Raise your hand if you buy the President’s efforts to play down the ACORN scandal:
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the funding for ACORN?
OBAMA: You know, if — frankly, it’s not really something I’ve followed closely. I didn’t even know that ACORN was getting a whole lot of federal money.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Both the Senate and the House have voted to cut it off.
OBAMA: You know, what I know is, is that what I saw on that video was certainly inappropriate and deserves to be investigated.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re not committing to — to cut off the federal funding?
OBAMA: George, this is not the biggest issue facing the country. It’s not something I’m paying a lot of attention to.
Does anyone doubt that if a Republican-leaning organization were caught in the kind of scandal that has snared ACORN, the President and his political operatives would (a) be willing to talk about the scandal in detail and at length, and (b) would be orchestrating efforts to use the scandal to put Republicans on the defensive? And does anyone really think that the President is not fully aware of the ACORN scandal? Because if he isn’t, and if his political team did nothing to make him aware of the scandal, my regard for the White House’s team of politicos has dropped precipitously.
Equally shocking, of course, is the President’s refusal to cut off federal funding for ACORN. I guess this means that Jon Stewart is going to have more material for his show. Of course, instead of dropping hints that ACORN will not lose its funding, the President ought to take the advice of my onetime international relations professor, Charles Lipson, and appoint a special counsel to investigate the ACORN case (Lipson calls for an “independent prosecutor,” but it should be noted that the Office of the Independent Counsel was abolished in 1999, and replaced with the Office of Special Counsel). As Professor Lipson points out, there are good reasons why a prosecutorial investigation ought to take place, and why it ought to be kept out of the hands of Attorney-General Holder:
ACORN’s close ties to the progressive movement and Democratic Party mean that there will be little public confidence if Holder decides not to pursue an ambitious investigation and ultimately prosecute.
Ironically, ACORN’s chief executive officer, Bertha Lewis, strengthens the case for an independent prosecutor with her robust defense of the organization. FOX News, she says, is pursuing her group solely for political reasons. They oppose ACORN, she says, because it is associated with progressive politics, labor organizing and the Obama administration’s health-care initiative. Unfortunately for ACORN, Lewis’ charges also mean that if the Obama administration decides not to prosecute or to indict only low-level employees, the public will wonder if they are seeing a political defense by ACORN’s friends, a coverup rather than a fair-minded, independent decision by the Justice Department.
Holder has compounded these concerns with two recent decisions. In New Mexico, federal attorneys apparently recommended high-level prosecutions in the pay-for-play scandal swirling around Gov. Bill Richardson. Holder’s office overrode them and dropped the case. Holder also decided to drop the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia, where thugs were caught on tape brandishing clubs outside a voting precinct. In both cases, Holder has refused to explain his actions.
After these decisions and Holder’s silence about them, there is simply no reason to hand him another high-profile case with political ramifications. What we have seen on tape cries out for a serious, independent investigation to determine if ACORN and its affiliates are a criminal enterprise, whether they have spent federal grants lawfully, whether they helped taxpayers file fraudulent returns, and whether they violated laws prohibiting tax-exempt organizations from engaging in partisan politics. These are big questions, and the public needs to know that Washington’s answers are fair and impartial.
So, is the Obama Administration really going to see about ensuring that ACORN can continue to get funding? And is it really going to tell people that ACORN’s activities do not merit an investigation by a special prosecutor? It’s almost as though the Administration is inviting Republicans to profit from this scandal.