In the Dark: Obama, Staff Learn of Scandals From News Reports
Friday, July 11, 2014 07:12 PM
By: Todd Beamon
The Obama administration has been engulfed in an unending stream of scandals — and President Barack Obama learned of most of them through news reports.
From the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, to the IRS targeting conservative nonprofit groups, to the revelations about veterans dying while waiting for care because of falsified lists at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the president and his top aides have admitted that they found out about them in the media.
"I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this," Obama said in June 2013 when he was asked about the IRS scandal. "I think it was on Friday."
But the next week, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that senior staff knew of the targeting but did not tell Obama because they were waiting for a report about it from the Treasury Department's inspector general. Carney has since been succeeded by Josh Earnest.
Perhaps Obama's biggest embarrassment came last November, when he apologized publicly to the millions of Americans who lost their health insurance under Obamacare — despite repeated assurances for more than three years that they could keep their coverage if they liked it.
"I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me," Obama told NBC News in a White House interview.
The episode followed many delays and technical problems with the HealthCare.gov website.
That Obama was not told of the many controversies before they become public reflects not just an ineffective staff but an extremely detached president, former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu told Newsmax.
"His staff is not running a good White House for him," said Sununu, who served under President George H.W. Bush. "He's not letting his staff run a good White House for him.
"Perhaps, the president really doesn't want his White House run well for him to know about these things."
Sununu, 75, who was New Hampshire's governor from 1983 to 1989, described the situation as "the Sgt. Schultz syndrome," referencing the inept character in the classic television sitcom "Hogan's Heroes."
"The less you know, the less you have to do. It's getting pretty clear that this is a president who really doesn't like the nitty-gritty of the responsibilities of the presidency.
"He doesn't seem to want to work with Congress on details," Sununu said. "He wants to order Congress to send him legislation, but he doesn't want to sit down with Congress to work out the differences.
"All the problems in Washington stem from one fact: There's no presidential leadership. You can't have bipartisanship without presidential leadership. You can't resolve major problems without presidential leadership. You can't deal with scandals without presidential leadership."
It doesn't help that the federal government is a "big and complicated structure," Sununu observed.
"If you neglect it, it begins to fall apart. This has been neglected for over six years — and the country's paying the price for it.
"It gets sloppy. It gets irresponsible. Certain senior level officials get possessed with a little bit of hubris. The president gets a little bit of hubris.
"And, pretty soon, you start to have either a scandal from neglect or a scandal from abuse of power or a scandal from bad judgment," Sununu said. "We have examples of all of those."
Here are some of the debacles and when Obama knew about them:
The Benghazi Deaths
The U.S. Embassy in Libya was attacked on Sept. 11, 2012, in what the administration first described as a response to an anti-Muslim video, though it later admitted that the assaults were terrorism.
Ambassador Chris Stevens died in the attacks, along with information management officer Sean Smith and former SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
Stevens had asked for increased security, but his requests were ignored by the State Department, two former heads of diplomatic security told Congress the following October. Obama said that he had not been told of the appeals.
The VA Scandal
In April, CNN reported that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at a Phoenix Veteran's Affairs Health Care Center because of manipulated waiting lists.
Dozens of VA operations nationwide had done the same thing so that senior staff could earn bonuses based on meeting performance goals.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in the controversy, and the VA's 42 medical centers nationwide are under investigation for similar issues.
"We learned about them through the reports," Carney later said, referencing CNN. "That is when we learned about them, and that is when I understand Secretary Shinseki learned about them."
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told CNN last October that Obama did not know about the horrific problems with HealthCare.gov until "the first couple of days" after the site went live on Oct. 1.
Operation Fast and Furious
The Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operated a gun-running scheme between 2006 and 2011 that eventually put hundreds of assault weapons bought in the United States into the hands of violent Mexican drug cartels.
Within weeks after the program began, ATF lost track of the weapons.
In January 2010, 40 were discovered in El Paso, Texas, and that December two were used in a shootout in Arizona that ended with the death of U.S. Border Agent Brian Terry.
Another U.S. agent, Jaime Zapata, was killed by a Fast and Furious weapon while working in Mexico, and the guns have been linked to dozens of other crimes south of the border.
"There have been problems, you know," Obama told CNN in October 2011. "I heard on the news about this story that — Fast and Furious, where allegedly guns were being run into Mexico, and ATF knew about it, but didn't apprehend those who had sent [the guns]."
Justice Department Seizes AP's Phone Records
In May 2013, the Associated Press reported that the Justice Department had seized the telephone records of its reporters and editors for two months in 2012. Justice refused to tell AP why it had taken the records.
"Other than press reports, we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP," Carney had told reporters.
Spying on Foreign Leaders
Just last Thursday, President Obama called German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss a number of world issues, The New York Times reports, but he did not know that a young German intelligence officer had been arrested the day before for slipping secrets to the CIA.
In addition, documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last October revealed a surveillance program of Merkel and other U.S. allies that had been operating since 2002.
Obama never knew the effort targeted allies, White House officials said, The Washington Post reports, though he was aware of spying programs that centered on leaders of "adversarial countries."
Gen. David Petraeus Scandal
CIA Director David Petraeus resigned in November 2012 as head of the nation's primary spy agency over an extramarital affair with a freelance journalist.
Senior FBI officials investigating the affair with biographer Paula Broadwell did not tell Obama of the case, apparently to avoid embarrassment to Obama during his re-election campaign. The president learned of the affair two days after the election.
Reflecting on the myriad scandals, Sununu told Newsmax that Benghazi and the IRS were the most critical and ones that "the American public deserved quick and honest answers on."
"We lost an ambassador there," he said of the Libyan attacks. "I really believe that it was the result of a failure to do the right thing. That's an issue that needs to be pursued all the way through until all the questions are answered."
The IRS controversy, however, "approaches the level of what people felt were the kind of problems that brought Richard Nixon down.
"Using the IRS against citizens and private citizens' groups is using the power of tax to destroy," he said. "That, to me, is the ultimate abuse of federal power."
Sununu found the running saga of the lost emails of former IRS supervisor Lois Lerner amusing.
"It would be hard to create the coincidence of failures that they are claiming have lost the emails. It is hard to create that on purpose.
"I commend them for being clever enough to figure out how to do it," Sununu told Newsmax, laughing. "It's probably the one demonstration of competence they've had."