Putting aside the legal issues, which I know nothing about as I am not a lawyer, there is an issue surrounding today's answers by President Barack Obama at his first press conference in 10 months.
That is the president's campaign pledge to change in the way Washington operates.
First up is President Obama's response to Rep. Joe Sestak's claim that he was offered a job by the administration to drop out of his primary battle with Sen. Arlen Specter. If the White House never made such an offer, Obama would have told reporters today that "no offer was every made Rep. Sestak, and unless the congressman can verify his claim somehow, I am confident that no crime was committed."
Instead, we got what what was basically, "Let me get back to you on that one." That signifies that the administration and Sestak campaign lawyers are busy crafting some kind of unified response to this mess. In addition, it signifies that something was indeed communicated to the congressman early on about a job in the administration.
That's politics as usual in Washington. It's dirty, and it's winner-takes-all. It's exactly that type of behavior that has led most Americans to despise Congress and the Washington elite. This is the type of activity the majority of Americans voted to reject in 2008. Obama brought in voters who normally do not cast ballots for Democrats, or even vote at all, on the premise of changing Washington's business-as-usual atmosphere. This makes it look like the administration has failed miserably.
He also said he did not know if Elizabeth Birnbaum resigned or was fired as director of Minerals Management Services, the agency that has a major role in managing the federal government's response to the Gulf oil tragedy. Yet he repeatedly said he was on top of the situation and that he was in charge.
How the heck can that happen? How can the guy in charge look so blind-sided?
Birnbaum was on the short rope for a week. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as recently as last week indicated that he was going to shake up the agency. Stephen Power of The Wall Street Journal wrote today after the press conference:
... he was breaking up the agency and dividing its duties across three new offices within the Interior Department. Ms. Birnbaum didn't attend the announcement, and Mr. Salazar was noncommittal when asked what role she would have at the department going forward.
"Part of the reason I hired her is because she had no connection to industry," Mr. Salazar said at the time. He added that she had brought "a fresh perspective" to the agency, but when asked what role she would have the department, he said only that "we'll see."
Ms. Birnbaum's departure from the MMS comes as the agency is under intense scrutiny from lawmakers, some of whom have complained that her agency was too lax in setting and enforcing safety regulations on offshore oil and gas companies. A Wall Street Journal article earlier this month detailed how the agency had often deferred to the industry on decisions about what sorts of technologies or practices should be implemented to improve safety.
If the president is in charge and he's on top of the situation, why didn't anyone at Interior think about informing him of such a major move, and whether she was fired or resign? They had plenty of time, the press conference was after noon and the termination was in the morning.
The only two things on the president's public schedule this morning were photo ops with the Duke basketball team, and with Bill Clinton and the U.S. World Cup Soccer team. Is basketball and soccer so important that he could not be interrupted for such a major change in the leadership of the federal response to the oil leak? Could no aide pull him aside for 15 minutes and tell him, "Mr. President, before you meet the press on national TV today on the oil spill, you might want to know that ..."
Either the president is lying when he said the oil spill is the No. 1 focus of his administration, or his aides are really struggling with priorities. Either way, it certainly didn't look like he was the guy in charge today.
And finally, after chastising the press for involving his family in politics during the campaign, he sure didn't mind using his daughter today to try to convey how important this issue is to him. It seems OK to involve his daughters when he thinks it would benefit him politically.
Yes, today's press conference was CYA all the way ... Washington as usual.