“The American people are left to wonder what conduct is at the base of [her] concern that she may incriminate herself in connection with criminal charges if she appears before the committee under oath.”
-- March 27, 2007 statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the announcement that Justice Department official Monica Goodling would invoke her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself during testimony on the firings of U.S. attorneys.
How is Lois Lerner still on the job and still responsible for the oversight of applications from small government groups for non-profit status?
Lerner is set to invoke her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself for her role in the IRS targeting of President Obama’s political enemies before a House panel today. She will not be saying how or why the agency did so or how many of her subordinates were involved. Most significantly, she will not be explaining who else in the Obama administration was aware of the misconduct.
One might have thought that the very fact that her office was at the center of the abuses would have been enough to earn Lerner at least an indefinite paid vacation from her duties. Surely when it was revealed that she had faked what appeared to be her spontaneous revelation of the internal investigation it would have been enough to get Lerner kicked off the job.
But as we learned Tuesday, the phony question and her response came after Treasury officials strategized with a top White House aide about rolling out the scandal. So it would hardly do for the department to place her on leave for that.
Refusing to testify on the grounds that she might incriminate herself should surely be cause for administration officials to push her out of the office while the investigation proceeds. Not only is it unhelpful to the probe to have one worried about her own potential criminal case in a key position, but how can voters even begin to trust the IRS when an official so intimately involved in this scandal is still behind the wheel?
Tuesday was a fairly tragic day for the administration’s effort to contain and control the problem: officials refusing to apologize or take responsibility and a third contradictory version of who knew what and when at the White House about the abuses. In the latest iteration from Press Secretary Jay Carney, not only was the knowledge more widespread but that the White House was working a communications plan in advance.
The topper came when Carney compared a reporter’s question about the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, raising money from those her agency is charged with regulating to Donald Trump’s demand to see the president’s birth certificate.
And today, because she says she fears incrimination in a probe of the abuses, Lerner will not clarify matters. Nor will she answer the question put forward by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and others on Tuesday: How did the abuses reoccur after they were first brought to the attention of supervisors?
And when she is done not answering, Lerner will return to her duties. The essence: “I won’t tell you what happened with abusing conservative groups because I could go to jail. Now, back to scrutinizing the applications of conservative groups.”
What a disaster, and yet the president and his team are working hard to create the impression that they are helpless in all of this.
If the IRS scandal was the only one dogging the administration, it might do to use a strategy of delay and denial to protect the president -- but not with the administration hemorrhaging credibility.
The White House has been forced to admit that they misled the press and public about the spin on a raid by Islamist militants on a U.S. diplomatic outpost. Whatever you think about Benghazi or what House Republicans claimed about it, the underlying admission that the administration answered truthfully but dishonestly still stands. That doesn’t exactly bolster confidence.
And now, Rosengate. Just as reporters were wrapping their heads around the fact that the Justice Department had engaged in an unknown number of secret document grabs targeting news outlets in the wake of the revelation of the fishing expedition at the Associated Press, the news got much worse.
A reporter for a news outlet that was explicitly targeted by the White House communications team was listed as a possible criminal conspirator for working a source at the Department of State. If James Rosen can be labeled a potential criminal for trying to get the latest on North Korea, what in the hell would become of a reporter who was digging on drones or the bin Laden killing or any of the other hot-button national security issues?
The answer: Obama supports the First Amendment and a free press.
Not very effectively, it would seem.
With misconduct all around, Obama’s attempt to be above the fray and out of the loop may insulate him from specific charges of wrongdoing. But it will not insulate him from the growing sense that many in his administration are out of control and abusing their power.
“No drama” is not an available option anymore.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“I repeat, Jay Carney is underpaid. Here he is saying the president or the administration -- which has just trashed the First Amendment, that he can't talk about it because it's under investigation when we can all see it in front of our eyes -- he is a believer in the First Amendment.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.