White House blindsided on National Guard callout?

posted at 11:21 am on August 18, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

What we have here is a failure to communicate. The unrest in Ferguson has continued for more than a week, including several nights of rioting, looting, and accusations in both directions of violence between police and locals (and outsiders especially). Missouri has tried at least two different police forces in attempting to restore order to the St. Louis suburb to no avail, so Gov. Jay Nixon’s call to the National Guard could not have come to anyone’s surprise today, unless they’ve spent the last couple of weeks on vacation.

Well ….

“Folks didn’t know,” an administration official told BuzzFeed Monday. “The White House did not know they were sending it in.”

Nixon gave “no heads up,” the official said.

Nixon didn’t give Barack Obama a heads-up? The deuce you say! Gee, what might have been the problem — that Obama has spent most of the last week golfing, or the Department of Justice second-guessing Missourians over the last few days? Nixon had no particular requirement to notify the White House, either; the call to the National Guard is not a federal issue but completely within state authority.

Not only that, but the move appears to have won support from the local NAACP, too:

The St. Louis County Chapter of the NAACP says it supports Nixon’s decision to call in the National Guard in Ferguson, Missouri, where tensions remain high more than a week after a police officer killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The NAACP wants an apology from the Ferguson police department to the Brown family, presumably for releasing the videotape of the strong-arm robbery that preceded the shooting. Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson claimed on Friday that he had little choice in the matter.  The media demanded access to the video via a FOIA request, and the police complied with the public-records request. That was prompted by the release by Ferguson PD of the police report on the robbery, though, instead of the report on the shooting itself, along with stills of the video — which certainly whet the curiosity of the reporters who got the handout at the briefing. Jackson’s explanation seems too cute by half, even if it did end up providing a clearer context of what led to the confrontation. The police certainly didn’t mind the release of the video, even if the DoJ wanted it kept quiet for its own purposes.

Obama returned to the White House for a brief break from his vacation to deal with the crises in Iraq and Ferguson, the AP reported earlier today:

Taking a two-day break from summer vacation, President Barack Obama returned to work at the White House Monday, replacing images of him bicycling and golfing on an island resort with those of him at the White House huddling over current crises with top advisers.

Obama interrupted his family getaway on Martha’s Vineyard, during which airstrikes in Iraq and violent clashes in a St. Louis suburb intruded on his golf and beach plans.

The exact reason for Obama’s return shortly after midnight remained unclear, though it appeared aimed in part at countering criticism that Obama was spending two weeks on the Massachusetts island in the midst of multiple crises.

After a week of photos depicting the president golfing or riding his bike with his family, the White House was making sure that press photographers would get pictures Monday of Obama in meetings with national security aides discussing Iraq and with Attorney General Eric Holder for an update on the federal response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old.

Still, Obama’s brief return to Washington was planned even before the U.S. military began striking targets in Iraq and before the standoff between police and protesters in Ferguson, Missouri. The president was scheduled to return to Martha’s Vineyard Tuesday night.

Obama does have an option to federalize the National Guard in Missouri in order to take control of the situation there from Washington DC. That option is fraught with political risk, though, and not just from accusations of abusing his power. So far all of the political damage is being absorbed by Nixon. If Obama takes control by federalizing the National Guard troops in Ferguson, then he’s responsible for everything that follows from that point forward. And if Obama does seize jurisdiction through that mechanism, he’d better command those troops from the Oval Office rather than the fourteenth fairway.


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