It has been a bad week for President Barack Obama. A very, very bad week.
The congressional hearings on Benghazi raised more questions than they put to rest. Based on the testimony of several administration whistleblowers it now virtually certain that the president's national security team, perhaps even Obama himself, were less than candid with the American people about what happened over the period leading up to the murder of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Even the Obama-friendly Washington Post fact checkers now give the president "Four Pinocchios" for his assertion that he called the Benghazi raid an "act of terrorism," a point that was heatedly debated during the last presidential campaign.
The tide is turning, and in a direction not favorable to the health of the president's poll ratings. Everywhere you turn lately a new scandal appears.
The Internal Revenue Service – in advance of a damning report from its inspector general – was forced to admit it had, in fact, singled out conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for special scrutiny. At the same time, left-wing groups had their applications routinely and quickly approved, including one organized by the president's half-brother that The Daily Caller referred to as a "shady charity."
Additionally the tax-collecting agency must now enlighten us all about how several of those applications filed by conservative groups, which are supposed to be confidential, were instead given to the non-profit ProPublica, which wrote stories about them. It must also come up with a convincing story to explain how a completed tax return for the non-profit National Organization for Marriage that included the names and addresses of major donors made its way into the hands of political operatives who used the information to bash former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is still trying to explain why it didn't break any laws when it created a fictitious identity for former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that she used to email subordinates and interested parties about sensitive official matters, now has a new headache. This week it was revealed that the agency routinely granted "fee waivers" to what the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Chris Horner – who broke the story – called "favored left-wing groups" seeking agency documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act, while "systematically" denying the same waivers to conservative groups.
The U.S. Department of Justice now has to explain why it monitored the phones of the Associated Press – a move former Bush Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who is not known as particularly partisan, called "reprehensible conduct" – and seized pages and pages of the wire service's phone records. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is now in the position of having to answer congressional critics who are concerned she broke federal law by soliciting funds from insurance company executives to aid in the implementation of the new federal health care law. Operation Fast and Furious, a Justice Department-sponsored sting operation that put lethal weapons into the hands of Mexican gangs that figured in the murder of at least one U.S. law enforcement official, still has to be explained to the satisfaction of Congress and the American people.
It's not fun to be part of Obama's damage control team right now. For all that, however, there is a profound danger for the Republicans if they choose to let their political instincts overcome their desire to get to the bottom of each and every one of these scandals.
As has been previously demonstrated, it is altogether too easy to distract GOP members of Congress with "shiny things." The news of one new scandal diverts attention from things already under investigation. In what amounts to a lack of discipline, members are often left chasing their tails, leaving the truth behind events such as Benghazi to be sorted out in the distant future by historians.
The Republicans must, for the good of the country, resist this impulse. The matters that currently demand the country's attention are too serious and go too close to the heart of America's constitutional system of government for the need to chase headlines to be allowed to interfere with an honest effort to get the facts.
It is far too early, for example, for any member of Congress to raise the issue of impeachment, to even refer to the possibility that any or all of the current scandals at the IRS, the Department of Justice, the EPA, within the national security establishment, or elsewhere in government could lead to it. The facts must come first, and they must be presented in a clear, well defined manner that leaves little doubt that what has been uncovered by congressional investigations constitutes malfeasance and dishonest behavior.
In the American political system there are no shortcuts. One reason Watergate had such a damaging effect on the Nixon Administration and the Republican Party is that reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein stayed on the story day after day after day. And congressional investigators looking into Nixon's conduct in office retained their focus and did not go seeking to amplify the case against him with extraneous matters. In the end, that made it all the more believable that the actions taken against the nation's 37th president were a matter of justice, not a witch hunt undertaken to turn a political opponent who had just won re-election by carrying 49 of 50 states from office.
In the end, it is not partisan affiliations that matter. What matters is the truth. Obama would do much to help himself were he to come clean about all of it rather than pretend the first he heard about any of it was when it was reported on television. In a 24-hour news cycle, it is difficult to wait until the reality of a given situation catches up with the spin, but both sides of what is clearly an adversarial process need to let the facts take them where they will.
The White House's apparent lack of candor undermines the trust of the American people in their president. Only Obama can fix that – and the sooner he does the better it will be for everyone. The longer he waits, the deeper the hole he digs for himself.