Georgia Says

Savannah (Ga.) Morning News on Benghazi email as a smoking gun:

The Obama administration — and likely 2016 presidential contender Hillary Clinton — keep wishing the Benghazi mess will vanish.

Or, failing that, they hope to spin it as a fantasy of right-wing nut jobs.

But facts are stubborn things.

They're hard to erase. And you never know when they'll catch up to you.

Like (last) week.

"A newly released email shows that White House officials sought to shape the way Susan E. Rice, then the ambassador to the United Nations, discussed the Middle East chaos that was the context for the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012," one major news organization reported.

Nope. That's not a report from Fox News.

It's from the New York Times.

The Times reported that an email dated Sept. 14, 2012, from Benjamin J. Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, was sent to Ms. Rice ahead of her controversial appearances on several Sunday morning news talk shows three days after the attacks that resulted in the slaying of four Americans, including J. Christopher Stevens, the ambassador to Libya.

The subject of the email was: "PREP CALL with Susan." The president's lieutenant gave directions to Ms. Rice on how to discuss the tensions boiling over in parts of the Middle East. Especially pertinent are two goals:

— "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."

— "To reinforce the President and Administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges."

That the White House would issue such orders — to Ms. Rice and others on Obama's team — is no huge shock.

The president was running for re-election; a big part of his platform was that America was winning the war on terrorism. So it was in his political interest to play up the possibility that a third-rate video sparked the violence that left four Americans murdered.

What is surprising is that these directions were typed and emailed. That made them subject to being ferreted out, thanks to one of the best tools available to uncover facts in our democracy — the Freedom of Information Act.

Governments can run from what they do. But thanks to this splendid, nonpartisan measure, they can't hide.

The conservative group Judicial Watch used it to dig up this smoking gun on Benghazi. It shows that political considerations played a role in how the Obama administration, including then-Secretary of State Clinton, laid out the facts to the American public.

Not surprisingly, White House press secretary Jay Carney, in a heated briefing, dismissed the email as irrelevant.

Thus the spin continues.

Meanwhile, three family members of victims of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack have written to House Speaker John Boehner, demanding that a select committee be established to probe the attack.

So far, Boehner has only authorized House committees to investigate. Given the latest revelation — which even the Times couldn't ignore — it's time to stop the obfuscation and begin to root out everything.

Americans can be trusted with the truth, even if some politicians can't.

The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle on a valid veto:

Gov. Nathan Deal absolutely did the right thing in vetoing a severely flawed private probation services bill this past week.

Had it become state law, House Bill 837 would have shielded key information kept by private probation firms from the Open Records Act.

"I favor more transparency over private probation services," Deal said.

The restriction of public information alone was enough to warrant the veto. But this lobbyist-driven legislation also would have foolishly expanded the power of for-profit companies. The industry has come under fire for abusive practices against misdemeanor probationers who are supervised by these companies.

A civil rights lawsuit filed by local residents against Sentinel Offender Services is pending. Deal made reference to the case during his veto.

"It is my understanding that the Supreme Court of Georgia has under its consideration an appeal that would address the role of private probation services," he wrote. "This legislation seeks to have a pre-emptive impact on any decision in that appeal."

Plaintiffs in the Sentinel case allege the firm's practices have resulted in low-income probationers being falsely arrested, wrongful imprisoned and subject to fines and fees that can lead to a continuous cycle of debt and longer probation terms.

Superior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig ruled last fall that private probation firms are not permitted under state law to ask judges to extend probation sentences beyond their original terms or to provide electronic monitoring services. Sentinel's attorneys have appealed Craig's ruling. Richmond County State Court judges have filed briefs in support of Sentinel's position.

H.B. 837 was created in response to Craig's ruling and influenced by the eight lobbyists employed by the Private Probation Association of Georgia during the legislative session.

Ironically, provisions that could have prevented abusive tactics or increased public accountability were stripped from the bill in a Senate committee headed by Sen. Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, a state court judge candidate who has political ties to the private probation and bail bonding industries. Stone was the only local delegate to vote in favor of H.B. 837.

But a round of applause is in order for our nine other area legislators who rightfully voted "no" on this bill that civil rights groups called a "gift" to the private probation industry.

This page favors privatization of government services where it is appropriate. But we can't support giving judiciary-like authority to private firms whose profits are tied to incarcerations, probation-term extensions and "services" such as electronic monitoring.

There's just too much opportunity and incentive for abuse.

The state's high court is expected to issue an opinion on Judge Craig's ruling. We pray the court will say private companies can't unilaterally alter probation terms - especially without the probationer's knowledge. That's a frightening delegation of power. We're sorry to see the extent to which lawmakers threw the people of Georgia under the special-interest bus. It's an outrage.

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