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Will GOP Exploit Secret Service and GSA Scandals?

Posted on Apr 26, 2012

By Joe Conason

Colombian prostitutes and lavish partying in Vegas inspire hot headlines—and understandably infuriate the public. But concerned as President Obama must be over the unfolding embarrassments in the Secret Service and the General Services Administration, he may actually be comforted by the feeble attempts of a few politicians to wring political profit from those scandals. The likelihood that the White House is implicated can be measured by their stature.

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When senators like Joe Lieberman, Chuck Grassley and Susan Collins demand that the president or his administration must be “held accountable,” it is safe to assume further investigation will discover nothing damning. Even Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., the highly excitable chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has been able to restrain himself so far.

Yet Republicans who won’t pretend that Barack Obama is responsible for a handful of bad security agents or GSA officials will still scream that these misadventures prove “Democratic big government” is America’s biggest problem.

Initial efforts to lay blame upon the president—who was betrayed by both the GSA director he had appointed and by the Secret Service and military personnel tasked to protect him in Cartagena—were predictable enough. Collins, R-Maine, suggested that Obama is somehow “responsible” for overspending on a GSA conference in Las Vegas simply because he appointed the agency’s head (whom he promptly fired when the abuses came to his attention). She has been in government long enough to know that the president can scarcely oversee every dollar—and while $860,000 sounds like a lot of money, it is a vanishingly small sum in a nearly $4 trillion federal budget. Grandstanding politicians like her often compare the nation’s expenditures, with false naivete, to a household budget. For a family earning $40,000 a year, this would represent a misallocation of far less than 4 cents.

As for the prostitution scandal, Grassley, R-Iowa, seized upon the inevitable publicity to get a little for himself, by asking the Secret Service whether it is adequately investigating the possible involvement of White House staff members. He specifically pointed to the White House Communications Agency—which used to be called the Signal Office and is in fact part of the White House Military Office, not under direct control of the president or his civilian staff, as the Iowa senator ought to know by now. Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who nominally caucuses with the Senate Democrats, chimed in on Fox News with his usual sanctimony to urge that the president be “held accountable” for the Secret Service fiasco, although he couldn’t quite explain what that would mean, instead reciting the usual “buck stops at the president’s desk” pap.


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Other figures in the ranks of the president’s adversaries, such as super PAC boss Karl Rove, have wisely urged the Republicans to refrain from politicizing either of these mini-scandals for the moment. Having worked in the White House, Rove probably knows that the president has done what he can to address them. The White House counsel’s office has already reported that none of the presidential staff was involved in the Cartagena misconduct.

But certainly some Republicans will seek to conflate the GSA matter (and perhaps even the Secret Service scandal) with all government spending, since the tea party ideology that now dominates their party deems almost all government to be synonymous with “waste, fraud and abuse.”

Would they abolish the Secret Service? Probably not, since that great scourge of waste, Newt Gingrich, insists he will continue using their protection—at a cost of millions in taxpayer dollars—from now until the GOP convention in August. As for the GSA, the problem there appears to have arisen from a favorite Republican panacea that is always supposed to eliminate inefficiency: the hiring of a private contractor.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of


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By Ted Whitney, April 28, 2012 at 7:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Latest news: the GOP wants to privatize the Secret Service.  Proposed contractors
include: Halliburton and Xe Services (formerly Blackwater).  Several Republican
Congressmen have noted that the US can sign contracts with any of these
companies for the discount rate of 250% of the current cost for the Secret Service.

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By steve, April 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It seems unlikely that whoring and carousing is a new
phenomena in the secret service. It certainly isn’t
new in the armed services. Of course if the
republicans can somehow tar the administration as
responsible for this a tarring it shall be. I read a
letter to the editor in the local paper from some
yokel how this was Obama’s fault because he doesn’t
provide true leadership and he’s secular socialist
crook, yada yada yada. The most disturbing part of
that letter was that the sentiments were hardly
unique; there’s some variation of it there every day.
There’s a vast number of the U.S population that’s
incapable of critical thinking. So apparently it does
work. We can expect more of the same.

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By Rob Gustaveson, April 27, 2012 at 11:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Probably this is another dirty trick by the GOP.  By Rove.  It’s really a non-issue no matter what anyone does.  There are too many Government agencies.  Period.  Most are only making things worse or not doing their job at all.  A fear based world will fail.

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By Marian Griffith, April 27, 2012 at 11:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree PatrickHenry

More money will be wasted on ‘discussing’ and ‘adressing’ these trivial (on the scale of government finances) issues.

And any of the big sponsors dominating the upcoming presidential elections will waste more on lavish dinners and call girls for themselves and their 1pct-er friends than either of these scandals.

The only reason that fox news and the republicans are not making more of a faux-outraged stink over this is because they do not want the Obama campaign to start digging in their own reeking mud, which would ressurrect similar and worse scandals in the very checkered past of that party.

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By PatrickHenry, April 27, 2012 at 3:38 am Link to this comment

As sure as there are clouds in the sky and the sun rising tomorrow.

I’m sure millions will be spent on this political sideshow.

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