Obama's Scandalous Legacy

He has given Americans new reason to distrust the government.

Commentary by Pete du Pont

It's too early to tell if May will be remembered as marking the beginning of a failed second term for President Obama, but it is clear the atmosphere in Washington has changed. We don't yet know the full impact of new revelations about last September's attack in Benghazi, the political abuse of the Internal Revenue Service, and the Justice Department's secret surveillance of journalists, but we do know there are questions in Congress and among a suddenly energetic Washington press corps, questions likely to affect the president's agenda and legacy.

If the scandals do cause long-term damage, it will be because they point to failings of this president and his administration. The Benghazi tragedy shows the naiveté of thinking that our nation would be loved and the world safer simply because of the power of Mr. Obama's personality. The IRS abuses and Justice's snooping on the press, reminiscent of the worst of President Nixon, highlight for all the danger of larger government involvement in our lives.

Because of congressional hearings and some excellent reporting, Benghazi is finally garnering the attention it deserves. It's not often that reporters in the White House briefing room openly challenge this administration, and questions about its actions before, during and after the attack seem likely to remain in the news.

Not everyone thinks such interest is warranted. In January, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously fumed, "What difference, at this point, does it make?" when asked about the attack's origin. White House press secretary Jay Carney called certain questions about the administration's actions a "distraction," and Mr. Obama himself dismissed Benghazi as a "sideshow."

But, of course, it's not a distraction or a sideshow. Four Americans were killed during the attack: information officer Sean Smith, security staffers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, and U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The families of these men, who died serving our nation, deserve answers.

All Americans should want to know why nothing was done to help the diplomatic staff while the attack went on, in one form or another, for 10 hours. What options were presented up the chain of command? Is it true that servicemen available to attempt a rescue were told to stand down? Why were security plans so lacking in such a volatile part of the world? Answering these questions is critical in helping to prevent future attacks.

There are political questions on Benghazi. Why were the infamous talking points revised a dozen times and scrubbed of references to al Qaeda and other information possibly unfavorable to the president's re-election effort? Why did the administration continue to tell the American people the attack was fueled by an anti-Muslim video when they knew almost from the beginning that was false? Is it true the White House, as George Will has posited, "systematically misled" us?

The IRS scandal is just as significant. There are few greater threats to our democracy than the use of the IRS, or any part of government, to harass, punish or thwart an administration's perceived political enemies. The IRS actions are particularly disconcerting given its greatly expanded role under ObamaCare.

Mr. Obama called such activities unacceptable and the Justice Department launched a criminal probe, but IRS officials have been far less than forthcoming. We know higher-ups in the IRS knew about the abuse a year ago, including Steven Miller, who subsequently became acting commissioner and has since resigned under pressure. We need to know what was done to stop the practice and who was or will be terminated, and, importantly, who will face criminal charges. Much has been written about how the demonization of conservative groups by the president and his allies in Congress may have led IRS staff to think the targeting was right. Did anyone in the administration explicitly encourage such illegalities?

The secret searches of communications of the press could have a chilling effect, but more dangerous for the Obama team is that it is the press whose ox was gored in this scandal, perhaps rousing them from their five-year hibernation and focusing their attention not just on Benghazi and the IRS, but also on Fast and Furious, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's alleged strong-arming of businesses she regulates, and other possible legal or ethical violations by members of the administration.

Will all this lead to impeachment, as some have speculated recently? Probably not, and certainly not now. But not being guilty of an impeachable offense is a low hurdle for a president focused on his legacy. For a man who came to office with the goal of expanding the role of government to better our lives, it would be quite a comedown to leave office with the main accomplishment of increasing the nation's distrust of government