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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Republicans Focus Attacks on Obama\'s Advisers


As election day draws closer, Republicans have stepped up their attacks - not just on President Obama, but also on his top aides.

For weeks now, senior advisers to Mr. Obama have been fending off a variety of charges that have called into question their official activities while serving in the White House for the president.

Most of the attacks have involved Solyndra, the California solar energy company that received federal government loan guarantees but went bankrupt as its business failed to materialize. Those have been fueled by once-secret e-mails unearthed by Republicans on Capitol Hill.

But the Republican allies of Mitt Romney have also seized on news reports to criticize Mr. Obama's senior advisers for myriad other alleged transgressions, highlighting the president's own insistence at the start of his term that his administration would maintain the highest ethical standards.

On Monday, the White H ouse once again found itself on the defensive, this time over a report by The Washington Post that David Plouffe, a senior adviser in the White House and Mr. Obama's 2008 campaign manager, had received a $100,000 speaking fee from a company that has done business with Iran.

“David Plouffe was invited to speak in Africa by an affiliate company of the company you mentioned in the spring of 2010,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary told reporters Monday. “He gave two speeches on mobile technology and digital communications, and had no separate meetings with the company's leadership.”

Mr. Carney quickly pointed to similar speeches by members of the Bush White House.

“I don't recall similar criticism from the R.N.C. when senior members of the George W. Bush administration, prior to taking office, had given paid speeches to companies that, in the case of Credit Suisse and UVS, were cited for violations regarding f inancing in Iran,” Mr. Carney noted.

That argument - that the current White House has not done anything that prior administrations have not - has drawn criticism from some watchdog groups (and from Mr. Obama's partisan critics) who point out the administration's early claims to be hewing to a higher standard.

None of the attacks have so far produced the kind of legal jeopardy for any of Mr. Obama's aides that bogged down some of Mr. Bush's aides in the previous administration. Karl Rove wrote in his book about the heavy burden of the investigations that he faced while working in the White House.

(The exception for Mr. Obama's team is Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general, who has been found in contempt by the House over his refusal to hand over documents related to a gunrunning investigation.)

Attacks on presidential aides are something of a tradition in Washington, usually led by the Hill leadership of the out-of-power party. Democrats assailed President Bush's advisers much the way Republicans did President Bill Clinton's.

But the intensity of the attacks ratchets up during presidential campaigns. In recent weeks, the Republican National Committee has regularly blasted out e-mails to reporters about the president's staff, urging reporters to write stories.

The committee sent out releases on Tuesday declaring “Iran Connections Known Before Plouffe Speech” in which Reince Priebus, the committee chairman, said that “David Plouffe may be the biggest loophole in the international community's sanctions against Iran.”

And on Tuesday, Republicans will hold a conference call to push the concerns about the solar energy company, Solyndra, part of the broad effort to distract the president's top advisers even as they enter the final stretch of the president's re-election campaign.

Here are some of the top Republican targets:

David Plouffe: As the man credited most with engineering Mr. Oba ma's 2008 victory over Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Plouffe has a big, political target on his back. The story in The Post on Monday provided a perfect opportunity for Republicans.

After spending the first two years of Mr. Obama's administration giving speeches and writing a book, Mr. Plouffe joined the White House staff; he is now the chief political voice inside the West Wing.

Republicans would like nothing more than to take Mr. Plouffe down a peg or two. It is not clear that Mr. Plouffe's speech violated any rules, much less any laws. But coming just weeks before rejoining the White House, it provides fodder for the Republican attacks.

Jim Messina: A senior adviser and deputy chief of staff in the White House, Mr. Messina essentially swapped places with Mr. Plouffe two years ago when he left to become the campaign manager for Mr. Obama's re-election campaign.

Republicans in the House last week released a report detailing e-mail exchanges bet ween the White House and outside groups during the health care debate in 2009 and 2010. Among them, e-mails that Mr. Messina sent from his personal account - not his official White House one.

That prompted Republicans to cry foul, alleging that Mr. Messina might have done so to avoid rules that require all official communication to be preserved and archived. (The White House said those e-mails would be copied into the record.)

Of course, the Republicans do not bring up the millions of White House e-mails that went missing during the 2007 Democratic inquiry of United States attorney firings during Mr. Bush's administration. Or the removal of computer hard drives from Mr. Romney's governor's office at the end of his term in Massachusetts.

Bill Daley: E-mails are also central to the Republican criticism of Mr. Daley, who served as Mr. Obama's chief of staff for a year. Another Republican committee digging through the Solyndra issue found one that hinted at Mr. Daley's knowledge of the company's shaky finances.

“The issue was discussed with the N.E.C. and the chief of staff,” the e-mail - released to reporters - said.

It is unclear exactly what that e-mail meant, or how much Mr. Daley might have known about Solyndra. But that has not stopped Republicans from highlighting it. A news release from the Republican National Committee flatly stated that “Bill Daley knew” about the government's reservations about Solyndra.

Other Staffers: Republicans appear to view Solyndra as the key to accusing many other top White House staffers of misdeeds. Republican news releases have accused Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff, Jacob Lew, the current chief of staff, and Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser and close friend of Mr. Obama, of knowing more than they have acknowledged.

The idea behind the attacks? Use the questions about Solyndra and the other issues to broadly indict Mr. Obama's White House on the groun ds that it is no more transparent or ethical than prior administrations.

Will it work?

Mr. Obama's team has been through rough-and-tumble campaigns before. It is unlikely to wilt in the face of some accusations. But in a race as close as this one might be, anything that diverts attention onto a staffer is probably not welcome.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.