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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Obama-Nixon Comparison Is Indeed Appropriate

Steve Chapman, the Chicago Tribune columnist and editorial writer whose semiweekly musings range from the sentient to the delusional, has convinced me that the comparison of Obama to the late President Nixon is not only justified but apt. How? Well, take a look at this from his latest column:  
In recent days, those people have triumphantly likened Barack Obama to Richard Nixon, particularly on the misuse of the Internal Revenue Service for political advantage. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach Nixon because, among other reasons, he tried to cause "income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner."

This, of course, is exactly what the IRS now admits doing when it singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny. The Treasury Department's Inspector General found, "The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions."

The misconduct happened under the current president. Therefore, Obama = Nixon.

Makes sense to me, except for that "Obama = Nixon” part. The two presidents may be guilty of similar acts, but they’re not the same man. (I recently tweeted my displeasure at the profligate comparisons of Obama to Nixon; people shouldn’t speak so ill of the dead.)
Chapman then explains that he was just setting up a straw man. Equating the two “is like concluding that babies are like poisonous snakes because some of them have rattles." Nice one, Steve, and were that hackneyed quip the worst part of your column, I wouldn’t have been moved to write this post, but then you say, "Maybe information will someday emerge to confirm the conservative suspicion that Obama thuggishly subverted the IRS to win re-election, but so far, it falls in the realm of make-believe."
I’d say it falls in the category of “undiscovered evidence,” the kind that warrants a dedicated, persistent and earnest congressional investigation and the appointment of an independent counsel. Chapman did at least review the history of how Nixon used tax agents as political operatives, but then he went way out on a limb with his assertion that, in "the case of Obama, there is no evidence that he or his Treasury Secretary was aware of the mistreatment of conservative groups -- much less that either of them requested it."
Well, here's what we do know: According to The Associated Press: 
Many conservative groups complained during the 2012 election that they were being harassed by the IRS. They accused the agency of frustrating their attempts to become tax exempt by sending them lengthy, intrusive questionnaires.
The forms, which the groups have made available, sought information about group members' political activities, including details of their postings on social networking websites and about family members.
In some cases, the IRS acknowledged, agents inappropriately asked for lists of donors.
There has been a surge of politically active groups claiming tax-exempt status in recent elections -- conservative and liberal. Among the highest profile are Republican Karl Rove's group Crossroads GPS and the liberal
These groups claim tax-exempt status under section 501 (c) (4) of the federal tax code, which is for social welfare groups. Unlike other charitable groups, these organizations are allowed to participate in political activities, but their primary activity must be social welfare.
That determination is up to the IRS.
The number of groups filing for this tax-exempt status more than doubled from 2010 to 2012, to more than 3,400. To handle the influx, the IRS centralized its review of these applications in an office in Cincinnati.
The IRS agents in Cincinnati reportedly came up with a list of things to look for in an application, including the words "tea party" and "patriot." Donors to conservative groups and Republican candidates were harassed, audited and elderly. (Their age is not the IRS's fault, but it is a common trait I've noticed among the conservative/Republican victims of the Obama Administration's witch hunt.) 

Lois Lerner, who runs the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt organizations, knew about the targeting of Tea Party groups as early as June 29, 2011, according to the Inspector General's draft report released last week. On Aug. 4, 2011, staffers in the IRS's Rulings & Agreements office "held a meeting with chief counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue." This raises the question of whether then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman perjured himself at a hearing before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight on March 22, 2012, when he testified, "There's absolutely no targeting." (This was in response to Rep. Charles Boustany's question, "Can you give us assurances that the IRS is not targeting particular groups based on political leanings?") Yesterday, Shulman testified before the Senate Finance Committee that he learned “sometime in the spring of 2012″ that “there was a list that was being used” to identify political groups for further review and that the term “tea party” was on the list. That may have also been a lie, but assuming for the moment it was true, Shulman did not immediately (or even shortly thereafter) notify the subcommittee of this. Rather, he left a false impression with Congress and the public until this month, when he finally corrected the record. However, if "everyone" means "everyone," then it means that Shulman was clued into the targeting well before he testified to the contrary. Not surprisingly, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself today in a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight. 

As for whether the president and his Treasury Secretary personally knew about this misconduct, here's some "evidence" for Steve Chapman. The White House coordinated with the Treasury Department over "how the IRS would disclose its targeting of conservative groups." And, the White House was caught in another lie on Monday, when Jay Carney acknowledged that, contrary to what he had previously told the press corps, Senior legal Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler was told on April 24 about the IRS audit that showed tax officials unfairly targeted Tea Party groups and that she then told White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough "and other senior officials" about the investigation.

So, Steve is wrong about there being "no evidence" that the Secretary of the Treasury knew about the mistreatment of conservative groups, but the rest of that sentence is correct--if by "evidence" he actually means direct evidence that has come out. Circumstantial evidence of the president's culpability in this affair is mounting every day. Let's not forget that it took a considerable while after the Watergate burglary in June 1972 for evidence of Nixon's personal involvement in the cover-up to surface. The fallout from this particular scandal is still in its larval stage. If there's any talk on this subject that falls "in the realm of make-believe," then it's coming from those who are scoffing at and deriding the notion that President Obama's hands are clean in all this. Stay tuned.

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