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Benghazi: the environmental angle

danps's picture

One of the stranger stories in Washington this week happened in a House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday. The committee was investigating allegations of bad conduct at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and it certainly looks like some stricter oversight is in order. While it's nothing compared to the Bush administration's coke-snorting and lobbyist-banging Minerals Management Service, the theft of nearly a million dollars by (now jailed) former deputy assistant administrator John Beale is definitely worth a hearing or two.

What's particularly interesting about this is that Beale initially said he was working undercover for the CIA, which kicked investigative authority over to the agency's Office of Homeland Security, or OHS (not in any way connected to the Department of Homeland Security, of course). OHS is responsible for hazardous waste cleanup in the event that terrorists managed to, say, poison the water supply of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Since its investigations touch on national security, no one must know any details about them - including the agency it works for. In this case, OHS basically stonewalled the EPA Inspector General.

This sets up as a potentially fascinating case study of how bureaucracies have trouble working for the public good in a surveillance state. (As always with this topic, please keep in mind that in United States v. Reynolds, the case that established the State Secrets Privilege, a fraudulent claim of national security was used to shield the government from embarrassing disclosures.) The easier it is to shut down an investigation by invoking national security or state secrets, the more likely it is to be used to cover up incompetence or criminality. This is no garden variety turf war; it touches on some very important contemporary issues.

Which means Issa missed it completely. Instead he called it "the tip of EPA's fraudulent iceberg" (Jesus does not love me enough for him to have called it a factory fire of malfeasance), and lumped it in with some penny-ante bad behavior to make an agency he is ideologically predisposed to dislike look bad. If the agency had more backbone than it appears to have, here would be a nice response to Issa's grandstanding: "You know what, chairman? You're right. The agency has been far too meek. So we're going to re-open those investigations in Pavillion, WY, Dimock, PA, and Parker County, TX and this time we won't stop till we get to the bottom."

That won't happen, obviously. The most likely direction for all of this was foreshadowed by a different comment. First a little background though. Whether because of the failure of Obamacare to crash and burn the way Republicans had predicted, or as part of midterm (or God help us beyond) election strategy, the GOP now has the Benghazi cauldron at full bubble. The word must have gone out that no context was too ridiculous because here is how Issa worked it into an EPA hearing:

"It is my intention to bring to this committee a contempt if that is not done," Issa said during a Wednesday hearing, before citing his investigation into the Internal Revenue Service targeting of Tea Party groups and the Benghazi terrorist attack as evidence that the Obama administration has a strategy of "running the clock" on House investigations.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee "subpoenaed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy for documents and communications with White House officials related to the Agency's response to congressional requests" in November.

Issa emphasized to Perciasepe that he has the support of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has just opted to appoint a select committee to investigate Benghazi.

"This branch of government's time and willingness to cooperate with delay and denial has expired," he said.

So there is your preview of coming attractions. It's not bureaucratic wrangling, it's not yet another unpleasant consequence of an aggrandized spy apparatus, no, it's something much more far-reaching and sinister: The Benghazification of the entire executive branch!

Roughly half the national government is in some kind of political fugue state, unmoored from reality, continually blurting a single word answer to all questions. Until that breaks, it's going to be all Benghazi all the time. Insanity may be your most attractive option.

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