Those of you who are old enough may remember a time when Barack Obama was plagued with scandal. "Scandal politics sweep Capitol Hill," Politico yelped. The suffix "-gate" was added to various words.
That was months ago. In the meantime, the Edward Snowden leaks significantly refocused D.C.'s attention. So what happened to the scandals? For the most part, they've been hollowed out. Each has been comprehensively lamented by the administration; each has been addressed by the White House or with policy proposals. None is dead. All are close.
The scandal: Benghazi
What it was: The death of four Americans at a diplomatic (read: CIA) outpost in the Libyan city of Benghazi last September 11th bubbled for a while. The release of emails suggesting a cover-up kicked conspiracy theories into high gear.
How real it was in the first place: Not very
Current status: Last rites administered
Those emails reported by ABC News were only part of the story. The White House released the full email chain, making it clear that the administration's involvement in drafting a set of post-attack talking points wasn't what opponents suggested. (We even declared the scandal dead the same week.)
It's come up a few times since. One of the survivors is writing a book about the attack, which could prompt more attention at its release.
One clear sign that the scandal has basically evaporated came at the nomination hearing of Victoria Nuland to be assistant secretary of state. Nuland was State's point person on the email chain, which several senators mentioned. Regardless, Nuland's nomination is supported by two top Republicans—ones who originally called for investigation of Benghazi.
The scandal: IRS targeting of Tea Party Groups
What it was: The inspector general for the IRS determined that the agency had singled out conservative groups with the words "Patriot" or "Tea Party" in their names for additional scrutiny.
How real it was in the first place: Problematic
Current status: Life support
As we have reported, there was never much question about the scandal itself. The IRS division tasked with assigning non-profit status separated out groups with those names for further analysis to make sure they weren't engaged in political activity. All sides say this was wrong; several staffers were placed on leave and the head of the agency was canned by the president.
Without much else to do, the scandal quickly became a partisan struggle to either make it go away or to link it to the president. That effort continues to this day, thanks to the tireless committee hearings of Rep. Darrell Issa.
Despite Issa's efforts, though, the scandal has only drifted further from the Oval Office. A conservative Republican staffer indicated he'd started collecting the Tea Party groups together. House Democrats found other examples of targeting focused on liberal groups and names.
One blip on the heart monitor today: Issa revealed that a senior IRS staffer, appointed by Obama, emailed about Tea Party groups in 2010. According to partisans, this is either a huge deal or nothing at all.
The scandal: The Department of Justice's war on the media
What it was: Revelations that the Department of Justice had subpoenaed a sweeping set of information on calls made to and from various Associated Press offices. Then, that it had filed a search warrant identifying a Fox News reporter as a possible co-conspirator in a criminal leak.
How real it was in the first place: Significant
Current status: A symptom of the disease
Critiques of the Justice Department focused on its apparent willingness to undermine its own rules for ferreting out leaks. Those rules—guidelines, not laws—demanded that the department narrowly tailor its request for information from media entities and that it let the media company know when it sought the information. Neither happened in the AP case.
Last week, the Justice Department introduced new, stricter rules detailing how it would subpoena information related to the press in the future. (It also has suggested that it never intended to prosecute that Fox reporter.) On Wednesday, Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham introduced new legislation that would mandate more protections for the press—a revamp of Schumer's 2008 "media shield" law.
Really, though, this scandal got subsumed into the larger problem the government faces in regard to leaks. The revelations from Edward Snowden have demonstrated that the government's interest in secret prosecutions and phone-record-gathering go much, much farther than most people realized. Given that the surveillance systems started under George W. Bush and were approved by members of both political parties, it's unlikely that President Obama will bear much of the brunt of any backlash.
Farewell, scandal season. You were fun while you lasted.