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Benghazi and IRS Targeting: Politics by Other Means

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What do the Benghazi cover-up and the IRS scandal have in common? They were both about winning elections, under false pretenses.    

Winning elections, after all, is something Barack Obama is good at. He obviously loves campaigning and delivering grand orations to enormous adoring crowds.   

He loves it so much that he flew off to Las Vegas to campaign the day after the first murder of a U.S. ambassador in 33 years.    

What actually happened in Benghazi was out of sync with the Obama campaign line. Osama bin Laden was dead. Al-Qaida was on the run. The global war on terror -- well, don't call it that anymore.    

A deliberate effort to mislead the voters was launched. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, White House press secretary Jay Carney and the president himself talked about a spontaneous protest of an anti-Muslim video -- even though no evidence of that came from Benghazi.    

The White House and the State Department altered the CIA's talking points -- not just in one minor particular, as Carney claimed, but through 12 separate versions. The Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, armed with the talking points, spoke sternly about a spontaneous protest and an anti-Muslim video on five Sunday interview shows.    

The campaign trail press grilled Mitt Romney for his (impolitic) statement immediately after the attacks. Obama went on talk shows and peddled his line about an anti-Muslim video.    

Debate moderator Candy Crowley came to Obama's defense when he claimed that he had immediately stated that Benghazi was a terrorist attack -- a claim Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler has awarded four Pinocchios.     

Mitt Romney, perhaps worried that Team Obama might wheel out the-then-publicly-silent CIA Director David Petraeus in its defense, didn't press the point.    

This attempt to mislead the electorate worked. It seems a stretch to say that it determined the outcome of the election. But it certainly helped the Obama campaign.    

And what about the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative 501(c)(4) groups? Starting in March 2010, it questioned the tax-free status of one group after another with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names.    

That's reminiscent of the Department of Homeland Security memo warning of the potential of such groups to engage in terrorist-type violence -- which of course hasn't happened.    

An IRS official acknowledged and apologized for this misuse of government power last Friday. She attributed it to low-level IRS employees in Cincinnati. She said she had been informed about it in May 2011. Later news came out that tea party groups received letters of inquiry from Washington and IRS offices in California, as well.    

The IRS pressed some groups for very detailed information. Has a family member been a member of another organization or planned to run for political office?    

The targeting continued into 2012, when the criteria were changed to "political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement." We can't have people educating people about the Constitution, can we?    

The acting IRS director, who assured Congress that no group was targeted because of its beliefs, was informed of the targeting of conservative groups in May 2012. Jay Carney has said that the White House had no knowledge of it until a few weeks ago. Maybe. We'll see.    

Top Obama political aide David Plouffe told National Journal's Ron Fournier that the IRS misdeeds did not really matter because Obama opponents were able to spend plenty of money.    

But they would have been able to spend more absent the IRS misconduct. Some tea partiers decided to fold up shop rather than face an extended IRS inquiry. Others ran up big legal bills.    

The fact is that the targeting of tea party groups by the IRS helped Democrats win elections. It's hard not to believe that at least some IRS employees intended it to have that effect. Those who leaked confidential information certainly did so.   

The president has denounced the IRS misconduct in strong terms "if" it happened. He acknowledged that any targeting of one point of view by a government agency is wrong.    

But in 2009 at Arizona State University's commencement, he noted that he had not been given an honorary degree and added that the school's president and board of regents "will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS."    

That doesn't sound so funny now.   

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. 

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