It’s a remarkable irony: the same U.S. president whose administration has gone to great lengths to monitor journalists, whistleblowers and the public, claims to be oddly in the dark regarding basic information on some of his biggest controversies.
Here are eight instances in which President Obama said he heard it on the news—or way after-the-fact—just like ordinary Americans.
1. Controversial Air Force One Photo Op Flyover
Perhaps the first time we heard President Obama say he didn’t know about a major national event before the rest of us was when an Air Force One plane (not carrying the president at the time) made an unannounced pass over the Statue of Liberty on April 27, 2009. It turned out to be a White House-approved photo op, but panicked New Yorkers feared it might be some sort of terrorist attack. The next day, President Obama told reporters,
“It was something that, uh, we found out about, uh, along with all of you.”
2. Fast and Furious Cross-Border Operation Supplying Guns to Cartels
Fast and Furious was a cross-border operation under the Justice Department in which federal agents let thousands of weapons be trafficked to Mexico’s killer drug cartels. Though illegal immigrants used Fast and Furious guns to murder a U.S. Border Patrol Agent in Dec. of 2010, President Obama says he remained in the dark about the whole thing until it was on the news weeks later.
On Oct. 12, 2011 Obama told reporters,
“I heard on the news about this story, that, uh, Fast and Furious.”
For good measure, Attorney General Eric Holder—who had been sent regular briefings on Fast and Furious, a case approved by his criminal division—also said he was clueless about the case.
3. Gen. Petraeus’ Sex Scandal
White House officials said President Obama was kept in the dark for months as the FBI investigated his CIA Director, Gen. David Petraeus, in a sex scandal. Meantime, Obama could have been hit with a surprise question about the scandal at any time on the campaign trail, in the midst of his 2012 bid for re-election. White House officials have refused to answer the question as to when, exactly, Obama was finally briefed.
4. The IRS Using Nixonian Tactics Against Conservative Groups
President Obama said he was likewise unaware of the nation’s tax agency targeting conservative groups.
In May of 2013, a reporter asked the president: “When did you first learn that the IRS was targeting conservative political groups?”
“I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday.”
5. The Secret Seizure of AP News Reporters’ Phone Records
When it became public that the Obama administration had secretly seized phone records of AP news reporters, the White House said President Obama hadn’t known about it.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters in May of 2013,
“We don’t have any independent knowledge of that, [President Obama] found out about the news reports uh yesterday on the road.”
6. NSA Spying on Foreign Leaders
President Obama said he had no idea his government was spying on foreign leaders as outlined in an Inspector’s General report—until it was leaked to the news. On Oct. 28, 2013 he said,
“I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press.”
7. Veterans Affairs Scandal
In May of 2014, White House spokesman Carney said that the President was clueless about the waiting list scandal and coverup involving medical care for military veterans.
Carney told reporters, “You mean the specific allegations that I think were reported first by your news network out of Phoenix, I believe. We learned about them through the reports. I will double check if that is not the case. But that is when we learned about them and that is when I understand [V.A.] Secretary Shinseki learned about them, and he immediately took the action that he has taken.”
8. Hillary Clinton’s Email Arrangement
President Obama says he didn’t know about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address and server for official business until the New York Times published it in a story. The president told CBS News’ Bill Plante that he found out “the same time everybody else learned it through news reports.”
Earlier, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, “I have no idea when the president first learned” about it. But he foreshadowed the eventual explanation stating,
“I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if he had learned about that by reading the newspaper.”
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President Obama communicated with Hillary Rodham Clinton via email but didn’t know the “details” of how his secretary of state was using a private, off-the-books email address, the White House said Monday.
“They did have the occasion to email one another. … He was not aware of the details of how that email address and how that server had been set up or how Secretary Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the Federal Records Act,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “The president did email with Secretary Clinton. I assume he recognized the email he was emailing back to.”
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