SAN DIEGO, May 24, 2013 — “Plausible deniability” is a tried and true maneuver in the history of modern politics. The idea is quite simple. When a President’s desire or intentions are more or less understood, without anything actually appearing in writing, surrogates can get a job done all the while making very sure they never report officially to the President.
That way, when something like an Iran-Contra Affair is discovered, Vice-Admiral John Poindexter can say before Congress, “I made a deliberate decision not to ask the President, so that I could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability for the President if it ever leaked out” (Congressional Hearings, 1987).
It works. Ronald Reagan never crashed and burned even though his administration did sell arms for hostages. He had “plausible deniability.”
Like Haley’s Comet, this clever defense returns to our planet from time to time. The latest visit is a welcome one to desperate Obama supporters finding it next to impossible to defend their President against the suggestion that he himself encouraged the IRS to specifically delay conservative or Tea Party organizations seeking tax exempt status prior to the 2012 election.
Which sounds worse? Obama the Liar who knew everything or Obama the Dense who knew nothing? Obama surrogates have a hard time choosing the lesser of two evils.
“Plausible deniability” manages to avoid both interpretations. Supposedly, Obama was deliberately shielded. His subordinates did not want him to know. They are so loyal, they will take the fall by enabling him to say with a straight face that he was uninvolved in the scandal.
Just the other night, political satirist John Stewart suggested to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that Obama’s people were undoubtedly retreading this familier tactic:
“Don’t you think they’re trying to make a case for plausible deniability?”
O’Reilly was quick to respond. “Yeah, of course. But the president sets a tone, like you set a tone for this program” (The Daily Show, 5-22-13).
Yes, the President sets a tone. But this tone was more like an alarm on an atomic submarine.
To put “plausible deniability” under the microscope, one need look no further than May 16th’s press conference. Obama was asked a very direct question about the IRS situation by Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News.
“Mr. President, I want to ask you about the IRS. Can you assure the American people that nobody in the White House knew about the agency’s actions before your Counsel’s Office found out on April 22nd? And when they did find out, do you think that you should have learned about it before you learned about it from news reports as you said last Friday? And also, are you opposed to there being a special council appointed to lead the Justice Department investigation?”
Obama avoided the question while trying to make it look like he had actually answered it. Maybe he counted on people being so shocked to hear the White House Press Corps actually asking a real question that they would forget to analyze his response.
First Obama said, “Let me make sure that I answer your specific question.”
Then he continued with a non answer:
“I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press. Typically, the IG reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared. They tend to be a process that everybody is trying to protect the integrity of. But what I’m absolutely certain of is that the actions that were described in that IG report are unacceptable.”
Even one of Jeff Foxworthy’s Fifth Graders could have noticed that Goldman never asked when Obama first heard about the IG reports. Her question was much more sweeping and it was not limited to Obama’s personal knowledge. She asked if anybody in the White House found out about the IRS’ tactics prior to April 22nd.
She also asked why White House staff would not have said something to the President.
Of course nobody was supposed to notice Obama’s dodge ball reaction. After all, Obama himself prefaced his statement by telling us we were about to hear a “specific answer.”
If he called it an answer, it must have been an answer, right? This is the guy who speaks with charisma and nuance.
When a smooth talking former attorney turned president carefully avoids a question, something is being covered up. Since he was being asked about White House knowledge, it is safe to guess that White House knowledge is exactly what is being hidden.
To hide something, a person must know what he is hiding and why he is hiding it. Wanting to make sure he is never nailed for lying about his honest knowledge, Obama can always claim that he only supplied a timeline about the IG reports.
While reviewing this Oscar caliber performance, thinking people must conclude that Obama’s “plausible deniability” looks a little less plausible.
This is Bob Siegel, making the obvious, obvious.
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and columnist. Bob sometimes selects reader’s comments and responds to them on his radio show. Readers are free to call in and challenge Bob’s response over the air. Details of his program can be found at www.bobsiegel.net.
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