All In   |  May 10, 2013

How conservatives pick and choose their scandals

Chris Hayes examines the conservative response to Friday’s political scandals, both real and imagined. He's joined by journalist and author Robin Wright and the Daily Beast's Eli Lake.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening from new york, i'm chris hayes , and thank you for joining us tonight. while president obama renewed his push for obamacare implementation today, you may or may not be shocked to hear what republicans were renewing for the 37th time. yes, the 37th time. an absolutely horrible week for jim demint and the heritage foundation ends on the most embarrassing note possible. i'll tell you why this is such a blow for the far right's immigration reform . because it is friday, we figured out a way to get ryan gosling into the show. you're welcome in advance. but we begin with genuine abusive power by the federal government that sounds like it was cooked up by glen beck . i'm not kidding. if you sat down with glen beck over a pot brownie and asked him which nefarious plots the government was up to, this item from the news would probably be on the list. today the, today the irs revealed applying for exempt status. it came from the irs official that heads up the division on tax-exempt groups during a conference today sponsored by the american bar association .

>> they used names like tea party or patriots, and they selected cases simply because the application had those names in the title. that was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. that's not how we go about selecting cases for further review. we select them for further review because they need further review, not because they have a particular name.

>> that stark and damaging omission this morning was followed by a disastrous conference call with the press in which that same irs official who did, i thought, a very good job in that statement declared, quote, i'm not good at math. to be fair, the point she was trying to make is while she is a high-ranking irs official, she isn't a lawyer or an accountant. it was an inauspicious day for the obama administration's irs . based on trigger words in their names is truly scandalous. i'm standing before you today as a liberal saying, it's not okay, guys, not okay. these reviews were not moetd moet vatd bipartisan returns. it was part of a broader advocacy seeking proper status. i hope the irs doesn't back offer criticizing all political stripes going forward. but at the i understand of the d -- end of the day , this is one of those real serious no-nos of political life . as the aclu correctly pointed out today, inn the appearance of playing partisan politics with the tax code is about as constitutionally troubling as it gets. if we were watching the john mccain / sarah palin terrorist groups who had occupy in their names, anyone sitting here on this network would be raising hell and rightly so. the tea party , which could have been one of the groups targeted, demanded resignations. it's totally reasonable to expect that from them given the gravity of the news. but my favorite reaction came from the rival tea party express saying dave wag he will, quote, just like with benghazi , the truth comes out after the election. just like benghazi . they can't help themselves. even when they have evidence of misdeeds and malfeasance, they still want to refer to the scandal they've had month after month. a big, bad, scary government scandal which, myself included, is something worth investigation, and they still want to come back to the benghazi conspiracy theories . apparently they manufactured so much into the benghazi outrage, they are physically incapable of backing away from it. now they're reviewing a real world abuse of scandal, not as a means of outrage but as a means of supporting their witch hunt on benghazi . which they struggled to turn into a scandal in large part because they can't seem to settle on what the scandal even is. it's a cover-up, just don't ask what's being covered up. today's edition of the pinball narrative saw a focus on the cia talking points used by susan rice in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. the reason rice was going nuts on those talking points eight months after the fact is thanks to a new detail on abc news that those were revised 12 times and edited before they arrived on the sunday shows. they were made with input from the state department , and at least one of those edits was apparently designed to make it harder for members of congress to, quote, beat up the state department . in other words, some people working inside the government and in politics edited some talking points to protect themselves politically. and if that is a scandal in washington, then every single blackberry is a d.c. crime scene. it should not come as a surprise that republicans are trying to drive the new cycle into a frenzy over the full cycle they've been trying to manufacture over the benghazi talking points for months now. the real question is why are they making a big deal over the fake benghazi scandal than they are the real scandal over the irs having targeted certain groups? and the answer to that question is very telling. the irs scandal is an obama administration scandal, the one that centered around our current president. the scandal they're turning around benghazi they're threatening who is becoming the next president. they said hillary clinton should never hold high office again, doing that thing where he states the subtext for the whole affair. this is a forward-thinking scandal. that's why republicans are so attached to it.

>> what i think is sad is how many people are around the administration, including the former secretary of state. secretary hillary clinton knew this to be the case and moved forward, anyway.

>> and now there is a movement for hillary clinton .

>> i think hillary clinton is a central focus in this scandal.

>> the circle of lies that hilary built is all coming crumbling down.

>> what benghazi means for hillary clinton 's presidential hopes.

>> at this point, what difference does it make?

>> it could make a very big difference for someone who could well be the democratic nominee.

>> participating in a cover-up is very dangerous stuff for a politician running for office.

>> hillary clinton way out in front for the democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and it's hers if she wants it. right now the only negative on her current resume is the murder of the american ambassador in libya .

>> this is not about politics. this is about accountability.

>> the fact that republicans cannot seem to find a genuine scandal in the benghazi attacks is not going to stop them from trying. not as long as they see it as a potential weapon to be used against hillary clinton . joining me tonight, robin wright in the woodrow wilson center . she's also the author of "rock the casbah" and the reporter for "newsweek" and the daily beast . i want to start with your reaction of the news today. it seemed to me a classic bureaucratic battle between the two elements of government, the state department and the cia wrestling over what was being told, it seemed to me each one pointing the finger@othe at the other. pointing fingers is a fairly mundane and common quality.

>> it's common, but it also reflects a basic truth, and that is that the fog of terrorism is as bad as the fog of war . to expect within fife days to have all the answers of what happened in benghazi , who was responsible, was totally unrealistic. this did happen in the climate of other attacks first at the american embassy in cairo and later in the same period. this seemed part and parcel of the controversy over a film by an egyptian who was living in the united states that was particularly controversial in the eyes of muslims. and so in trying to sort out what happened, what was different, who was responsible for each of the specific attacks, benghazi got lumped in with the broader kind of crisis, the alienation over this film. and then it played out as well in the interagency process which has been plagued whether republicans or democrats are in power.

>> eli, i want to ask you about a great bit of reporting you had on the daily beast in a second, but what i'm saying is the most cynical interpretation of events, which really this is just about tarnishing hillary clinton . i have to say that there are elements of the story if you get into the weeds, it seems like there were decisions that were made that were maybe not the best decisions in retrospect. it also seems like there was information that was insufficient or even wrong, but it's very hard for me on a good faith to view this as something other than essentially a big project to go after hillary clinton .

>> well, clearly there was in competence, there was inadequate security in benghazi and not very good intelligence. but it was positive lliticized in a way that has cost the united states anything in libya . people have lost sight of what happened on the ground in libya as a result of this focus on the attack in benghazi . he was trying to rebuild libya and find a positive role for the united states , in recreating a state ruled by an autocrat for 14 years. nobody is paying attention to the sdis integradisintegration in libya .

>> you are essentially vetting the local militia that was tasked with providing security for the facility that was attacked. you have a quote in it that i thought was fascinating, because there is kind of a spy games aspect to this whole thing and a hard-to-put-your-finger on misdirection that seemed to shroud the whole thing from the beginning, and what comes across in your article is a line in which you have someone saying, this was a cia operation with a diplomatic cover . this was cia operating a diplomatic cover . this was not actually really a consulate.

>> that's right, because the cia , there were more cia officers in the actual so-called alleged consulate than there were real state department employees. this goes back to if i could provide some systemic opening, i do believe that -- scandal is a pejorative word, but i think in the fog of terrorism, to use robin wright 's fine phrase, why did the administration cling tie story about a protest in a video when gregory hicks just told congress under oath that he told hillary clinton at 2:00 a.m . when she called him for that 2:00 a.m . phone call that it was an attack and it was terrorism and almost everybody on the ground believed that. i think that deserves scrutiny.

>> here's the thing i love about the talking points . the point you made, which is the point that was -- this was the first scandal before we got to the africom decision not to send the special forces helicopter, before we got to the talking points , the first scandal was susan rice protesting about the video. what i find fascinating about the points today is that the first item in the talking points basically says that. it says this came about from spontaneous protest inspired by the u.s. embassy protests in cairo. and that one element which was agreed to by everyone internally never gets denied by anyone, right? so that actually lets off the hook the first theory of what the scandal was here. just to be clear.

>> fair enough, but i have a question. why did the cia or whoever wrote that first briefing say that when it looks like nobody in libya thought that there was ever a protest and nobody in libya believed that this was anything but a terrorist attack , and in the original reports, you know, were murky, and i agree, there is a fog of terrorism, but if you don't know much in the aftermath as i think a fair point to make, why go with one kind of theory over another? we're trying to figure it out.

>> eli, that's exactly my point and that's what i find fascinating about it. look, the entire thing read to me was state and cia literally warring over who was going to be holding the bag on this, right?

>> sure.

>> that was really what it looked like to me. what was so fascinating is you say in the fog of terrorism, you don't know what's going on. what happens in the course of these talking points is they go from more information to less information, and i could see myself making the judgment that, yes, when there is real confusion about what's true, say less rather than more because you're going to have to defend what you say.

>> with all due respect, i think this administration and other administrations, to be fair as well, when there are attacks like this, they have gone out of their way to, in many ways, try to minimize it. i find that to be actually kind of a paradox, because i find obama talks like a religion confessor and talks like blackwater in that he has kind of an enormous kind of secret war throughout the muslim world . but when he talks about these things and when there is a kind of attack, you know, we often hear -- i would call it a kind of sugar-coated version of things.

>> what you just said there strikes me as kind of the core here, the burning flame of this, was always this idea that somehow this was underplayed because there was not the initial invocation of al qaeda or jihades. he said it was never an act of terror and yet he said it was an act of terror, but that seems to be the elemental thing driving this from the beginning, that there was some rhetorical mistake here. i don't actually quite understand why that matters.

>> well, look, the cia had intelligence that there were al qaeda cells that were in benghazi . and the attempt to kind of cover it up concerns us all. why not put that on the table, that there could have been many different theories? and the obama administration did corner itself by sticking to one version of events. and that's a problem for everybody now, and it's going to come to haunt, i think, hillary clinton in 2016 , and it's a real tragedy because there are a lot of other issues out there. we're getting so caught up in the past --

>> but it's going to haunt her, that's a self-fulfilling prophecy. it's like saying whitewater haunts her. it's going to haunt her because people are going to talk about it, but you have to actually nail down the thing that she did that was wrong, and i still haven't been given a persuasive case of what that is.

>> and one of the issues is how far does the chain of command go up? clearly the buck ends with her, but at what point was she brought into it? at what point did she know what al qaeda cells were operating in benghazi ? the fact is there was a lot of incompetence inside libya as well. the fact the duty officer was watching his favorite television show and missing two calls from chris at a time when he was under attack, there is a lot of things that have come out of this testimony that people haven't paid enough attention to. you can share the blame with a lot of different players, not just at the cia or the state department in washington, but what was happening in libya , too.

>> robin wright , have a great weekend, both of you.

>>> wait until you get a load of what john boehner announced today. it's de javu