After dismissing as a "sideshow" the continued inquires into the attacks in Benghazi and his administration's response, President Barack Obama was confronted with two more issues this week that may have a more chilling effect on civil rights and the First Amendment.
Americans learned this week that the Internal Revenue Service targeted tea party groups that had applied for tax-exempt status and that the Department of Justice had secretly subpoenaed two months' worth of telephone records of some Associated Press editors and reporters.
Both Republicans and Democrats expressed outrage, in a rare form of bipartisan unity. They should be outraged because Americans deserve to know whether the government played politics by singling out certain groups or exceeded its authority in secretly monitoring the free press.
In the IRS case, agents admitted targeting groups with "tea party" or "patriots" in their applications for tax exemptions. Given that tea party organizations, many of them with the word patriot in their name, have been some of the Obama administration's harshest critics, this type of apparent partisan payback is troubling.
We would hope that the IRS' procedures for investigating applications for tax-exempt status do not call for singling out critics and that those procedures and standards would not be subject to partisan politics.
In this case, it appears we would be wrong. The FBI is investigating whether civil rights were violated and crimes committed.
The IRS needs to fully comply with the FBI. To do otherwise would further undermine the credibility of an organization that is always under fire because of the very nature of its operation and the antipathy toward tax collection.
Meanwhile, the administration defends its decision to secretly access the telephone records from more than 20 AP phone lines. The Justice Department was attempting to find out who leaked information about a CIA operation that thwarted an attempt to bomb a plane bound from Yemen to the United States.
While some politicians and news organization expressed shock and outrage, it's not the first time this has happened. ABC News reported in 2006 that the FBI sought reporters' phone records to find out who had been leaking sensitive information. The FBI used the cover of the Patriot Act and a provision called National Security Letters to seek records from ABC News, the Washington Post and the New York Times.
It's troubling that the government would secretly access those records without going through the courts or publicly requesting them. A free press is crucial in a democracy to be the watchdog of government, inform citizens and promote debate and discussion of the issues.
To go after news organizations' sources threatens that role and is an attempt to intimidate the media as well as those who talk to us.
Both those cases were enough to temporarily diminish coverage of a supposed Benghazi cover-up.
Militants attacked the U.S. mission and CIA annex on Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed. Questions about the attack and whether it was a protest of an anti-Taliban film, a spontaneous protest or a planned terrorist attack were further muddled by the Obama administration's conflicting reports afterward.
The Obama administration on Wednesday released 100 pages of emails about the attack; congressional Republicans want more.
The Obama administration should release all unclassified documents and emails about the incident, however embarrassing, and end the constant speculation.
More importantly, let's concentrate on what happened and how to prevent future attacks and not the spin.
Looking for conspiracies where none may exist - the administration response to Benghazi - distracts us from the ones that do exist - the IRS targeting of political groups and the secret subpoena for phone records.