President Obama’s new spokesman, Josh Earnest, recently declared – with a straight face – that the Obama Administration was, in fact, the most transparent administration in history.
Even the very liberal Huffington Post website has run stories noting that the Obama administration has gone to “unprecedented lengths” to restrict freedom of the press, declaring it (in the ultimate Huffpo insult) “worse than Bush.” Citing a Committee to Protect Journalist report, the liberal site noted:
[The report] examined a range of Obama administration tactics that hinder government transparency. These include unprecedented use of the Espionage Act in prosecuting media leaks, classifying government documents as secret when no harm could come from their release, increased government surveillance that jeopardizes the safety of news sources, Freedom of Information Act violations, and White House-produced content that can't substitute for independent, accountability journalism.
The consequences are profound. Simply put, on some of the most critical issues of our time, White House secrecy, spin, and deception have been so effective that we may never learn the truth. Let’s look at a few examples:
We’re approaching the two-year anniversary of a multi-hour firefight in and around the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya and we still do not have a definitive account from the Administration on the events of that fateful night when four Americans were murdered – including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. We have bare-bones outlines full of contradictory information, and we don’t know yet where the President was and precisely what orders he issued, if any.
To understand the absurdity of this information gap, one only has to compare the Obama administration’s secrecy with our military’s relative transparency. Within weeks after significant combat operations, the military will publish comprehensive accounts and often make the soldiers who participated available for interviews. Indeed, the press is often embedded with units and therefore able to provide first-hand accounts.
The Obama administration, by contrast, has steadfastly kept the Benghazi survivors from the media, reportedly even forcing them to sign new confidentiality agreements. And so one of the most damaging terror attacks since 9/11, a deadly attack that allegedly targeted a key CIA facility, remains shrouded in mystery.
Next, the IRS.
Just as Congress, the Department of Justice, and multiple lawsuits – including our own American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) case brought on behalf of 41 groups in 22 states – were uncovering a comprehensive, nationwide abuse of power, the IRS “lost” evidence, key evidence.
Not only has it “lost” Lois Lerner’s emails (Lerner, is the former director of exempt organizations at the IRS and a key figure in the Tea Party targeting scandal) to and from outside agencies, it “lost” emails from other important IRS accounts, including the former chief of staff to the IRS commissioner.
The IRS’s epidemic of computer crashes is so suspicious, that now two separate federal judges are requiring explanations from IRS officials (under oath) and the Department of Justice is investigating.
But in spite of all these investigations, IRS officials tell the public that the “lost” information is simply gone. Forever. And we’ll never know the truth.
Finally, Fast and Furious.
No, I have not forgotten Operation Fast and Furious. I have not forgotten the first Obama administration scandal to cost lives.
Nor have I forgotten how Attorney General Eric Holder has effectively blocked the congressional investigation by asserting an incredibly broad executive privilege, an assertion so broad that a federal judge has already expressed skepticism about its merits.
In fact, in Operation Fast and Furious, the administration defied Congressional information requests so brazenly that Congress held Attorney General Holder in Contempt – in a bipartisan vote, no less.
The list could go on, of course. After all, this is the administration a New York Times report called “more prone than any administration in history in trying to silence and prosecute federal workers.”
The Obama administration’s aggressive secrecy represents a direct threat to democratic accountability.
And that threat is only compounded when secrecy is concealed behind a cynical public relations campaign, where the president’s spokesman claims transparency to a public that often can’t follow politics closely enough to separate truth from spin.
At a very basic level our system of government depends on the integrity of its officials. Yes, a vigorous mainstream media – if it existed – can help hold officials accountable. Yes, an independent judiciary can – and often does – strike down administration lawlessness. And certainly an informed public can deliver the ultimate verdict on a deceptive politician.
But in the absence of integrity, deep damage is still done. It’s possible that even the best investigators won’t learn the full truth about Benghazi, the IRS, Fast and Furious or other Obama administration scandals. And without the full truth there won’t be full accountability.
Without truth, there can be no justice. And if there’s one thing this administration does well, it conceals the truth.
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He also serves as a member of President Trump’s legal team. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.