The national security adviser appointment is a big deal for Rice -- and the president.
(The Root) -- Susan Rice, whose rumored nomination to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was torpedoed because of the controversy surrounding the September 2012 deaths of American foreign-service members in Benghazi, Libya, will become America's next national security adviser. Rice will become the second woman, second black woman and, coincidentally, the second woman with the surname "Rice" to serve in the role. Condoleezza Rice (no relation) previously served as national security adviser in the Bush administration before becoming secretary of state.
As we reported in March, Rice has been the rumored front-runner for the national security adviser role for months. She will succeed Tom Donilon. Replacing Rice as ambassador to the United Nations will be Samantha Power, who formerly served as named special assistant to President Obama and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights on the National Security Council (and who famously departed the Obama campaign in 2008 after referring to the future president's primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, as a "monster.")
The appointment serves as a vindication of sorts for Rice, who bore the brunt of the administration's early criticism over its handling of the Benghazi tragedy and its aftermath. But her appointment also serves as a vindication for the president. He was initially a passionate defender of Rice, and when she withdrew her name from consideration for the secretary of state nomination, some wondered if she was bowing to external pressure as well as internal pressure from the White House. With Obama facing criticism for a lack of racial and gender diversity in his early second-term Cabinet appointments, Rice's absence from his Cabinet became even more glaring.
But Rice's comeback will also be seen as a political victory for the Obama White House. Rice's setback earlier this year was collateral damage from the larger political fights taking place between the White House and leading Republicans. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was unable to beat Obama for the presidency five years ago, so instead he targeted the president's friend and confidante and claimed a high-profile political scalp in the process. Yet as national security adviser, it is arguable that Rice will have an even greater role in shaping defense and other foreign policy alongside the president than she might have had as secretary of state.
The president's candidates for the U.S. Court of Appeals include African-American Judge Robert Leon Wilkins.
(The Root) -- In a statement from the White House Rose garden today, President Obama announced his nomination of three candidates for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
One of them: Judge Robert Leon Wilkins, an African-American Harvard Law School graduate and former law-firm partner currently serving as a U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia. He has held the position since he was confirmed by the Senate without opposition in 2010.
At the ceremony, whose audience included U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and NAACP Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy Hilary Shelton, Obama said:
This is the second time I’ve called on Judge Robert Wilkins to serve -- because in 2010, I nominated Robert to the D.C. District Court, and the Senate confirmed him without opposition. Before serving with distinction as a federal judge, Robert spent eight years in private practice and a decade as a public defender here in Washington, D.C., providing legal representation to defendants who could not afford an attorney. And throughout his career, Robert has distinguished himself as a principled attorney of the utmost integrity.
Wilkins was nominated along with Patricia Ann Millett, an appellate lawyer in Washington, D.C., and Cornelia Pillard, a Georgetown University law professor.
"These are no slouches," Obama insisted. "These are no hacks. There are incredibly accomplished lawyers by all accounts. And there are members of Congress here today who are ready to move forward with these nominations ... So there's no reason -- aside from politics -- for Republicans to block these individuals from getting an up or down vote."
"It's important that we don't play games here," he said.
The issue could taint the president's legacy more than Benghazi or the IRS.
(The Root) -- John McCain once famously called members of the media his "base," a statement on the fact that even when he was at odds with his own party, he could count on the media to give the "maverick" a fair shake. But according to reports, McCain felt that his base turned on him in favor of a newer, younger political celebrity by the name of Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton's campaign also accused the media of having something in common with Obama Girl by having a crush on then-candidate Obama.
Well, whatever love affair did exist between the media and the president has come to an abrupt end, and like a lot of breakups, this one involves allegations of betrayal and is increasingly acrimonious. In simple terms, if there ends up being a loser in this divorce, it will most certainly be President Obama.
On May 13 it was reported that the Department of Justice had secretly seized records for up to 20 phone lines affiliated with the Associated Press as part of an investigation into an information leak. This turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. It was later revealed that the phone records of Fox News employees had been searched (the Justice Department did notify Fox's parent company), but more troubling was the revelation that the Gmail account of Fox News reporter James Rosen had also been searched, without the company's knowledge.
Even more disturbing is how the government was able to gain judicial access to Rosen's records -- by positing that he was being considered as a possible "co-conspirator" to a crime. This caused Fox News head Roger Ailes to write in a memo to staff, "We will not allow a climate of press intimidation, unseen since the McCarthy era, to frighten any of us away from the truth."
With the Obama administration fending off ongoing attacks and investigations over Benghazi, Libya, and an Internal Revenue Service scandal, it may appear that the president should have more important things to worry about than whether or not journalists "like" him.
This is true.
But if journalists don't trust him, that's another matter altogether, and increasingly his administration is making it hard to do that. Fox News has spent much of the last few months trying to turn Benghazi into Barack Obama's Iran-Contra or Watergate. But because of Fox's long-held reputation as the anti-Obama network, few mainstream outlets have taken the channel's conspiracy-obsessed tone seriously.
There's a saying: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they are not after you." Now that the administration has been caught targeting a Fox News reporter, Fox News doesn't look quite so insanely paranoid after all, and other outlets and journalists are taking notice. One reason is that Rosen is not Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly but a real journalist. For this reason, his targeting and the justification the government has given for doing so -- considering him a "co-conspirator" -- are sending shivers down the collective spines of journalists and outlets everywhere.
Perhaps the administration thought that instilling a little fear in journalists would be a good thing, until the fallout began. The fact that major outlets are boycotting an off-the-record discussion with Attorney General Eric Holder about this mess is just a sign of things to come. Instead of cowering in fear, the media are standing up to fight and mounting a surprisingly united front to do so.
This can spell nothing but doom for the president. Although he is not facing re-election, he is facing one last midterm election, which will determine what his ultimate legislative legacy will be. But most of all, he is beginning to face the larger legacy that he wants to leave as president, and like it or not, the media play a major role in shaping that.
John McCain, the onetime admired maverick, has forever seen his legacy tarnished into that of a bitter old man. If President Obama is not careful and does not make good-faith efforts to restore the media's trust in him and his administration, then he, too, will find himself left with a legacy he will not be proud of.
The audit by J. Russell George, who once dated Michelle Obama, ignited the scandal.
(The Root) -- If you have followed any of the Internal Revenue Service scandal (hopefully here at The Root), you may have noticed two things: Three congressional hearings have uncovered exactly nothing relevant; and the wearer of the white hat, for once, is a black man.
J. Russell George, a graduate of Howard University, is the Treasury Department inspector general who ignited the controversy by blowing the whistle on the IRS's targeted scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
So far, George's 48-page audit has led to the firings of the top two IRS officials and administrative leave for another and immediate reforms. It has also breathed new life into conservative rhetoric about governmental abuses of power under President Obama.
Oh, and George went out with Michelle Obama when they were students at Harvard Law School.
They dated? "That is overstating it," George told the National Journal. He explained that through the Black Law Students Association, he'd gotten to know the former Michelle Robinson:
"Michelle was a lovely person, and down to earth," he said. " ... The BLSA went out for pizza; we would go out together."
He paused, for a beat. "Don't get me in trouble," George said.
At 49, George has spent most of his career in the federal government, but this is his first turn in the spotlight.
It's difficult to exaggerate the challenges of his role as watchdog of the IRS. George relies on a staff of fewer than 800 to help him find and disclose fraud, abuse and waste at one of the largest governmental organizations in the world, with some 100,000 employees.
Central actors in big Washington scandals are subjected to intense scrutiny that exposes some and elevates others, but George's findings have held up under pressure. The audit recommended reforms at the IRS that Obama wants adopted immediately.
Appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, George had to answer criticism for not informing lawmakers of his initial findings. George explained that he's required to do so when conducting an investigation, but not for an audit.
He also cleverly turned it back on the often loose-lipped lawmakers, rightly suggesting that they or their aides may have leaked his findings to the media: "As you, I'm sure, are aware, many times when information is conveyed to the Hill, it is sometimes not retained [on] the Hill."
Here are three more facts working in George's favor:
1. Credibility with Republicans: He came up the ranks as a staffer for Republicans in the House and Senate, starting as a 17-year-old unpaid aide to Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. He also worked for the first President Bush as a lawyer in the Office of Management and Budget. He was appointed to his position in 2004 by the second President Bush.
2. Knowledge of the job: As staff director for a House oversight subcommittee, he oversaw the implementation of IRS reforms that created the job he currently holds.
3. Equal-opportunity watchdog: He's sure to disappoint some GOP friends with his expected review of nonprofits with 501(c)(4) tax exemptions, a category dominated by conservative groups since 2010. Many 501(c)(4)s solely pursue political causes, in violation of the law requiring them to "primarily" promote social welfare. These groups spent more money on TV ads in the 2012 presidential race than any other independent group.
By pleading the Fifth, the person at the scandal's center didn't quell the uproar.
(The Root) -- It seems that Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS Exempt Organizations division who is at the center of the Internal Revenue Service scandal, can't get out of her own way.
First her apology for her division's targeted scrutiny of conservative groups -- to neutralize fallout over a forthcoming audit (pdf) -- backfired badly. Then, before a House panel on Wednesday, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify by reading a statement that sounded a lot like testimony, which could land her back in the committee's hot seat.
"I have not done anything wrong," Lerner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other committee."
Hours after excusing Lerner, committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he might recall her in response to a complaint by a fellow Republican member that Lerner forfeited her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when she gave the statement.
"She made assertions under oath" and "may have waived her Fifth Amendment rights," Issa said. Politico reported that Issa later determined that Lerner had waived her legal protections and would order her to reappear.
Of course, Lerner made the right decision for herself legally, but it doesn't help the Obama administration's efforts to tamp down the uproar and counter accusations that the targeting was politically motivated.
To most Americans, the optics aren't good: The central figure in a big scandal at the most unpopular government agency pleads the Fifth? She has to be hiding something.
A Washington Post/ABC News survey released Tuesday found that by a margin of 45 percent to 42 percent, more people accuse the Obama administration of "trying to cover up the facts" than those who believe the administration is "honestly disclosing what it knows."
The group that believes in a cover-up includes 73 percent of all Republican respondents and a plurality (47 percent) of independents. Meanwhile, 64 percent of Democrats say that the administration has been forthcoming.
A strong majority of all respondents condemn the IRS behavior as "inappropriate," including 51 percent who also consider it illegal. In addition, 56 percent of respondents believe that the IRS deliberately harassed conservative political groups, and 31 percent believe that it was "an administrative mistake."
Lerner's silence also intensifies the pressure on the IRS to disclose the origins of the targeting practice and those directly responsible for it. No such revelations sprang from the balance of Wednesday's hearing, which also featured testimony from former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal S. Wolin and Inspector General J. Russell George, who conducted the audit.
Shulman and Wolin denied that the targeting was politically motivated. George testified that he hasn't found any evidence of political motivation.