By Rob Portman
The last two weeks have further weakened our trust and confidence in our government. And no matter who is in power, Democrat or Republican, that’s not good news for our democracy.
Revelations of misconduct by the IRS in targeting certain groups based on their politics, the Obama administration misleading us on Benghazi, the Department of Health and Human Services inappropriately raising money from companies they regulate to support ObamaCare, as well as new disclosures about the Department of Justice targeting the Associated Press, all raise serious questions about whether some public servants in Washington are putting short-term political gain ahead of their obligations to the American people.
First, Benghazi. Reports by Weekly Standard and ABC, followed by Congressional hearings on Capitol Hill, revealed startling evidence that administration officials cared more about the political interests of the president than the truth about the attacks that resulted in the deaths of four Americans. Talking points used during interviews by Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice were altered by administration officials. She told the American people that the attack was the result of an inflammatory video even though analysts in the CIA, the State Department and the White House had already determined that terrorism was involved.
It turns out that those talking points were edited no less than a dozen times. These edits were specifically made to eliminate references to al-Qaeda and related terrorists organizations that intelligence agencies suspected were responsible for the attack. Also removed were references to previous incidents that had led the CIA to warn the State Department about the dangers present in Benghazi.
This deliberate attempt to hide the truth from the American people is bad enough. Perhaps even worse, when the White House was asked at the time if the talking points were edited by anyone in the White House or State Department, they claimed that only one change was made, and that change was purely cosmetic. Either the White House was incompetent or purposefully misleading.
At the same time the truth about Benghazi was unfolding, the Internal Revenue Service was also making news for all the wrong reasons. The IRS admitted to intentionally singling out dozens of nonprofit organizations for investigation for no cause other than that they had conservative political leanings.
As every American knows, the IRS wields immense power, a power that is going to grow even more under the authority granted it by ObamaCare. For it to use that power against people solely for exercising their most basic, fundamental right of free speech is chilling. Chief Justice John Marshall once wrote that the power to tax is the power to destroy. It is doubtful he ever imagined this power would be directed at the First Amendment.
The IRS was not the only government department overstepping its authority. News reports indicate that Kathleen Sebelius, the head of Health and Human Services, solicited donations from companies that HHS oversees to fund enrollment efforts related to the health care insurance exchanges established by ObamaCare.
At best, this appears to be an inherent conflict of interest. At worst, it is a potentially illegal augmentation of the appropriations process established by the Constitution. But no matter what the case, companies and organizations should never be pressured for money because it sends the message that contributions are necessary to secure favorable regulatory decisions – creating a “pay to play” environment – or to avoid regulatory reprisals. It is astonishing that the administration would ignore this most basic rule of good government.
On top of all this, news broke this week of a widespread inquiry launched by the Department of Justice into the Associated Press. Two months of telephone records were seized, in an investigation the head of the AP – one of America’s most respected news sources – called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into an organization known for investigative reporting. A free press has always been a bulwark of freedom in this country, and it is critical that the administration explain the purpose of this investigation, whether it is ongoing, and if a judge or grand jury signed off on these actions.
The American people should be able to put their faith and their trust in their elected leaders. These four incidents have shaken that trust in ways that will reverberate for years to come.
One might be an aberration, two a curiosity, three a coincidence, but four such events indicate a pattern and at the very least, incompetence at the highest levels of our government. Mere apologies are not sufficient.
The American people deserve the truth about the attack in Benghazi and its aftermath as well as what occurred at the IRS, HHS and DOJ. Only when we get to the bottom of these incidents can we begin to rebuild the bridge of trust between us as citizens and our federal government in Washington, D.C.
Rob Portman is a United States Senator from Ohio.