Dana Milbank writes: The Associated Press’s Josh Lederman led off Monday’s White House briefing with an obvious question: “Was the president kept out of the loop about what the NSA was doing?”
“I am not going to get into details of internal discussions,” press secretary Jay Carney replied, repeating previous promises that “we do not and will not monitor the chancellor’s communications.” This formulation conspicuously omits the phrase “did not.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta cited the HealthCare.gov rollout and the IRS targeting, which Obama said he learned about through news reports. “Is there a concern,” Acosta asked, “that the president is being kept in the dark on some of these issues?”
Carney told Acosta he had “conflated a bunch of very disparate issues.”
“Republican critics,” Acosta said, “are making the case, though, that the president appears to be in the dark about some pretty significant stories that are swirling around this White House.”
“Well, Republican critics say a lot of things, Jim,” Carney replied icily.
That’s true. But in this case, the Republicans understated the number of issues on which the president has claimed to be in the dark. A compilation by the Republican National Committee titled “The Bystander President” cited the NSA spying on Merkel, the Obamacare rollout and an investigation of the IRS’s targeting of political groups (the White House counsel knew of the inquiry but said she didn’t inform Obama). The RNC also mentioned the failure of clean-energy company Solyndra, which had received government funding (Carney had said Obama read about it in “news accounts”), and the attempts to go after reporters’ phone and e-mail records (which the president also found out about from reading the news, Carney said).
The RNC didn’t mention that Obama had allegedly known nothing about an FBI investigation of an affair involving David Petraeus that led him to resign as CIA director. Neither did it mention two other claims that conservatives often question: Obama’s ignorance of a guns-on-the-border sting operation called “Fast and Furious” that went awry, and his unawareness of requests for additional diplomatic security in Libya before a U.S. outpost in Benghazi was attacked.
There’s no reason Obama should have known about Fast and Furious or diplomatic security requests. But how could he not know his spies were bugging the German chancellor?
“Is it believable that the president would not know about surveillance of the head of state of a close American ally?” ABC News’s Jon Karl asked Carney. “Does that sound plausible to you?”
This finally provoked a hint from Carney that Obama did, in fact, know that the NSA was bugging Merkel. “The Wall Street Journal probably doesn’t appreciate the suggestion that their story is wrong,” he said, referring to a report that said Obama learned of the activity in the summer, “but I would say simply that we’re not going to comment on specific activities reported in the press,” he said.