Monday’s revelation that the US Justice Department seized phone records from the AP news agency is the latest scandal to rock the Obama administration, with some of his political foes calling for his impeachment.
US President Barack Obama was this week facing unfavourable comparisons with Richard Nixon as a mounting number of controversies threatened to engulf his administration and overshadow his second-term agenda, with some of his political foes even calling for the President’s impeachment.
Monday’s revelation that the US Justice Department had seized the phone records of Associated Press reporters as part of an investigation into an alleged intelligence leak, has led to accusations of an attack on the freedom of the press.
The news came hot on the heels of claims that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) - the government's tax collection agency - had specifically targeted conservative grassroots groups critical of the White House.
Republicans have also grown increasingly vocal in their criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the attack on the US mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi on September 11 last year - pushing claims of a cover-up over the incident.
Obama’s opponents have seized on this litany of controversies to draw comparisons with the presidency of Richard Nixon and the infamous Watergate scandal.
"We thought that era has passed. Apparently, that's not the case,” Republican Senator John McCain told AFP.
Another Republican, Senator Orrin Hatch, added. "I've never seen anything quite like this, except in the past during the Nixon years," he said.
Republicans and Democrats unite over alleged attack on press freedom
The seizure of AP phone records, in what appeared to be an effort to track down the source who disclosed an alleged Yemen terrorist plot story, has drawn criticism from both sides of the political divide, with Republicans and Democrats decrying the move as a gross infringement on press freedoms.
AP revealed on Monday that the Justice Department, without informing the organisation in advance, had obtained two months' worth of phone records of calls made by reporters and editors.
The Justice Department defended the seizure, saying it formed part of a probe into a security breach that could potentially put American lives at risk.
But Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Attorney General Eric Holder should resign over the issue, adding: “Freedom of the press is an essential right in a free society.”
Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, called on the Justice Department to explain the records seizure, while Steny Hoyer, the House of Representative’s second-ranking Democratic leader, said, “This is activity that should not have happened and must be checked from happening again.”
IRS accused of targeting political groups
Republicans are twisting the knife into the US administration over the IRS drama, with a report published Tuesday claiming that the agency used "inappropriate" political criteria when it targeted conservative groups for scrutiny over an 18-month span.
The report said that a specialist had been "asked to search for applications with 'Tea Party,' 'Patriots,' or '9/12' in the organization's name as well as other 'political-sounding' names."
"What we don't know at this point is whether it jumped the fence from the IRS to the White House," said top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell. "Clearly, we've only started to scratch the surface of this scandal."
Republican Congressman Darrell Issa also bemoaned the IRS episode. "This was the targeting of the president's political enemies, effectively, and lies about it during the election year so that it wasn't discovered till afterwards", he said.
The Benghazi investigation has trailed Obama for months, with many Republicans focused on how the White House first explained the attacks to the American people. Administration officials initially said the attacks appeared to grow out of a spontaneous demonstration, though it later concluded that they were planned acts of terror.
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The White House has insisted there was no effort to change the initial administration “talking points” to downplay the prospect of terrorism.
But emails made public last week concerning the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used five days after the September 11 assault showed State Department and other senior administration officials asking that references to terror groups and prior warnings be deleted.
The White House has insisted that it made only a “stylistic” change to the intelligence agency talking points which Rice used to suggest on five Sunday talk shows that demonstrations over an anti-Islamic video devolved into the Benghazi attack.
Republican senator James Inhofe went so far as to suggest that the scandal could eventually lead to the president being impeached.
“People may be starting to use the I-word before too long,” he told The Rusty Humphries Show last Thursday.
White House on the defensive
On Wednesday, Obama decried the IRS’s ‘irresponsible and inexcusable behaviour’ and vowed to hold staff accountable.
But he sought to distance himself from the Benghazi and AP scandals by laying the blame with other administration agencies he claims acted independently.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney said that the White House was not involved in the decision to seek AP records, and that responsibility for the disputed Benghazi talking points lay with the CIA.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-05-15