Obama administration tells half truths on Benghazi, IRS controversies

Welcome to Whopper of the Week: Damage Control edition.

It’s been a rough week for the White House.  First, there was the ongoing investigation into the administration’s explanations about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.  Then, the Internal Revenue Service admitted it had been targeting Tea Party groups for extra scrutiny.  And then it was revealed that the Justice Department had obtained the phone records of The Associated Press – and possibly others – to unmask the journalists’ sources.

So what has the administration’s response been?  A lot of stretching of facts to deflect blame.  

That’s why we’re awarding the Obama administration the Whopper of the Week, a distinction handed out by the Washington Guardian to examples of backpedalling, stretched facts and misstatements from politicians.

During a press conference Monday (with British Prime Minister David Cameron), President Barack Obama made it clear that he called the Benghazi attacks what they were: terrorist acts.

“The day after it happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism,” Obama told a reporter.

Except the language the president used last September wasn’t quite that strong.  He described the events as an “act of terror” and used more generalized statements such as ““No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.”

Then there was this exchange with 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft, the day after the attacks happened.

Kroft: “Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word ‘terrorism’ in connection with the Libya attack.”

Obama: “Right.”

Kroft: “Do you believe that this was a terrorist attack?”

Obama: “Well, it’s too early to know exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.”

The president did eventually call the attacks a terrorist act, but it wasn’t immediately afterwards as he would like people to believe.  To a certain extent, it’s splitting hairs of language, but it can be an important distinction.  

The words and tone that U.S. officials used following the attack can show a lot about what they believed was happening, what they knew and therefore how they responded.

The administration also tried to distance itself from the actions of the IRS.  Both Obama and his press secretary Jay Carney called the IRS an “independent agency,” a telltale sign they’re trying to show the White House had no roll in the scandal.

But the IRS isn’t as separate from the executive branch as some might make it out to be.  The IRS commissioner is a presidential appointee, confirmed by the Senate.  And the agency answers to the Treasury Secretary, another presidential appointee.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. government keeps a list of “Independent Agencies and Government Corporations.”  The IRS is not on it.


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