Watergate and the IRS scandal are comparable

Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 11:29 am

Over the last year, there has been a stream of evidence suggesting the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative groups between 2010 and 2012 was the result of a coordinated plot. Recent developments should remove any lingering doubts.

Until she retired under pressure last fall, Lois Lerner headed the IRS’ tax-exempt division. Lerner, who subjected conservative groups to extra scrutiny while working for the Federal Election Commission in the 1980s and ‘90s, was a key figure in the effort to hamstring organizations critical of President Obama.

After “IRSgate” broke in May 2013, the House Ways and Means Committee, one of several congressional committees investigating the affair, subpoenaed emails sent by and to Lerner. However, last week, the IRS claimed that because Lerner’s computer crashed, it can’t retrieve emails from January 2009 to April 2011. This explanation doesn’t fly.

In a June 14 post, John Hinderaker of the Powerline blog pointed out emails can be retrieved from a server for an indefinite period of time and that “emails are universally backed up in some other medium, often electronic tape, for long-term storage.” According to Hinderaker, an attorney, this is how the IRS system works, and a computer crash wouldn’t preclude retrieval.

The obvious conclusion is the Obama administration is trying to stonewall Congress, so no one finds out how wide-reaching the plot was. The harassment itself outrageously infringed on a quintessential American value, freedom of speech. Now, the administration is encroaching on the checks-and-balances principle. That sets a dangerous precedent and represents more of the sleazy Chicago politicking the president vowed to end.

So what should happen next?

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., called for “an immediate investigation and forensic audit by (the) Department of Justice as well as the (Treasury Department) inspector general” of the email affair. These are executive branch agencies, however, and previous Obama administration investigations were jokes.

Instead, the news media should cover the matter relentlessly, point out the obvious hole in the IRS’ story and force the administration to provide the emails. That, and demands for good government from the American people, are the only options left.

Four decades ago, the Fourth Estate was eager to cover Watergate. The IRS affair is at least as serious — Washington Times columnist Joseph Curl likened the “missing” emails to the notorious 18½-minute gap on Richard Nixon’s Oval Office tapes — and the news media should treat it as such.

-The Republican American of Waterbury (Conn.)

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