Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter really missed the mark last week with a commentary singing the praises of “The Obama Miracle, a White House Free of Scandal”, as the headline stated. Alter’s limited discussion of a couple of the scandals that have plagued the administration comes up short, while a laundry list of dishonest and ethically questionable policies escape mention.
Obama, Alter declares, “has one asset that hasn’t received much attention: He’s honest.”
Alter begins his piece with a reference to defunct solar company Solyndra. He insists the administration’s handling of the company’s federal loan “was dumb, but so far not criminal or even unethical.” The reality is not so cut-and-dry. Elements of the administration’s policy toward Solyndra have certainly been unethical, and potentially illegal.
Former Energy Department adviser Steve Spinner, who bundled half a million dollars for the Obama campaign, signed an agreement saying he would not “not participate in any discussion regarding any [DOE loan] application” involving his wife’s law firm, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. That firm represented Solyndra in its work with DOE, but Spinner reneged on his pledge: he actively pushed DOE officials to approve the Solyndra loan, according to department emails released during the investigation.
The jury is still out on whether DOE broke the law in restructuring Solyndra’s loan. House Republicans certainly believe it did. The restructuring agreement “violated the plain letter of the law,” according to Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its investigative subpanel. Certainly, the legal gymnastics used to bolster the case for the restructuring agreement are without precedent in the loan program’s history.
As bad as Solyndra is, it may not even be the most explosive scandal to rock this administration. Operation Fast and Furious somehow escaped mention in Alter’s column. The botched ATF operation allowed roughly 2,000 firearms to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Fast and Furious guns have been recovered at the murder scenes of U.S. border patrol agent Brian Terry and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata. Seventeen lawmakers have called for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation.
As for the administration’s supposed honesty, one need look no further back than last week to find instances of highly misleading – some would say dishonest – political rhetoric coming from the president and his team.
“We don’t accept any money from special-interest groups or Washington lobbyists,” proclaimed the Obama campaign last week. That’s strictly true, noted the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney, “unless you count the owners and CEOs of lobbying firms, corporate vice presidents for government relations, or managing directors for public policy.”
Carney has taken on Alter directly on this point. In January, the two appeared together on MSNBC. “There is zero evidence” of corruption in the Obama White House, Alter insisted. He challenged panelists to disprove him, so Carney did:
Lobbyists pervade this administration, but so too do Obama donors. As the Center for Public Integrity documented, roughly 200 major Obama bundlers – including Steve Spinner – have landed plush administration jobs, large stimulus contracts, and other favorable treatment from the administration.
There has been no shortage of scandal in this administration – from the seemingly political decision to fire AmeriCorps’s inspector general to the attempts to get Joe Sestak out of the Pennsylvania Senate race by offering him a position in the administration to the Interior Department’s dishonesty regarding scientific studies on the Gulf drilling moratorium.
The president’s rhetoric about openness is routinely undermined by his assaults on government transparency and crackdowns on reporters and media outlets perceived as insufficiently friendly. Obama’s calls for civility in discourse are routinely followed by the demonization of his political opponents.