The twin revelations of the IRS targeting conservative political organizations and the Justice Department spying on reporters mean that it is time to air the dirty laundry of this administration’s intelligence and surveillance programs, and way past time for heads to roll in Washington.
Love it, like it or hate it, one thing is clear about the Obama administration: It is addicted to secrecy. First, Congress should open a bipartisan, joint and transparent House-Senate investigation of the domestic surveillance activities of the Obama administration. Second, Attorney General Eric Holder should be forced to testify under oath, with the potential criminal penalties. And then he should be fired. Finally, an investigation by Congress should include investigations into the covert activities of the administration abroad, too.
President Obama entered office amid admittedly difficult economic, let alone political circumstances. He pledged to govern boldly and with transparency, to heal the partisan and other divides of the nation. He has faced intransigence, which borders on hatred, from some in the Republican House. The president won re-election by talking big again. And yet he has governed relatively small. Aside from his health-care law, his achievements have been spare. Yes, Detroit did not fail. Nor did Wall Street. Yet it is hard to accept the administration’s chief argument: Things could have been worse. And that’s only because it is impossible to prove the negative.
It is one thing for the president not to particularly like lawmakers who disparage him — sometimes in a way that they would never disparage a white president. It is another for the national security apparatus of the United States to turn its shoulder to the elected representatives or the people, however ludicrous or comical those representatives might be.
The targeting by the IRS of conservative political organizations is potentially Nixonian, and Congress needs to determine if political considerations beyond the obvious were at work and whether the director of the IRS acted on his own, whether officials at Treasury were involved and whether anyone had direction, official or otherwise from the White House. Congress should act in a bipartisan fashion. If Republicans or Democrats play politics, they should not expect public support.
So far, the government has not indicated why it seized the reporters’ records without warning. The administration has not bothered to explain why it broke into the electronic communications of the Associated Press; presumably the government was interested in the AP’s reporting of a leak regarding a CIA operation in Yemen. But department regulations require that the attorney general himself sign off on spying on a news organization. So, there are two explanations.
One is that the third leg of the investigative stool for Congress must be the administration’s surveillance operations abroad, including its targeted, drone assassinations. This administration has killed an American citizen abroad and stolen the information of an American news organization at home, likely all in the name of its covert wars abroad. Admittedly, it would be nice if Congress would clean up its act and take its intelligence and foreign policy duties a little more seriously; its investigation into what happened in Benghazi has been clumsily politicized.
But contrary to its many promises and to the comments by the president last week, the Obama administration loves the darkness of secrecy far more than the disinfectant of sunlight. The war in Iraq is over. The war in Afghanistan is effectively done. Osama bin Laden is long dead. It is time to come clean about what the Obama administration has done abroad and at home. And it is time for Eric Holder to go.
Richard Parker is the author of “Unblinking: Rise of the Modern Superdrones.” This column was distributed by the McClatchy-Tribune News Service.