No ordinary scandals: Why Obama is in worse trouble than Clinton, Reagan or Nixon

This time, it’s different.

We’ve seen presidential scandals in the past, and it’s easy to dismiss calls for investigations and impeachment as the usual political posturing by any president’s opponents.

Don’t be lulled, stay awake for this one.

The Obama White House is dealing with three simultaneous scandals:

The Internal Revenue Service has admitted targeting conservatives for special scrutiny.

The White House will not say where the president was or to whom he spoke during the seven-hour terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, and no one will say who ordered the “stand-down” of U.S. military forces that could have been sent to rescue American diplomatic personnel.

The Justice Department secretly obtained a broad range of telephone records of Associated Press reporters in order to find the source of administration leaks about a foiled terror attack.

Compare these to other presidential scandals:

President Clinton was impeached for lying to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice for a woman who was suing him for sexual harassment.

President Reagan was investigated for using a back-channel to provide arms to the Nicaraguan Contras in defiance of Congress’ decision not to arm the rebels.

President Nixon was forced to resign when it was revealed that the break-in at the Democratic party headquarters was ordered by the White House.

These presidential scandals involved violations of the law, but they did not touch the lives of ordinary Americans. Most people will never sue a president for sexual harassment, seek arms to overthrow a communist regime or work in a political party’s national headquarters. These scandals all fall neatly into the category of “somebody else’s problem.”

In contrast, consider the prospect that the Internal Revenue Service may target you for special scrutiny based on your membership in certain political groups.

That’s not simply a scary threat, that decimates the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The prospect of becoming a target of an IRS investigation has more than a chilling effect, it throws political freedom into a sub-zero freezer and locks the door.

Now consider the Benghazi scandal. The administration has admitted that it reduced security at the U.S. diplomatic facilities there. It has admitted that it told a false story about a demonstration protesting a YouTube video, when in fact there was no demonstration and the attack was known to have been carried out by terrorists with links to al-Qaeda. It has admitted that special forces could have been sent during the attack but were not.

Imagine, if you can, President Franklin Roosevelt responding to the attack on Pearl Harbor by saying, “We will bring the perpetrators to justice.” Imagine him telling the families of the men who lost their lives in that attack, “They knew the job was dangerous, and we thank them for their sacrifice.”

You see the problem.

Either we are in a war on terror, or we are not. If we are, we have to fight it. We can’t just sit around and take casualties.

If we are not in a war, then the extraordinary power the government has given itself to snoop on phone records without warrants is an unconstitutional intrusion on the rights and freedom of the American people.

Which brings us to the third scandal, the broad and unprecedented seizure, in secret, of Associated Press phone records.

No administration likes leaks, and all administrations complain about them. But the Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting secret fishing expeditions through the papers and effects of Americans, including journalists.

The Patriot Act carved out some space in the Fourth Amendment for the government to make warrantless seizures of phone records in the name of national security. (The argument can be made that the Patriot Act is unconstitutional, but for now, the law stands.)

The Obama Justice Department used the Patriot Act to obtain unlimited access to journalists’ phone records, which will have the same kind of chilling effect on sources that the IRS investigations will have on political activity.

Ordinary political scandals involve violations of the law, but the Obama scandals transcend the ordinary. These are scandals that threaten the freedom and security of the United States. Chilling political activity, chilling political reporting, refusing to defend a U.S. diplomatic facility against a terrorist attack, these are violations of the president’s oath of office. These are high crimes.

Will it mean impeachment?

It certainly could.

Impeachment is a political, not a law-enforcement, decision. The House of Representatives is not required to impeach the president, no matter how much evidence accumulates against him. But if House Republicans come to believe the American people will tolerate an impeachment, they will stop “requesting” documents and they will issue subpoenas.

Once they do that, the train cannot be stopped. The White House may try to claim executive privilege in order to withhold documents and testimony, but in fact there is no such thing as executive privilege against a subpoena from the U.S. Congress. The Constitution gives Congress the power to impeach the president, the vice president and all civil officers of the United States. Implicit in the power to impeach is the power to investigate. There cannot be an unwritten constitutional privilege to block the exercise of an explicit constitutional power. That’s why the executive privilege claims of President Nixon and President Clinton were rejected by the courts.

When the U.S. Congress receives all the documents and all the testimony, we’ll find out who ordered the IRS targeting of conservative groups, who ordered the stand-down of U.S. military forces during the terrorist attack against the U.S. in Benghazi, and who ordered the broad, sweeping collection of reporters’ phone records.

Bob Bennett, call your office.

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Author Susan Shelley is a Republican candidate for the California Assembly in District 45, the west San Fernando Valley.

Susan Shelley posted at 2013-5-19 Category: Uncategorized