care what part affiliation you have. If you are not concerned you are clueless.

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  7. JDM says:

    “and the crazy anti-Obama fringe that exists on the right”

    Sorry to point out that it makes you the “crazy” to bring up that “vast right wing conspiracy” thing again.

    Pullleeassse, spare us.

    Obama and his administration really showed their incompetence on this one. No help needed from the right.

    ——
    But if this devolves into another Whitewater-style-stained-blue-dress political witch hunt, it will be disastrous.

    But if a right-winger does it, then it’s ok.

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  8. JDM says:

    “How Benghazi will test Republicans”

    Do you even wonder how Benghazi will test the Obama administration?

    Bias?

    I guess so.

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  9. mervel says:

    No I think the Left should just admit that there was some sort of coverup and indeed some very bad decision making.

    This is a bigger deal than we have been led to believe. Now I agree with Brian that if the Republicans go on some sort of endless whitewateresqe endless witch hunt they have really really blundered.

    They don’t have to do that however, I think the truth is bad enough.

    As far as the other stuff, well I have no doubt Obama would use the power of government to go after his enemies that kind of plays with his past. Is it rampant? I don’t think so, but come on if the IRS is going to investigate the Tea party they should be investigating the OWS organizations and on and on.

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  10. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    @Paul: “I wonder if we would know what we know now if there was not pressure from the GOP on this issue? Maybe?”

    Perhaps nobody was paying attention but there was a thorough report written last year and there was an extensive briefing on it by Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen on December 19th 2012. From testimony:
    “Under relevant statute, Secretary Clinton asked us to examine whether the attacks were security related and whether security systems and procedures were adequate and implemented properly, the impact of the availability of information and intelligence, and whether anything else about the attacks might be relevant to appropriate security management of U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. We were also asked to look at whether any U.S. Government employee or contractor breached his or her duty. Basically, we wanted to find the lessons to be learned, better to protect Americans from future attacks.”

    Plenty to read at the site and in the report itself (though I doubt anyone will actually read it all):
    http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/12/202282.htm

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  11. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel and JDM, the problem with you line of questioning is that you are missing the very real and valid questions that the Right could be exploring about the Obama administration by getting caught up in petty and spurious detail on issues in which there probably isn’t any there there.

    The IRS thing, sure it looks bad but it also looks like it less about politics or corruption or even incompetence and more about an understaffed and overworked bureaucracy making a mistake while trying to do the job they were charged to do.

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  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It is amusing that conservative all of a sudden are horrified that the government would be looking at phone records in an apparent terrorism investigation after everything that happened in the Bush administration. Please tell me that you were all outraged that the FBI was looking up people’s library records and tapping phones willy-nilly.

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  13. oa says:

    Brian–You’re about three scandals behind. Step away from the Politico.

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  14. oa says:

    And step into a real presidential scandal with likely White House ties: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/The_DOJ_And_The_AP

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  15. Two Cents says:

    Benghazi is a complete distraction from knuckling down and getting real work done.
    and if it’s not enough to whip it now, this horse will be whipped to death again if Hillary runs.

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  16. The Original Larry says:

    Brian,
    Only in your alternate version of reality could the Obama administration cover up an epic security failure by lying to the American people on the eve of a Presidential election and the onus somehow winds up on the Republicans! Benghazi will test the people who are responsible for it: the Obama adminstration and the Clinton-led State Department.

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  17. The Original Larry says:

    “Unfortunately, the Republican Party entered this moment in history with a major credibility problem.”

    In light of Benghazi, the IRS scandal and the government investigation of journalists, how would you categorize the problem facing the Democratic Party at this moment in history? I can’t wait to hear this one.

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  18. JDM says:

    khl: ” it also looks like it less about politics or corruption or even incompetence and more about an understaffed and overworked bureaucracy”

    No, it looks like more like a political scandal with an absentee president at the helm.

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  19. @tourpro says:

    OK, so it would be the GOP/Anyone the questions Obama’s fault if this isn’t properly investigated? Because of the “extremists”. “Crazy…. fringe”?

    Because they are not doing a “clear-eyed, sober assessment”? GOP/Anyone the questions Obama is drunk and not rational?

    All of the sudden the “media” is completely helpless and “caught off-guard”?

    Probably to exhausted from carrying so much water.

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  20. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    JDM, you believe the IRS investigations are a Nixon style attack; I believe they are more related to the abuse of the political process by outside money groups forming an inordinate number of tax exempt organizations with money funneled to them by lots of small donors, yes, but largely with money from ultra-wealthy donors who want to skew they system ever more in their favor.

    The IRS is charged with making sure all tax exempt organizations are doing legitimate tax exempt work. In a perfect world every single group would be investigated, but if there are too many being created for IRS staff to look into then the IRS will naturally try to find ways to target groups that might be gaming the system. If it is determined that the targeting of groups on the Right was purposefully political that is absolutely wrong and the perpetrators should be punished. My guess is that it was simply a bad decision by an overworked bureaucrat who was just trying to do their job. Maybe we will actually find out but more likely this will just be a permanent political disagreement because there will be no truly bipartisan investigation.

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  21. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “epic security failure”? Is there a modifier that is a thousand times bigger than epic?

    The Bush administration and Condi Rice were given warning about massive scale attacks by al Qaeda months before 9/11/2001.

    What about the warrentless wire-taps after 9/11? What about rendition, CIA black sites, torture, and Guantanimo Bay where people who have been determined to be not a threat are still held captive?

    The outrage on the right seems pretty selective.

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  22. The Original Larry says:

    I understand that many people, especially his own supporters, are disappointed with Obama’s performance as President. To witness a Presidency begin with such high hopes and optimism and then watch it unravel into a confused hash of ill-conceived legislation, leaderless inertia, snotty finger-pointing and finally, desperate, corrupt attempts to maintain a power the President doesn’t even know how to use, must be particularly galling. Great Presidents (Lincoln, TR, FDR) manage to carry on and get things done in the face of opposition. Charisma can only take a politician so far and all the temporizing rationalizations put forth in the commentary here do not excuse the lies, cover-ups and abuse of governmental agencies no matter how desperately people want to excuse their hero.

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  23. The Original Larry says:

    KHL,
    Your tired old Bush-bashing doesn’t excuse or mitigate Obama’s failures. Bush has suffered the consequences of his actions and if he did anything criminal I expect his opponents would have followed up on it by now. The Bush administration belongs to history and will be judged by it. Obama is President NOW and that’s what we’re talking about.

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  24. Mike Ludovici says:

    We can count on the Republicans to do the wrong thing.

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  25. The Original Larry says:

    “We can count on the Republicans to do the wrong thing.”

    Why would anyone cooperate with those who hold such a belief? This bitter hatred of Republicans goes back to Nixon’s early days investigating communists in our government and has no more basis in reality now than it did then. It’s time to get a grip and stop parroting the party line.

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  26. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “Bush has suffered the consequences of his actions …”

    Funny one, Larry! It is true that Obama has not lived up to the expectations of many and we can thank the Republicans for fighting the will of the majority of the people on most issues. The one thing Obama has going for him in the eyes of the world and in history is that he can’t possibly be as bad for the country as Bush was.

    On the bright side, Obama’s victory of two terms has kept the Republicans from being able to nominate Supreme Court Justices. That is pretty much all I really wanted from Obama. Anything else is gravy.

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  27. Dave says:

    Obama should manage to carry on and get things done in the face of opposition?

    Sounds so simple doesn’t it!

    But you would have to be completely ignorant about how our government works to think that one branch can just will its way through opposition determined to do nothing. And you would further have to be ignorant of history to think that this has any similarities to what TR and FDR faced… it doesn’t. It does however, have similarities to what Lincoln faced. And look how that had to be resolved.

    Presidents can not force congress to do anything. They can not force them to compromise or negotiate. If congress is determined to do nothing, to get nothing done, and to stonewall everything. They can. And that is what has happened.

    This is in part why your silly fears and cries of “DICTATORSHIPS” are so rightfully mocked.

    Of course, we all know the extreme right is not ignorant about how the government works. Indeed, they are counting on it.

    And this Benghazi nonsense – and that is what this is… political nonsense and tragedy opportunism – is nothing more than a page from the opposition’s playbook.

    If this was really about reviewing security procedures when American interests are attacked and Americans die – something, by the way, that happens almost weekly, and has been happening for a decade now… but I guess soliders and non-embassy civilians don’t warrant this type of scrutiny – then why are we talking about a few bullets in a “talking points” memo?

    A comprehensive review of the security situation has already happened and it didn’t produce the scandal some wished it had. So they are going to dig deeper and keep throwing things at the wall until one sticks. This is indeed the lesson they learned with Clinton. Chase every possible scandal you can, find nothing of substance, but keep digging and maybe, just maybe, you will find a little hanky panky that you can try to make a mountain out of.

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  28. Benghazi is going to galvanize the Fox News (sic) lemmings who want a cudgel to bash Obama and, especially, 2016 Dem front runner Hillary Clinton. They’re not interested in preventing such disasters from happening again… that’s why they didn’t made a circus out of the many diplomatic deaths that happened during the Bush regime; that’s why they slashed State Dept. security funding. This is trivial compared to the misrepresentations of the Bush cabal leading up to the Iraq aggression… again no GOP hearings on that. My guess is that it was probably the haze and uncertainty of fast unfolding events that explains most of this. But this isn’t what shrill partisans want to hear. There should be a serious investigation to find out what the hell went wrong and why; current foreign service officers deserve this. I’m not sure we’re ever going to get anything more than a kangaroo court.

    As much as I loathe the “Tea Party,” I think the IRS, whether consciously or rogue agents, specifically targeting them is a more serious issue. The White House, Congress and State Dept. are political entities. The IRS should never be. I happen to think that the rules on tax-exemption for political organizations should be much stricter… I’m not sure will get it in the aftermath of the Citizens United fraud. But whatever the laws they are, they should be applied across the board.

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  29. JDM says:

    If Obama thinks he can simply say, “I didn’t know about the Benghazi attack”.

    If Obama thinks he can simply say, “I didn’t know about the IRS targeting certain groups”

    If Obama thinks he can simply say, “I didn’t know the DOJ was tapping AP phone lines”

    If Obama thinks this is a good defence for any occasion, he is missing the point. He is the guy in charge.

    Yes the government is big. It takes a man big enough to fill the shoes. Most are.

    This one isn’t.

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  30. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    So here’s the problem with the Republican obsession with Benghazi. There has already been an independent investigation and there have been recommendations that came out of it. The current hearings appear, to most people, to be purely political. Meanwhile there are lots of issues that the American people care deeply about that aren’t being taken care of. So Republicans may be making their base happy and to some extent but they are alienating many more people and stimulating more disaffection among the people with the political process.

    I don’t believe this helps Republicans. These sorts of actions don’t bring more people into the Party, or make Republicans look better – it just makes everyone look worse. This is the sort of thing that ruins morale and hurts true democracy. Who will benefit? Perhaps their next Presidential candidate will gain a little from voter disillusion, and disappointment. Is that the way of the future for Republicans? The same sort of divisiveness they sowed against Bill Clinton that lead to a collapse of their own leadership?

    I guess we’ll find out.

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  31. Pete Klein says:

    I am so bored by stories about Benghazi.
    These fearless leaders of ours would rather debate ancient history than actually do any real work concerning the future.
    They just love to claim how good they are.
    Where is their concern for all the dead and injured Americans they have sent to fight stupid wars that gain us nothing but enemies and debt?

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  32. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Actually JDM, Obama seems pretty angry about the IRS thing and it looks like some heads will roll. It certainly seems there have been mistakes made and people responsible should be punished in one way or another. If it really is more than simple mistakes, if there was political consideration in targeting groups then heads should roll.
    There should be an independent, non-partisan investigation that leads to fair and just corrective action.

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  33. Paul says:

    KLH, sure everyone should be outraged when the government starts snooping around with out a warrant. The IRS and the AP thing are an opportunity for us all to be outraged. Doesn’t sound like you really are. The IRS thing – a “mistake”, that isn’t the way the administration defines it they describe it as (I think) “outrageous”. I agree with you on the misdeeds of the Bush White house (I tend to cut them some slack since those things were in the wake of a huge terrorist attack that killed thousands of Americans but maybe I should not).

    Brain, you “loath” the tea party? So they advocate for limited government. Big deal. They are no nuttier than the “occupy” folks. Free speech. Or maybe not?

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  34. Paul says:

    I am curious. How could this kind of targeting be a “mistake”? I guess it could but I don’t quite follow the logic. Was it also a “mistake” to single out Jewish groups? I think the whole thing is just slimy.

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  35. Dave says:

    Paul, I loath the tea party too. What on earth does that have to do with free speech? They are free to speak, we are free to loath them.

    Btw, the Tea Party represents FAR more than just advocacy for limited government. Don’t confuse them with libertarians.

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  36. Paul says:

    If the IRS is trying to limit those groups (or any groups) ability to organize as a not-for-profit entity and exercise their free speech rights than it is a free speech issue. I assume that is one reason the administration is outraged. It looks like the idea here is apparently to make it harder for groups that promote ideas like “limited government” or (I guess?) Jewish values to participate in the political process.

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  37. Paul says:

    I would assume that since one of their keywords to trigger a more arduous application process was “limited government” libertarians would also be included in the target groups.

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  38. JDM says:

    khl: ” Obama seems pretty angry about the IRS”

    Obama pretends he is an outsider looking at the disaster known as the US Government.

    He is the president. Has been for 5 years.

    You know what? He probably knew about this.

    Shazaam!

    You know what else? He probably authorized this.

    Shazaam! again.

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  39. Mervel says:

    Knuckle,

    You have a good point, but true conservatives were against those abuses by the Bush administration. If you look at what Rand Paul and Ron Paul and yes many in the Tea party movement were saying, but in particular what many on the Libertarian side were saying. They were and are appalled as we all should be about the invasion of civil liberties and the ignoring of our constitution under both Bush and Obama. It is a fine line easily crossed to be hunting what you classify as terrorists one moment and what are your political enemies the next moment. Every time a terrorist act happens many on the Left jump to the idea that this MUST bed “domestic” terrorism, those on the Right jump to the foreign angle, but consider how easy it is to brand someone a domestic threat. Maybe all of the tea party movement is a domestic threat? Maybe Churches who oppose the affordable care act are hate groups and really domestic threats, maybe all Mosques are domestic threats. On and on, this will happen when we ignore our constitution in the service of a ill defined war on “terror”.

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  40. newt says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if there was a similarly-organized, funded, and ferocious political faction to take Obama & Co. to task for his failure prosecute financial meltdown oligarchs, unprecedented prosecution of government whistleblowers, caveing financial settlements to same, his drone attacks on wedding parties and anti-Taliban leaders meeting in the open, his signing on April 17th of the bill emasculating the 2012 law attempting to prevent Congressional insider trading (not a peep about that in the Times or on NPR), and his other reversions, and worse, to Bush-era behaviors.

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  41. newt says:

    “caveing” was meant to refer to Wall Street oligarchs.

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  42. Mervel says:

    Consider that a man was arrested in the US for producing the anti-Muslim film, which was lied about by our President as some sort of cause of Benghazi. That is forgotten in all of this.

    The fact is we should be allowed to burn bibles or Koran’s without investigation by the FBI, but we all know if you try to openly burn a Koran you will be investigated by Washington, either the FBI or CIA or justice, which of course is a direct violation of our constitution. Not to mention the very real terrorist threats you will receive.

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  43. newt says:

    Citation for Obama signing insider trading sellout law. http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/04/16/Obama-Signs-Bill-To-Gut-Insider-Trading-Law From Breitbart.com, no less! There were other articles from lefty sources. Nothing from MSM.

    I could cite the other stuff, but it’s all pretty-well known.

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  44. Paul says:

    Newt, it is a thankless job! But somebody has got to do it.

    Brian Mann what is known about the father of one of the guys killed in that raid? He said this recently:

    ““When I was approached by Hillary Clinton at the coming-home ceremony of the bodies at Andrews Air Force Base, and she said, ‘We’re going to go out and we’re going to prosecute that person that made the video,’ I knew that she wasn’t telling the truth, and I think the whole world knows that now. She’s smarter than I am, she probably knew that well.””

    I assume that the father must be lying or the administrations whole story is bunk. First what would be the basis for a prosecution for making the video? Second, why was she still toting that line that they then knew as incorrect. It would make sense to get her under oath and sort this one point out.

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  45. Peter Hahn says:

    Paul – I have news for you. Politicians and public officials sometimes (almost always) shade the truth. Its not the same thing a lying.

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  46. Peter Hahn says:

    If congress had hearings every time some politician said something that wasnt strictly speaking true thats all they would do. (and it seems that way now).

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  47. myown says:

    What Newt said at 11:20 am.

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  48. JDM says:

    Peter Hahn: Ever hear of “Bush lied and people died”?

    How about Obama lied, and people died as a direct result of him giving the order to “stand down”.

    No subordinate is going to give that order.

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  49. myown says:

    The bigger IRS issue is why shouldn’t all political groups pay taxes?

    http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/why-should-any-of-these-groups-have-tax-exempt-status/

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