If you’ve been watching President Obama react to this week’s government scandals, you’ve probably noticed something. Whenever things go south, it always seems to happen in some agency that President Obama doesn’t actually control — an agency that is “independent,” either in the strict legal sense or in a more informal one.
This week, a lot of things have gone wrong in the federal government, and Obama suddenly seems to control less of his administration than ever before. In fact, in asserting the independence of every major agency that screws something up, Obama is making a strong case that we don’t really need a president to run the federal government at all.
Think back to when the Democratic and Obama appointees on the National Labor Relations Board decided to punish Boeing for expanding its production of airplanes at a non-union site in South Carolina. Here’s the White House response from Jay Carney at that time:
“Well, it’s obviously been in the news, so we are aware of it, but I would refer any questions about it to the NLRB because it is an independent agency, and we do not get involved in particular enforcement matters of independent agencies.”
The NLRB is, nominally, an independent agency — one which, under Obama, has acted aggressively to promote Obama’s pro-union agenda. The board is so independent that President Obama stacked its membership in January 2012, installing two of its current members the constitutionally required Senate confirmation process.
This week, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration vindicated longstanding conservative complaints that Tea Party organizations were being targeted unfairly by the IRS. Since spring 2010, the IRS has been targeting conservative groups that apply for non-profit status, subjecting them to a special organizational body cavity search. Not only that, but IRS employees leaked nine of their pending applications to a left-wing journalism non-profit.
The acting IRS commissioner knew of this targeting in May 2012. In his subsequent communications with members of Congress who specifically asked about the targeting of conservative groups, he failed to share this information. In other words, he apparently lied to Congress.
In response, President Obama called this “outrageous” and promised to hold someone accountable — but not him.
“I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this,” he said yesterday. “I think it was on Friday.” He thinks. See? He had so little to do with this that he can’t even remember when the story came out.
Of the bureaucrats who did it, he said:
[T]hey have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re applying it in a non-partisan way — applying the laws in a non-partisan way.
This is actually not true — the IRS is not an independent agency, but a bureau of the Treasury Department. (Jay Carney’s remarks to reporters later that day likewise put maximum distance between the White House and the scandal, which he made sure to mention occurred three states away in Cincinnati. Of course, this scandal also involved the office in Washington and occurred with the knowledge of senior officials, but no matter. Obama doesn’t control the IRS.
As for the other two agencies currently under fire — the State Department and the Department of Justice — Obama has acted to distance himself from all of their mistakes and deceptions as well. Jay Carney pulled out the I-word again — this time in its adverbial form, “independently” — to respond to the revelation that the Justice Department was secretly spying on Associated Press reporters by accessing their office, home and cell phone records.
“Other than press reports, we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP. We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department. Any questions about an ongoing criminal investigation should be directed to the Department of Justice.”