Barack Obama Controversies

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Barack Obama in 2009.

The following is a list of major controversies that have dogged Barack Obama throughout his political career, and have received major media coverage and prominence.

Born Alive Votes Controversy

Main Article: Obama born alive controversy

From 1996-2003, Barack Obama made at least seven controversial votes against bills mandating medical care for newborn children after late-term, botched abortions known as D&E procedures. During this time Obama headed an Illinois Planned Parenthood strategy to vote 'Present' on the controversial bills to provide political cover for other Illinois Senators since in the words of Pam Sutherland, head of the IL Planned Parenthood Council, "He came to me and said: ‘My members are being attacked. We need to figure out a way to protect members and to protect women. A ‘present’ vote was hard to pigeonhole which is exactly what Obama wanted. What it did was give cover to moderate Democrats who wanted to vote with us but were afraid to do so" because of how their votes would be used against them electorally. A ‘present’ vote would protect them. Your senator voted ‘present.’ Most of the electorate is not going to know what that means."[1]

The votes are especially controversial because they fall outside the typical Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice debate, dealing not with abortion, but children left to die after botched abortions. In 2002 the Federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act made it a U.S. crime to let children die like this, and the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed outlawing the specific D&E procedures making them possible, even declaring this to be "Infanticide" in Section 2, 14(G) and 14(O).[2] The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act had 70% public approval by the time of its passage[3] (a 2011 poll shows 64% support[4]) yet the Born Alive Infant Protection Act was far more popular, to the extent that in Obama's own words, it was "the federal bill that everybody supported."[5]

Substantial controversy has surrounded Barack Obama's voting record since 2004, when Alan Keyes, his opponent for the U.S. Senate, made Obama's record central to his campaign. Since then, Jill Stanek, a central witness before Congress, whose moving testimony led to passage of the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act, has been the primary critic of Obama's voting record on the issue. The issue featured prominently in the 2008 presidential election as well, with both Sarah Palin and John McCain raising the issue, and major press coverage by CNN and other news media reporting on the controversy. Obama ultimately voted 'Present' or 'No' on 7 of the 'Born Alive' bills:

  • SB 1082 (2003 Born Alive Infant Defined Act)[6]
  • SB 1661 (2002 Induced Birth Infant Liability Act)[7][8]
  • SB 1662 (2002)[9]
  • SB 1093 (2001 Born Alive Infants Protection Act)[10][11]
  • SB 1094 (2001 Induced Birth Infant Liability Act)[12][13]
  • SB 1095 (2001 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act)[14][15][16][17]
  • SB 230 (1997 Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act)[18][19]

His exact words on the Senate floor (see 1996-2003 Illinois Senate Transcripts) show that he recognized at the time newborn children were being left to die but opposed the bills for various reasons, including that (a) the child wasn't born to a full 9-month term and therefore is a pre-viable fetus, (b) The Illinois Medical Society opposed the bill, and (c) if children were being left to die an abortion physician would care for the child and requiring a 2nd physician verify the child is alive just burdens abortion doctors.

The issue resurfaced in February 2012 when Newt Gingrich said, "If we’re going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama, who as a state senator voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion".[20] Rick Santorum likewise repeated this, saying, "any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his own words, can be killed."[21] Newt Gingrich later accused the national media of not covering Obama's controversial history on the Born Alive bills.[22]

Birth Certificate Controversy

The claim that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. proved a major controversy from 2008. The claims have been based not so much on actual, substantial evidence that he was not born in the U.S., so much as on as whether the evidence that he was is suitable, in short, trying to prove a negative. The following is a timeline of events showing that Obama was born in the United States, and revealing the controversy is unfounded.

  • In June 2008 the Obama campaign allowed FactCheck.org to look at his “Certificate of Live Birth” and take photos.[23]
  • In July 2008 a blogger discovered a birth announcement from the Honolulu Advertiser from August 13, 1961 for Barack Obama. It has since been discovered another newspaper, the Star Bulletin, also documented the birth.[24]
  • PolitiFact went to extreme lengths to verify Obama’s citizenship, attaining scanned copies of his 1992 marriage certificate from Cook County, IL, his driver’s license record, and his registration and disciplinary record.3 PolitiFact also addressed a number of concerns about the documentation.[25]
  • In October 2008 Hawaii’s Department of Health released a statement by Dr. Chiyome Fu.kino verifying that Obama’s birth certificate was on record.[26]
  • In August 2009 it was revealed that an alleged Kenyan birth certificate for Obama was a hoax.[27] Another website allows you to create your own imitation Kenyan birth certificates online.[28]
  • On April 27, 2011,[29] a long-running controversy surrounding Obama's birth was largely put to rest[30] when Obama had his long-form birth certificate posted at WhiteHouse.gov.[31] Donald Trump, who had attacked Obama on the Birth Certificate issue and was then leading Republicans in polls for the upcoming GOP primary,[32] was effectively knocked out of the 2012 Presidential race because of this.[33]
  • In early 2012 Arizona sheriff Joe Arpiao and his investigators know as the "Posse" stated at a press conference that the so-called "birth certificate" of Barack Obama released in digital form on the White House website, was forgery. He proceeded to show how the fake document was digitally created. He showed several videos on how the fraudulent document was made which left little doubt to its inauthenticity.[34]

Wiretapping the 2016 election

See also: Obamagate and Obamagate timeline
Trump in March 2016, prior to being elected U.S. President.

The fact that the Obama administration was investigating the Donald Trump campaign's links to Russia was reported in numerous sources, both British and American, beginning November 7. Early reports treated alleged surveillance as evidence of just how serious the Trump-Russia link was being taken. After Trump himself complained of surveillance on March 4, the media condemned his claims as a conspiracy theory, reversing its earlier position.

British leaks

The Obama administration's surveillance of the Trump campaign was first reported by Louise Mensch on the British news site Heat Street on November 7, 2016.[35] Mensch reported that a warrant was granted in October.

On January 11, The Guardian reported that:
"The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (Fisa) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation."[36]
On January 12, the BBC suggested that the investigation of the Trump campaign was orchestrated by CIA Director John Brennan.[37] The BBC also reported that:
"Lawyers from the National Security Division in the Department of Justice then drew up an application. They took it to the secret US court that deals with intelligence, the Fisa court, named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wanted permission to intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks. Their first application, in June, was rejected outright by the judge. They returned with a more narrowly drawn order in July and were rejected again. Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election."[38]

The fact that the early leaks appeared in the British press suggests that the source was British intelligence. Mensch, the reporter who broke the story, is a former member of the British Parliament. She later explained that her sources trusted her because she is known as an outspoken supporter of the British intelligence community.[39] Sharing data with GCHQ, the British electronic surveillance agency, is a possible method of evading U.S. legal restrictions regarding the handling of data obtained by the National Security Agency.[40] The US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have a secret electronic intelligence sharing pact called Five Eyes.[41]

The British government denied that the GCHQ had been used to spy on Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential election, and the White House has promised on March 16, 2017 to not repeat those unfounded allegations.[42] “Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wire tapping' against the then President Elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored,” GCHQ said in a statement.[42] A conservative British newspaper then reported that the White House had apologized for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeating those rumors at a press briefing. An unnamed senior White House official stated:

“Ambassador Kim Darroch and Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster. Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”[42]

U.S. leaks

On January 5, the Office of National Intelligence issued a report entitled, "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.”[43] The report renewed interest in allegations of Russian interference. In the last days of the Obama administration, procedures were revised to give more analysts access to the raw data.[44] The relaxation of security standards was followed by a series of further leaks.

On January 17, McClatchy reported that an informal, interagency group had been working for months on the issue of Russian attempts to influence the election. The group included representatives of the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the office of the director of national intelligence.[45] One of McClatchy’s sources confirmed the BBC's claims regarding FISA warrants, according to the story.

On January 19, The New York Times reported that the White House was directly involved in the investigation: "The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House."[46] The report does not mention warrants or FISA. On March 1, the Times reported that the FBI was in the midst of a "wide-ranging investigation" of "links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government."[47] Although Trump had been president for six weeks at this point, the FBI was still being run by Director James Comey, who serves a fixed term designed to overlap Presidential administrations.

Trump's tweets

On March 2, 2017, talk radio host Mark Levin denounced the wiretaps and accused Obama of attempting a "silent coup" against Trump. Levin was chief of staff of the Justice Department during the Reagan administration. Earlier liberal reporting on the issue emphasized Trump's alleged links to Russia and used the wiretapping to support the idea that the intelligence community took these accusations seriously. Levin shifted the focus to malfeasance by the intelligence community.

Prompted by a Breitbart article summarizing Levin's broadcast,[48] Trump posted a series of tweets on March 4:

"How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"[49]

and

"Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"

Reaction

Members of the mainstream media called Trump's wiretapping claim an, "astonishing and reckless accusation."[50] In particular, the suggestion that Obama was personally involved provoked a furious backlash. Yet this suggestion is supported by earlier reporting, including the Times account of January 20.[51]

Obama and his director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. as well as the head of the FBI have denied that this happened.[50] "There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign," Clapper told NBC.[52] In turn, Trump called for a congressional investigation of the alleged wiretapping.[53]

On March 6, 2017, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Trump does not accept FBI Director James Comey’s conclusion that former President Barack Obama did not order a wiretap at Trump Tower.[54]

On March 8, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), the chair and ranking member of the relevant Senate oversight committee, requested that "the Department of Justice provide us copies of any warrant applications and court orders...related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.”[55]

Comey testified to Congress on March 20 and declined to comment on the issue of FISA warrants: "Comey declined to say whether any officials had sought approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor anyone in the Trump campaign, saying he did not want to discuss the workings of the highly secretive court," according to the Washington Post.[56]

Confirmed surveillance

On March 22, 2017, GOP U.S. Representative Devin Nunes revealed that some of the Trump Team's conversations had been spied upon.[57] On March 29, 2017, Evelyn Farkas, the deputy assistant secretary of defense under Obama, admitted that the Obama Administration attempted to gather as much intelligence as possible on Trump's alleged ties to Russia after the 2016 election and that it tried to hide their intelligence sources from the Trump Administration.[58][59]

U.S. intelligence agencies had been investigating people in Trump's presidential campaign throughout the campaign season.[60] According to a Fox News report, an unnamed but well-known and senior intelligence official not associated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation directed investigations attempting to unveil private Americans working with Trump's transition team.[61]

CNN reported in September 2017 that the Obama Administration did obtain a warrant to wiretap Paul Manaforte, including during a time when he was talking with Trump.[62][63][64]

Legal status of surveillance

According to Executive Order 12333 issued by President Ronald Reagan in December 1981, "Elements of the Intelligence Community are authorized to collect, retain, or disseminate information concerning United States persons...obtained in the course of a lawful foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, international drug or international terrorism investigation."[65] Thus the U.S. intelligence community can perform surveillance without a warrant as long as the target of the investigation is, at least nominally, something other than a "U.S. person."[66] Under previous presidents, this provision applied only to the National Security Agency. In the last days of the Obama administration, access to surveillance data was expanded to encompass all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.[67]

Operation Fast and Furious

See also: Operation Fast and Furious

Operation Fast and Furious (also known as Project Gunwalker) was a government-funded program of the White House,[68] United States Treasury Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the U.S. Justice Department involving the illegal sale of guns used by Mexican drug gangs from the United States to drug cartels, and other gangs in Mexico. Ann Coulter reported that one of the purposes of the operation was "to strengthen liberals' argument for gun control."[69]

Operation Fast and Furious developed into an enormous scandal and failure for the Obama administration. At least two U.S. border guards were killed by weapons allowed to "walk" in Operation Fast and Furious.

IRS discrimination against conservative groups

During the Obama Administration, the Internal Revenue Service discriminated against conservative organizations by making them wait for years just to gain tax-exempt status. At the same time, other groups received the same status in a very short period of time, such as a satanic group which received nonprofit status in only ten days.[70][71]

Justice Department discrimination

It was reported in May 2017 that the Justice Department under Obama likely discriminated against veterans – in violation of federal law requiring the government to give preference to veterans in job hiring – by attempting to influence them to withdraw their applications.[72]

Stuxnet scandal

It was revealed in 2012 that the Obama Administration leaked information about a computer virus intended to destroy Iranian centrifuges. This leak was described by members of Congress as very serious.[73] Obama did not take the leaks seriously. Despite this, the White House refused to appoint a special counsel or prosecutor to investigate the situation, and although one general was found guilty, Obama pardoned him shortly before leaving office.[74]

Chicago Politics Controversies

1996 Election Controversy

Main Article: Barack Obama#1996 Election

Barack Obama ran for the Illinois state senate in 1996. He was initially supported by incumbent Alice Palmer, who declared she would run for the U.S. Congress. However, when her bid for Congress failed on November 28, 1995, she tried to run for her old seat in the March 1996 election. Her supporters asked Obama to step aside, although whether this was with her permission remains uncertain.[75] Not only did Obama not step down, he gathered a team of high-priced lawyers, including fellow Harvard Law School graduate Thomas Johnson, to challenge his opponent's petition signatures on technicalities after the filing deadline had passed. Such tactics are legal and frequently used in Chicago; in 2006 they eliminated 67 of the 245 aldermanic candidates;[76] yet nevertheless led to the term "hardball" by the New York Times[75] and "cutthroat" by David Mendel as reported by both CNN[77] and MSNBC.[78] The Chicago Tribune declared Obama had mastered "the bare-knuckle arts of Chicago electoral politics", noting "The man now running for president on a message of giving a voice to the voiceless first entered public office not by leveling the playing field, but by clearing it."[76] As one of Obama's four opponents, eliminated through his ballot challenges, would put it:

"Why say you're for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates? He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?"

-Gha-is Askia, 1996 Illinois Senate candidate[79]

Mark Ewell, another candidate, filed 1,286 signatures, and Obama's challenges left him 86 short of the minimum requirement (757[80]). Ewell filed a federal lawsuit contesting the election board's decision but Tom Johnson intervened, and Ewell's case was dismissed just a few days later. Ewell and other Obama opponents were using early 1995 polling sheets to verify signatures of registered voters, but city authorities had just purged 15,871 unqualified people from the 13th district list, and Obama's challenges used the more recent, updated list. Askia was left 69 signatures short of the requirement. If names were printed instead of signed in cursive, they were declared invalid. If they were good but the person registering the signatures wasn't a registered voter (e.g. underage) they were invalid.[81] Palmer had according to Obama campaign consult Ronald Davis, used two children to help gather her petition signatures. To this day Palmer denies the challenges were valid, and maintains she could have overcome the objections with more time and resources.[76] Thanks to his lawyers, Obama would win the election without a single other candidate on the ballot.

2003 Emil Jones Deal Controversy

Main Article: 2003 Barack Obama deal with Emil Jones
When Illinois' U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald announced he would be retiring in April 2003, Obama jumped at the opportunity, declaring that he would be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004.[78] To boost his chances at reaching the U.S. Congress in the 2004 elections, in 2003 Barack Obama approached the newly crowned head of the Illinois Senate, Emil Jones Jr., with a proposal. According to Jones, who Obama has since called his "godfather"[82] the conversation went as follows:
Emil Jones
"After I was elected president, in 2003, he came to see me, a couple months later. And he said to me, he said, ‘You’re the senate president now, and with that, you have a lot of pow-er.’  And I told Barack, ‘You think I got a lot of pow-er now?,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, you got a lot of pow-er.’ And I said, ‘What kind of pow-er do I have?’ He said, ‘You have the pow-er to make a United States sen-a-tor!’  I said to Barack, I said, ‘That sounds good!’ I said, ‘I haven’t even thought of that.’ I said, ‘Do you have someone in mind you think I could make?,’ and he said, ‘Yeah. Me.’ "[75][83]
Because of the deal, Obama's entire Illinois Senate legislative record was, as longtime Obama reporter Todd Spivak put it, built in a single year. During his 7th and final year in the Illinois Senate, Obama sponsored an incredible 26 bills into law, including many he now points to when criticized as inexperienced[80] - as CNN's Suzanne Malveaux observed, "With help from on high, Obama got his name on hundreds of bills that he pushed through."[77] Jones not only had Obama craft legislation addressing daily tragedies to raise his political profile,[82] he also appointed Obama head of almost all high-profile legislation in the Illinois Senate, angering other state legislators with more seniority who'd spent years supporting the bills.[80] Illinois State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of the famous racial profiling bill requiring videotaped confessions in police interrogations, complained bitterly about Jones' decision.[77][84] Jones' influence had a major impact on Obama's chances in the 2004 elections, preventing major political players from backing Obama's opponents. To quote Emil Jones,
"He knew if he had me in the run for the Senate, it would put a block on the current mayor. The current mayor and the father of the controller, which was Dan Hynes, they were roommates in Springfield when the mayor was a state senator, so they had a relationship. Another big financial backer for the governor was Blair Hull. Barack knew if he had me it would checkmate the governor, ’cause the governor couldn’t come out and go with Blair Hull, ’cause the governor needs me. Same with the mayor. So he had analyzed and figured all of that out. He knew I could help him with labor support. And I could put a checkmate on some of the local politicians that didn’t know him, but they couldn’t really go against me."

-Emil Jones[83]

See also

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