Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Former CIA Agent Valerie Plame poses on the red carpet as she arrives for the premiere of the movie "Fair Game."Franck Castel/Wostok Press
The pending nomination of James Comey to become FBI chief is a poke in the eye with a very sharp stick for the Cheney crowd. Comey, deputy attorney general during the W. years, has drawn criticism from civil libertarians for being part of an administration that waterboarded (though Comey reportedly opposed the justification of this practice), yet Comey is best known for saying no to a top-secret surveillance program much beloved by Vice President Dick Cheney and his lieutenants. He successfully defied the Bush-Cheney White House on this point in a dramatic encounter in a Washington hospital room, when top Bush advisers tried to bum-rush an ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft into authorizing an extension of the program after Comey, then the acting attorney general, had refused. But Cheney and his crew have another good reason to be aghast at the thought of Comey leading the FBI: he was the guy who started the independent Plamegate investigation that ended up tainting Cheney and convicting Scooter Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, of serious crimes.
In recent years, conservative and liberal reaction to President Barack Obama's national security policies has often converged. Conservatives note that Obama has continued (or expanded) many of the Bush-Cheney policies and methods—drones, indefinite detention, military commissions, use of the state secrets privilege—and this, they proclaim, proves that the Bush-Cheney regime was not excessive or unlawful. Liberals, pointing to Obama's decisions in these areas, complain that the fellow who once campaigned against the excesses of the Bush-Cheney years has gone over to the dark side. A Justice Department white paper leaked in February explaining the administration's justification for targeted killing abroad of US citizens suspected of terrorism embodied the sort of executive power overreach associated with Obama's predecessor. And the Obama administration's fierce pursuit of national security leaks—which led the Justice Department to collect secretly information on the communications of the Associated Press and James Rosen of Fox News—reinforces the view that Obama has taken a step or two toward an imperial presidency.
White House aides rankle at any comparison to Bush and Cheney. They dutifully note that in his first days in office, Obama ended the use of torture (a.k.a. enhanced interrogation techniques) and declared his intention to shut down Guantanamo. (Gitmo remains open, but that's mainly because congressional Republicans and Democrats thwarted the White House effort to develop a high-security facility in the United States to house the detainees.) And the Obama-ites contend they have reformed some of the Bush-Cheney policies, such as the use of military commissions, to justify maintaining these practices. Also, they are not reluctant to add that Obama did end the war in Iraq and is downsizing the war in Afghanistan (at a faster pace than then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA chief David Petraeus urged in 2011). But much of this defense has tended to get lost as the administration has fired off drone strikes without acknowledging the individual attacks and has, following in the path of previous administrations, resisted certain congressional oversight efforts.
GOP scandal-chasers have been obsessed with the Obama administration's talking points about the attack on US facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, and the White House on Wednesday tried to put the pseudo-scandal to rest by releasing a batch of interagency emails related to the talking points.
These emails thoroughly undercut the conservative charge that the White House massaged the talking points to whitewash the attack and protect President Obama's reelection prospects. One email from a CIA official noted that the White House "cleared quickly" the talking points drafted by the CIA but the State Department had concerns. Poof—there goes the conspiracy theory that Obama's aides excised references to terrorism and an Al Qaeda-linked group for campaign-related reasons. But questions about the Benghazi episode remain, particularly this one: Has the CIA avoided scrutiny for its central role in this affair?
Last week, the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler noted that the revised talking points indicated that Obama administration officials in various agencies were inhibited by a key fact as they were grappling with what could be said publicly about the attacks in Benghazi: The assault had targeted a CIA annex in addition to a temporary State Department mission. That made the job tough for the drafters of the talking points. As Kessler wrote,
from the State Department perspective, this was an attack on a CIA operation, perhaps by the very people the CIA was battling, and the ambassador [Chris Stevens] tragically was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, for obvious reasons, the administration could not publicly admit that Benghazi was mostly a secret CIA effort.
Kessler emphasized an obvious point: The initial talking points drafted by the CIA implied that "State screwed up, even though internally, it was known that this was a CIA operation." Naturally, at the time, Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, objected to this. So here was a bureaucratic tussle—not White House skullduggery. Yet the CIA's attempt to duck blame may be the more important story than what UN Ambassador Susan Rice was handed in preparation for her Sunday talk show appearance.
Dick Cheney has never been short on chutzpah. Jumping aboard the GOP scandal-mongering machine, the former vice president appeared on Fox News (where else?) and declared to Sean Hannity (who else?) that President Barack Obama and his aides "lied" about the attack in Benghazi, Libya, last September that left four Americans dead. "I think it's one of the worst incidents frankly that I can recall in my career," Cheney huffed—as if 9/11 had never happened. The former veep went the full Monty and echoed (discredited) right-wing charges that the Obama administration refused to deploy military forces to help Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans when they were assaulted in Benghazi.
More MoJo content about the September 2012 attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the resulting scandal
Rather than painting pictures of dogs, the out-of-power Cheney remains committed to blasting his administration's successor, as if memory (his and the nation's) does not exist. After leading the country to war on a foundation of falsehoods, Cheney shows a boatload of nerve in accusing Obama and his crew of lying about Benghazi because the talking points assembled after the attack by an interagency group (that included the White House) were not fully accurate.
Cheney's second-in-command stint holds far clearer examples of consequential White House prevarication. Here are three highlights:
"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us."
That's what Cheney said at a speech on August 26, 2002, at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, as the Bush-Cheney administration prepared to roll-out its campaign to win popular support for an invasion of Iraq.
House Speaker John Boehner, according to Politico, is obsessed with Benghazi. And last week, after ABC News revealed the revised talking points crafted by the Obama administration following the September 11 attack that left four Americans dead, Boehner demanded that the administration release emails related to these talking points. "The truth shouldn't be hidden from the American people behind a White House firewall," Boehner declared. "Four Americans lost their lives in this terrorist attack. Congress will continue to investigate this issue, using all of the resources at our disposal." But thanks, in part, to the Republicans, the truth isn't being hidden. Boehner and his fellow Republicans had access to those emails—and used them for a public report they issued weeks ago that scooped the ABC News story.
In March, Boehner, according to a senior administration official, was invited to a White House-arranged briefing where the emails and other Benghazi-related material could be privately reviewed. Boehner did not attend; he sent staff, who attended with other House Republicans. Asked why Boehner did not participate in this session and why he did not at that time demand the release of the emails, Brendan Buck, his press secretary, says, "This is embarrassing pushback. Do you recall the report we put out in April? The committees were compiling information as part of their investigation and when the report was done, the committees requested the release of the emails." In an April 23 letter, five GOP House committee chairs did ask the White House to turn over to their committees the documents it had allowed the GOPers to review.