Updated: July 13, 2012 6:10AM
Campaigns ebb and flow, and nothing is settled until Election Day. But President Barack Obama, whose fortunes glowed brightly only days ago, now sees his prospects dimming at least for the moment. For the first time, the possibility of a major scandal tainting his administration has materialized just as job growth has slowed dramatically and the president, noted for his mastery of words, stumbled in declaring something about the economy obviously not true: “The private sector is doing fine.”
The potential for scandal arises from New York Times stories with sources identified as in the administration revealing highly detailed national security secrets. One story told how Obama signs off on “kill lists” for drone attacks. A second story confirmed what the world suspected — that the United States and Israel were behind the Stuxnet computer virus and other cyber attacks against Iran’s nuclear weapons program — and offered stunning operational details. Only weeks earlier, another leak exposed a double agent who had helped to stop a plot to blow up a U.S.-bound plane from Yemen.
Such highly sensitive information had been revealed that Democrats such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, openly expressed alarm. She worries that lives were jeopardized and that trust among allies that the United States can keep a secret had been undermined. Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, voiced suspicion that political operatives were burnishing Obama’s national security credentials for the election. Obama called the allegation offensive. But the stories obviously came from sources in the room when the “kill lists” and cyber attacks were discussed, and they painted a picture flattering to the president.
What’s more, the leaks fit into a pattern established with the administration violating its pledge not to take a victory lap on the killing of al-Qaida master terrorist Osama bin Laden. Obama’s re-election campaign made a crude attack ad suggesting that Mitt Romney would not have ordered the killing. And the administration gave access to the Pentagon to an Obama-friendly Hollywood director and her staff to gather information to make a movie about the bin Laden raid. Right after the raid, Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained too much sensitive administration was being released.
Attorney General Eric Holder ordered two investigations, but the Senate and House likely will conduct their own probes. Hanging over all that will be the question of possible political motives for the leaks. Holder is locked in a confrontation with Congress over accountability for “Operation Fast and Furious,” in which the government let guns flow to Mexican drug cartels, another potentially damaging scandal.
The leaks controversy coincided with statistics making May yet another month for disappointing job growth.
Then Obama’s comment about the private economy “doing fine” made him seem out of touch with the 23 million Americans who are out of work or under-employed.
As his remark came with a pitch for more hiring by local and state governments, he seemed out of touch with the growing public disenchantment over well-compensated public-sector union workers and with the reality that it is business and entrepreneurs, not government, that generate economic prosperity.