As Congress and the public struggle to comprehend the scandals rocking the Obama administration, it is important not to overlook a common thread linking all of the misconduct: the administration’s paranoia that voters would see it as weak on national defense.
For having the temerity to raise questions about U.S. policy toward terrorists and Iran, Israel and North Korea, the Obama IRS targeted a non-partisan group with which I am affiliated and illegally leaked its confidential information.
The White House’s paranoia about public perceptions of foreign threats also drove its scandalous surveillance of Associated Press (AP) reporters.
It is also at the heart of the cover-up over the attack in Benghazi that resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
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Secure America Now, on whose advisory board I serve, has criticized and supported politicians of all political stripes.
For example, the organization critiqued the Republican governor of New Jersey when he derided the New York Police Department’s monitoring of suspected terrorists. And the non-partisan organization criticized the independent mayor of New York for supporting the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero.
Secure America Now also posed questions about the Obama administration’s approach to terrorism and other national security issues.
For example, last October, the organization released a short video that criticized Mr. Obama’s reaction to the Benghazi attack. The widely viewed video contrasts misleading statements by Obama officials with those of reporters and the victims’ family members.
As a Wall Street Journal article revealed last week, the IRS has held up Secure America Now’s application for 501(c)4 status for more than two years and counting.
Furthermore, the IRS illegally provided confidential information about Secure America Now to an organization the White House counts among its political allies.
Such leaks are intended to scare off supporters by signaling they too may be illegally targeted and harassed. This is a method of civic disenfranchisement.
The White House’s paranoia is also at the heart of the AP reporter surveillance scandal. The administration contends that it was necessary to spy on AP journalists’ household, office and cell phone usage over two months because a leak to the AP potentially revealed sensitive information about a counterterrorism operation. Attorney General Eric Holder even said the leak “put the American people at risk.”
In fact, what the story revealed was that Al Qaeda was planning to attack the United States on the anniversary of Usama bin Laden’s death—an attack prevented by diligent professionals in America’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The AP delayed the story until the CIA said its release would no longer pose a risk. However, the existence of the threat contradicted President Obama’s claim that Al Qaeda “was on its heels”—a major talking point in his reelection campaign. The foiled attack would have occurred less than six months before the election.
Thus all three scandals—the Benghazi cover-up, the unprecedented spying on AP journalists, and the IRS affair—all involve national security to varying degrees.
Exploring the foreign threats facing America and debating the performance of the man elected to manage them is the type of lawful civic activity that is essential to healthy democracy. Rather than accept this, the Obama administration has demonized and harassed those who posed inconvenient questions about its policies.
Why did officials go to such great lengths to do this? After all, using government power for illicit political purposes could put officials on the wrong side of laws like the Internal Revenue Code, the Hatch Act, the Privacy Act, and the Ethics in Government Act.
The general motive is apparent: the administration’s determination to win a second term. This is of course the primary wish of any first-term administration. But the actions of officials went far beyond what is acceptable and legal.
Ahead of a close election, Obama administration officials went to extraordinary lengths to try to silence numerous groups and individuals, including those concerned with foreign threats that are evolving rapidly and drawing nearer.
Christian Whiton was a senior advisor in the Donald Trump and George W. Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow for strategy and public diplomacy at the Center for the National Interest and the author of “Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.”