When it comes to checks and balances with intelligence agencies, responsible oversight is key. But it's important to remember that in the American system of government, Congress has oversight authority over the Central Intelligence Agency -- and it's not supposed to be the other way around.
The CIA Inspector General's Office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of malfeasance at the spy agency in connection with a yet-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA's secret detention and interrogation program, McClatchy has learned.
The criminal referral may be related to what several knowledgeable people said was CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate aides to prepare the study. The monitoring may have violated an agreement between the committee and the agency.
This won't exactly bolster the spy agency's reputation, following some high-profile missteps, which Rachel highlighted on last night's show.
The first time House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tried to hear testimony from Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS' tax exempt division, she asserted her Fifth Amendment rights, as expected. Today, Issa brought Lerner back, knowing she wouldn't testify, but wanting to put on a little election-year show for the cameras anyway.
But as the above video makes clear, the interesting development wasn't Lerner's decision not to testify, which everyone already knew would happen, but the heated confrontation between Issa and the committee's ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
For about 15 minutes, Issa, already well aware of the fact that Lerner wouldn't answer his questions, strutted for the cameras, pushing his favorite talking points about the discredited scandal.
When he was done, Issa decided to abruptly end the hearing. When Cummings sought an opportunity to speak, Issa invited everyone in attendance to leave. When Cummings proceeded anyway, Issa cut off the power to the congressman's microphone.
"I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America!" Cummings shouted. "I am tired of this."
Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, a veteran of the Bush and Obama administrations, talked with David Ignatius yesterday about developments in Ukraine, but in the process, raised a larger point about the political debate.
On Ukraine, Gates acknowledged what's plainly true: the U.S. has limited military option and Russia seems to "have the same high cards," regardless of what we do.
But Ignatius also asked the former Pentagon chief about the near-constant sniping from congressional Republicans.
Gates, a Republican himself, urged the GOP senators to "tone down" their criticism and "try to be supportive of the president rather than natter at the president."
Gates can be an emotional person when he talks about national-security issues, as any reader of his recent memoir, "Duty," can see. And he showed some of that emotion when he said, near the end of our conversation: "It seems to me that trying to speak with one voice -- one American voice -- seems to have become a quaint thing of the past. I regret that enormously."
Reading the comments reminded me of the not-too-distant past, when Republicans had a very different perspective about how elected officials should conduct themselves during a foreign policy crisis.
For many Republican politicians, opposition to the Affordable Care Act is pretty straightforward: the law should be repealed in its entirety. The end. But for many others, especially those involved in competitive statewide elections, it's not quite that simple.
Yes, "Obamacare" is unpopular, creating an obvious incentive for conservative politicians to run against it, but wholesale repeal is unpopular, too. For that matter, many of the individual provisions of the ACA enjoy broad public support, and as enrollment totals grow, firm stands against the law are tantamount to promises to strip families of their health care benefits on purpose.
It's left some politicians trying (and failing) to walk a tightrope. Take North Carolina's Thom Tillis, the leading Republican candidate in a crowded field for the U.S. Senate.
Tillis opposes the Affordable Care Act, except for the popular parts, which he'd like to keep. He vaguely supports the alternative plan presented by his home-state ally Sen. Richard Burr (R), but not really.
Yesterday, Greg Sargent flagged a recent comment Tillis made during a radio interview, in reference to the Democratic health care law:
"I think there's a lot of things we can do if we focus on a systematic approach to eliminating the bad, and the majority of the stuff that is in Obamacare is bad, because it's not fiscally sustainable. It's a great idea that can't be paid for."
This is what political professionals like to call "off-message."
Under normal political circumstances, it's quite unusual to see a powerful political leader go out of his or her way to blast prominent political donors. But these aren't exactly normal political circumstances, and for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Charles and David Koch are more than just politically engaged contributors.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor on Tuesday to denounce the spending -- now up to $14.5 million -- by Charles and David Koch on Senate races, the latest attempt by Democrats to raise the profile of the free-spending conservative brothers in advance of the November election.
Reid has never been shy, but the Nevada Democrat was especially aggressive during his floor remarks yesterday. "What is un-American is when shadowy billionaires pour unlimited money into our democracy to rig the system to benefit themselves and the wealthiest one percent," he said of the Koch brothers,
The majority leader added, "The Koch brothers and other moneyed interests are influencing the politics in a way not seen for generations. Republican senators have come to the floor to defend the Koch brothers' attempt to buy our democracy. Once again, Republicans are all in to protect their billionaire friends. Not only have Senate Republicans come to the floor to defend the Koch brothers personally, they have again and again defended the Koch brothers' radical agenda -- and it is radical, at least from the middle-class perspective."
Congressional Republicans, Reid concluded, are "addicted to Koch."
As if to prove the point, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) quickly followed Reid's remarks with a hearty defense of the Koch brothers, reinforcing the impression that the Kochs have become the GOP's key institutional ally.
Last week, after House Republicans announced an upcoming vote on undermining the Affordable Care Act, President Obama took some time to mock GOP lawmakers for their pointless hobby. "You know what they say: 50th time is the charm," he joked at a DNC event. "Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote, you will win a prize. Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes, you get one free. We get it. We understand. We get you don't like it. I got it."
But by all appearances, Republicans aren't concerned about mockery. They're proceeding today with their plan to go after the ACA's individual mandate -- again. By most counts, it will be the 50th time House Republicans have voted to gut some or all of the health care law since 2011, even though they fully realize their bill has no chance of being signed into law.
The House is set to vote Wednesday on a bill by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) to effectively delay the individual mandate for one year by reducing the penalty in 2014 for not buying insurance from $95 to $0.
The Republican-led chamber passed a similar bill last July, capturing 22 Democratic votes. Now that it's an election year, it's plausible that a significant number of Democrats will defect, given the unpopularity of the individual mandate and the likelihood that Senate Democrats will throw the bill in the garbage once it arrives.
House Republicans are under no illusions about the legislation's prospects, but governing isn't the goal. This is about an election-year stunt intended to help GOP lawmakers feel better, maybe motivate the base a bit, and create the basis for some new attack ads against Democrats.
Whether or not one approves of this waste of time, it remains a ridiculous display.
About a month ago, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) team decided to go after its former ally, David Wildstein, with a bizarre attack memo. In the document, Christie aides targeted Wildstein's credibility by shining a light on his teenaged high school antics -- in 1977.
It quickly became obvious how foolish this was. If you're forced to go back several decades to find damning evidence against a perceived foe, literally relying on materials he or she produced as a student, then you really don't have much.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday drew from a new source in arguing that President Barack Obama has been too 'soft' on Russia: An article Obama wrote back when he was in college. [...]
[McCain] shifted his attention to a 1983 article called "Breaking the War Mentality," which Obama penned for a campus magazine as a senior at Columbia University. Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg resurfaced the article on Monday in a USA Today op-ed.
In his article, Obama blamed "U.S.-Soviet tensions largely on America's war mentality and the twisted logic of the Cold War," McCain said, quoting from Goldberg. "President Reagan's defense buildup, according to Obama, contributed to the 'silent spread of militarism' and reflected our 'distorted national priorities' rather than what should be our goal: a 'nuclear free world.'"
"That's what student Obama said," McCain added.
Now, one could certainly make the case that "student Obama" was raising a legitimate argument about Cold War geopolitics, years before the collapse of the USSR. At a minimum, it was worthy of academic debate in an academic setting.
But for McCain, it's actually a potential political attack three decades later. In the midst of a crisis, the senator believes it's important to invest time considering what an undergraduate said about the Soviet Union (which no longer exists) and the Cold War (which no longer exists) in 1983.
Yesterday was arguably the first big Election Day of the 2014 cycle, with Texas holding Republican and Democratic primaries statewide. And with Gov. Rick Perry (R) stepping down after 13 years as the state's chief executive, voters saw competitive contests up and down the ballot, creating frenzied races Texans hadn't seen in a while.
As the dust settles, it appears most of the establishment candidates prevailed. This New York Timespiece helped summarize the conventional wisdom about the larger implications.
Establishment Republican leaders on Tuesday defeated challenges from the right in a statewide primary election as conservatives inspired by Senator Ted Cruz largely failed to topple mainstream incumbents, and a race for lieutenant governor headed for a runoff.
Similarly, the headline from The Hill reads, "Top Texas Tea Party challengers flame out."
With candidates like Sen. John Cornyn (R), Rep. Pete Sessions (R), and gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott (R) easily dispatching rivals from the fringe, the notion that the GOP establishment reasserted itself certainly makes sense.
But it's best not to push these assumptions too far. Ed Kilgore had an item on Monday -- the day before the primary -- about the likely results, which rings true two days later: "If no Tea Party insurgents ... score a major victory, you will hear some observers declare the movement dead or dying, right there in Ted Cruz's backyard. Others (myself included) will note that thanks to Cruz and following Rick Perry's earlier lead, the 'Republican Establishment' in Texas has largely coopted the Tea Party movement with its own savage rhetoric and policies."
If the top-line takeaway is that the GOP Establishment won and the Tea Party faltered, some might get the impression that more moderate conservatives prevailed over voices of extremism. That impression would be mistaken. Federal lawmakers like Cornyn and Sessions became some of the most conservative members of Congress in recent years as Republican politics in Texas became more radicalized.
In other words, yesterday pitted very conservative Republicans against hyper-conservative Republicans. That the former scored victories isn't exactly a win for the American mainstream.
Ukraine talks expected today in Paris. (USA Today) House Intelligence plans to look at why we didn't foresee Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (LA Times) This is an interesting year for Vladimir Putin to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Reuters) Fascinating details in a fight between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee. (NY Times) A Bridgegate figure talks. (NY Times) read more
Shawn Boburg, reporter for the Record of Bergen County, NJ
Tonight's show is going to be even more awesome than usual -- because we've got the birthday power of both executive producer Bill Wolff and web producer extraordinaire Will Femia! Happy birthday, Williams!
Arkansas struck a creative deal with the Obama administration last year, allowing it to embrace Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and bringing coverage to nearly 100,000 low-income Arkansans. This year, however, state Republicans were poised to take it away.
Because of a quirk in the state policymaking process, last year's vote that expanded access needs to be reauthorized this year, and many of the same GOP policymakers who backed the policy in 2013 are facing primary challengers in 2014. Arkansas' state House has therefore voted down Medicaid expansion several times in recent weeks.
In a minor miracle, the policy somehow prevailed today. Apparently, the fifth time was the charm.
The state House on Tuesday voted 76-24 to approve a new round of funding for the so-called private option, resolving the issue that has dominated the fiscal session.
The Senate passed the appropriation last month in a 27-8 vote. The House failed in four previous attempts to pass it, each time falling a few votes short of the three-fourths majority, or 75 votes in the 100-member House, needed to approve any appropriations bill.
Senate Bill 111 goes next to the governor, who has said he will sign it.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's report quoted one Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Kim Hammer, who had voted against the policy, but ultimately changed his mind.
"There are people who will be hurt if I don't vote for this," Hammer said. "And I don't want to see those innocent people hurt because of that."
But Arkansas isn't the only state with Medicaid expansion news.
Late last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) responded to the crisis in Ukraine in the most John McCain way possible. "We are all Ukrainians," he told Time.
And today, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) turned to Twitter to address the Ukrainian crisis in what can fairly be described as Peak Lindsey: "It started with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression. #Ukraine"
There was no indication that Graham was kidding. The senator, sometimes considered one of the more constructive voices among Senate Republicans, actually seems to see a connection between Russia's invasion of Ukrainian territory and a terrorist attack in Libya a year and a half ago.
I realize it's an election year and Graham is facing some primary opponents. I also realize that Republicans worried about primary challengers are often pushed into making foolish comments, especially in deep-red states, in order to impress far-right activists.
But this is awfully nutty, even by 2014 standards.