Time To Skip A Few Fundraisers

Yesterday Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California was asked about whether President Obama should alter his current schedule, which includes attending a number of fundraising events, so that he can focus more on some of the crises in the world, such as the downing of the passenger jet over the Ukraine by pro-Russian forces, the surge by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and the escalated Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza.  Senator Feinstein’s response was delicately phrased.  She said that the world would very much respect his “increased attention” to these matters, because the Leader of the Free World needs to lead in such times.

President Obama has attended a lot of fundraisers during his tenure in office.  The Washington Post recently calculated that he has held 393 fundraisers while in office, which is more than George W. Bush’s total during his full two terms but not quite as many as Bill Clinton’s record.  It’s not hard to understand why Presidents like fundraisers.  By definition, it’s a friendly gathering — after all, everyone else in attendance is ponying up thousands of dollars to be there, and obviously they’re not paying that much for the food — and at the end of the event the President can see tangible results and tote up the money he’s raised to support candidates who will support his agenda.

The Obama Administration no doubt would contend that the President is fully in touch with his national security team and capable of dealing with these crises whether he’s in the Oval Office or wearing a tux at some glittering event.  Maybe . . . although the combination of world events and the mess at our border raise legitimate questions about whether the President is fully in control of events.  In any case, I think Senator Feinstein has put her finger on something significant.

Appearances and messaging are important in today’s world.  It’s hard to successfully characterize something as a crisis if you can’t be bothered to change your schedule and skip non-essential events in order to work the phones with international leaders and build working coalitions to deal with the problem.  When the President goes to fundraisers in the midst of these events, he’s implicitly communicating that he is more concerned about Republicans than he is about the Middle East, or the Ukrainian separatist activities, or the influx of unaccompanied minor illegal immigrants.

Senator Feinstein recognizes that — and, I suspect, so do the perpetrators of the events that have given rise to these crises in the first place.  I think it’s time for the President to skip a few fundraisers.

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Who’s Spying On Whom?

The interaction between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has grown increasingly bizarre — even by the standards of the weird, symbiotic world of Washington, D.C.

California Senator Diane Feinstein, normally a stout defender of intelligence-gathering programs, has accused the CIA of spying on the SSCI as it performs its “watchdog” function and attempts to exercise oversight over America’s intelligence-gathering agencies. The CIA denies that charge, but says the SSCI improperly obtained access to documents the CIA did not intend to share. Indeed, the CIA has referred the matter to the Justice Department to consider whether a criminal investigation should occur. Yesterday’s Washington Post has a good recap of the issues and competing versions of events.

I don’t know who is telling the truth. I do know, however, that this dispute perfectly captures the “down the rabbit hole” nature of the relationship between our increasingly powerful administrative agencies and their purported congressional watchdogs. So, the CIA gets to decide exactly what the “watchdogs” can see? And if the “watchdogs” get hold of documents the CIA doesn’t like, the watchdogs might be subject to criminal prosecution — even though the documents clearly are being used in furtherance of the oversight function that is a key part of Congress’ job?

Doesn’t all of this suggest that the fox is controlling access to the henhouse? Does anyone believe we’ll ever truly get to the bottom of all of these surveillance programs and understand who is spying on whom? This kind of story strikes at the core of the credibility — or lack of credibility — of congressional fact-finding reports and raises serious questions about whether anything, or anyone, is keeping our intelligence-gathering agencies in check.