Some in the media have reported on the Obama administration reneging on its promise to be transparent and open. The president’s drone policy is a testament to its commitment to secrecy. The creation of a secret kill list is also another instance where Obama has betrayed a campaign promise to his liberal base. So, why aren’t watchdog groups vociferously protesting the president’s 180-degree flip on this position?
Paul Thacker wrote on the left-leaning Slate website yesterday that Obama is no different from Bush in stonewalling FOIA requests, and skirting civil liberties – but gets away with it because of his party affiliation:
President Obama is no different. Whether it’s responding to Congress, media questions, or FOIA requests, this administration is no better than its predecessor. The big difference: Obama is a Democrat. And because he is a Democrat, he’s gotten a pass from many of the civil liberty and good-government groups who spent years watching President Bush’s every move like a hawk.
No one knows this better than John Kiriakou, the CIA agent who reported to federal prison two weeks ago for blowing the whistle on the agency’s use of torture. During an interview at an Arlington, Va., coffee shop, Kiriakou said the time has come for Washington watchdog groups—organizations like Public Citizen, Project on Government Oversight, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics [CREW] in Washington, and others—to admit that President Obama hasn’t come close to making good on his promise to make government more transparent and accountable.
“Dan Ellsberg. He called me again last night,” said Kiriakou, referring to the man who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers and opened the world’s eyes to the United States’ long involvement in Vietnam. “We talk about this all the time. He keeps asking me, ‘Where is the outrage? If this were a Republican administration, people would be in the streets, right? We would be marching in the streets. But people cut Obama a break to the point of irrationality.
Why is the watchdog outrage muted? Thacker noted how Obama neutralized the threat by appointing Norm Eisen, co-founder of the left-leaning watchdog group CREW, as “ethics czar.” Eisen knew the crowd, and went to work protecting the president. The result was 17 agencies being 50 percent more likely to turn down FOIA requests, but still the D.C. watchdog community gave a transparency award to the president.
Thacker notes the worst form of stonewalling from this administration centers on Fast and Furious, where he notes the outrage was absent. Instead, he cited the Huffington Post, who accused Republicans of “partisanship run amok.” What about the Eisen connection?
Such a poor grasp of the facts could be caused by the involvement of Rep. Darrell Issa, who was ordered years ago by the Republican leadership to turn the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform into a war machine against the White House. However, in this case, Issa was in the right.
As the administration continued to insist they had no involvement or knowledge of the ATF program, Issa released several Fast and Furious wiretap applications with signatures of top Justice Department officials. Rather than attacking the administration’s stonewalling, Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, attacked Rep. Issa for releasing the sealed documents.
Never mind that every investigative committee releases sealed documents. (I cannot tell you how many times my Senate Finance Committee colleagues and I released documents that were under seal.) It’s how Congress functions and does its job. However, CREW’s close ties to ethics czar Eisen might explain why Sloan was so quick to go on the partisan attack.
In all, Thacker seems dismayed that the groups created to keep Washington in line – and who rally around whistleblowers – have turned a deaf ear to them, as they face harassment from within their agencies. This can be said of the ATF agents, who broke the news of the programs abject failure to the world.
Most shocking of all is the close of Thacker’s column, where he credits Fox News and the Washington Times for being the only news agencies to report about the agents and their eventual exoneration of any wrongdoing. The watchdog community remained quiet, like a good dog, since their masters Eisen and Obama told them to sit.