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White House mired in scandals

Updated: June 18, 2013 8:12AM

It would be interesting to know what’s running through Susan Rice’s mind these days. It’s clear now that the U.N. ambassador was sent out with Benghazi talking points that had been massaged by the Obama administration in a way that misled the public about what happened that terrible night of Sept. 11, 2012. Her forceful advocacy of that false account likely cost her the chance to become secretary of state.

The Benghazi terrorist attack claimed the lives of four Americans. But the controversies around it, the IRS targeting of conservatives and the Justice Department spying on the AP are starting to harm reputations and careers.

Rice was the first. The talking points fiasco made any nomination of her to be secretary of state DOA in the Senate. It would be interesting to know how big a hand she played in her own fate. How much did she know about the rewriting of the talking points by the CIA at the behest of the State Department, supported by the White House, to scrub references to al-Qaida affiliates and pre-attack warnings of the dangers in Libya? A Rice aide suggested knowledge of the editing, but that account was rejected by administration officials, certainly in part because it implied there were communications about the talking points outside the emails released this week by the White House.

After Rice, the biggest casualty may be White House spokesman Jay Carney. He long maintained the administration made one “stylistic” change in the script for Rice. The emails tell a different story. Has Carney’s credibility with reporters been irreparably damaged?

Victoria Nuland was the public face of the Hillary Clinton State Department, and Nuland has emerged as the loudest voice demanding changes in the original talking points. She objected to references to the al-Qaida-linked extremist group Ansar al-Sharia and the pre-attack warnings. Her attempt to hide these elements to protect State from criticism can’t help but damage her public standing.

The first resignation from the IRS scandal was acting commissioner Steven Miller, whom most Americans have never heard of. But they do know the IRS, which reaches into virtually every home, and now they know it targeted conservative groups with words like “tea party” and “patriot” in their names. The question remains: What other heads will roll? And how high up will they be in the government? Conservatives complained about being singled out for IRS scrutiny for nearly two years, yet the White House professed not to know anything about it until last week.

Attorney General Eric Holder has been hammered from the right and the left for the Justice Department’s secret seizure of AP phone records. Last year, Holder became the first Cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress for withholding information about the “Operation Fast and Furious” gun-running scheme that funneled thousands of weapons to Mexican drug traffickers and was implicated in the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

Holder defended the action against the AP by saying Justice was investigating a leak that put people’s lives at risk. But AP President Gary Pruitt says the agency did not print its story about a foiled terrorist attack “until the government assured us that the national security concerns had passed.” Who’s right will say a lot about Holder’s reputation.

The biggest names of course are Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Clinton blames lower level staff for security failures in Libya. Obama calls Benghazi a “side show” and says he knew nothing about the IRS and Justice Department cases until they surfaced in the news media. He and Clinton may end up with reputations as detached, disengaged executives of the government they were tasked to lead.

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