Outraged Bay State Democrats are blasting President Obama for exhibiting a Nixonian abuse of power after the stunning news that the Department of Justice secretly obtained Associated Press phone records and the IRS targeted conservative groups – new scandals emerging against the backdrop of heightened Benghazi criticism.
“There’s no way in the world I’m going to defend that. Hell, I spent my youth vilifying the Nixon administration for doing the same thing. If they did that, there should be hell to pay,” U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano (D-Somerville) said about the IRS scandal. “Not only is it bad government and bad to society, it is horrendous politics. The worst thing you can do is give your opponent an easy hammer with which to hit you.”
“It doesn’t seem to be a couple rogue employees. This appeared to be a systemic issue,” said U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-South Boston), who wants to investigate the matter as a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee already has scheduled a hearing on the issue for this week, Lynch said, adding, “No American should find themselves the target of the IRS or any other federal organization because of their political beliefs.”
Both U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Malden) and the GOP’s Gabriel Gomez, rivals in the Senate special election, slammed the administration’s actions, as new reports emerged yesterday that the Department of Justice seized two months’ worth of phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors. Gomez called it “another troubling example of overzealous federal agencies restricting our First Amendment rights.”
Markey said in a statement: “The Justice Department has many questions it now must answer as to why this sweeping request for information was ever necessary. As we work to prevent terrorist attacks against our country, we must continue to respect our laws and uphold our constitutional rights, including freedom of the press.”
Obama yesterday called the IRS actions “outrageous” if true, saying those responsible must be held “fully accountable.”
“I’ve got no patience with it,” he added. “I will not tolerate it, and we will find out exactly what happened.”
The Treasury Department apologized Friday for “inappropriate” targeting of groups seeking tax-exempt status with “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their names, and others that stated their purpose was to question government spending or power. The IRS initially blamed low-level employees, but emails have since shown top officials knew as early as 2011.
“I’m old enough to remember Watergate, and I’m not saying this is another Watergate, but when the IRS is involved, it really hits home,” said U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). The references to the Nixon administration recalled the massive abuse of power scandals such as the bugging of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Nixon aides also directed so-called “plumbers” to plug leaks – operatives digging up dirt on people such as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
Nixon’s aides maintained a so-called “enemies list,” with the intent of turning the IRS on them. A congressional investigation later found undue IRS audits were not carried out under Nixon.
Democratic Montana Senator Max Baucus is leading an investigation into why the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny despite the fact that Baucus once wrote a letter urging the IRS to do exactly that.
Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, will head the committee’s investigation into the IRS, which apologized Friday for targeting groups with the terms “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their titles for extra scrutiny of their nonprofit status as early as 2011.
However, Baucus once wrote a letter requesting that the IRS engage in that very conduct.
Baucus wrote a letter to then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman dated September 28, 2010 urging the IRS to investigate nonprofit conservative groups during the Tea Party-dominated 2010 midterm elections.
“With hundreds of millions of dollars being spent in election contests by tax-exempt entities, it is time to take a fresh look at current practices and how they comport with the Internal Revenue Code’s rules for nonprofits,” Baucus wrote in the letter.
“I request that you and your agency survey major 501(c)(4), (c)(5) and (c)(6) organizations involved in political campaign activity to examine whether they are operated for the organization’s intended tax exempt purpose and to ensure that political campaign activity is not the organization’s primary activity,” Baucus wrote in the letter.
“The tax exemption given to non-profit organizations comes with a responsibility to serve the public interest and Congress has an obligation to exercise the vigorous oversight necessary to ensure they do,” Baucus said in a 2010 statement accompanying his letter.
Though Baucus identified 501 (c) (5) groups – or labor unions – as worthy of investigation, the only organizations cited in his request were conservative, pro-Republican groups.
Baucus specifically named Americans for Job Security, which is described as a “pro-Republican organization,” as a specific target for the IRS to investigate.
Crossroads GPS, co-founded by Karl Rove, and American Action Network, chaired by former Republican senator Norm Coleman, were also cited in press coverage related to Baucus’ letter as pro-Republican groups helping to elect GOP congressional candidates in 2010.
Those organizations appeared in a September 16, 2010 TIME article by writer Michael Crowley titled, “The New GOP Money Stampede.” Baucus cited that piece in his letter to the IRS.
Whatever the fallout might be from such a conflict of interest, Baucus won’t be around too much longer to deal with it.
He’s already announced his retirement from the Senate, and won’t run for re-election in 2014.
A Baucus spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
From the White House near the height of the mid-term campaign in 2010:
Remarks by the President at a DNC Finance Event in Austin, Texas
August 09, 2010
Four Seasons Hotel, Austin, Texas
THE PRESIDENT: …Right now all around this country there are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, who are running millions of dollars of ads against Democratic candidates all across the country. And they don’t have to say who exactly the Americans for Prosperity are. You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation. You don’t know if it’s a big oil company, or a big bank. You don’t know if it’s a insurance company that wants to see some of the provisions in health reform repealed because it’s good for their bottom line, even if it’s not good for the American people.
A Supreme Court decision [Citizens United] allowed this to happen. And we tried to fix it, just by saying disclose what’s going on, and making sure that foreign companies can’t influence our elections. Seemed pretty straightforward. The other side said no.
This is the same blatant lie that Supreme Court Justice Alito shook his head about and said ‘no,’ during Obama’s State Of The Union address in January 2010. Citizens United does not allow foreigners to contribute to campaigns.
They don’t want you to know who the Americans for Prosperity are, because they’re thinking about the next election. But we’ve got to think about future generations. We’ve got to make sure that we’re fighting for reform. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t have a corporate takeover of our democracy…
This is nothing short of Obama’s ‘dog-whistle’ to his his supporters at the IRS. After all, Obama doesn’t need to give his bureaucrats a direct, written (and therefore traceable) order.
He merely has to express his displeasure with some group and his lackeys will know what they have to do. And we now know how much these ‘low level workers’ have done for his administration over the years. (Fast & Furious, Benghazi, the releasing of illegal alien criminals.)
But now we fast forward to yesterday, where Obama expressed outrage that the IRS would be seeking the names of donors to conservative groups. In fact, Obama even denied knowing that the IRS was even interested in such things until he read about it in the papers back on Friday. A claim even his spokes-flack, Jay Carney, undercut.
From The Hill:
Carney: White House lawyers knew of IRS investigation in April
By Justin Sink | May 13, 2013
Press secretary Jay Carney acknowledged Monday that the White House was informed in April that the Treasury Department’s Inspector General was investigating the IRS’s Cincinnati field office, which is accused of targeting conservative political groups for extra scrutiny.
“My understanding is that the White House Counsel’s Office was alerted in the week of April 22 of this year, only about the fact that the IG was finishing a review about matters involving the office in Cincinnati,” Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One…
President Obama said earlier in the day that he first heard about the allegations that the IRS had specifically targeted Tea Party groups last week. “I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday,” Obama told reporters at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
While Carney insisted that nobody in the White House knew of the specific allegations of improper targeting, the news nevertheless drew fresh questions from Republican critics.
Why only Republican critics? Doesn’t the news media object to be lied to? (This is a rhetorical question.)
“Who else in the White House knew about the IRS scandal but didn’t tell the president?” tweeted Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)…
In his press conference Monday, the president pledged to hold accountable those responsible. “I can tell you that if you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and non-partisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions,” Obama said.
So is he going to hold himself accountable? (This is another rhetorical question.)
The IRS scandal is growing by leaps and bounds in a way that must be terrifying to an Administration already dealing with fallout from the uncovering of their Libya lies and the knowledge that the Department of Justice seized the phone records of 20 Associated Press reporters. Tuesday morning, ABC News revealed what might have been the political motivation behind the IRS’s decision to target Tea party groups – to ensure they weren’t as effective in 2012 as they were in 2010.
In the 2010 midterms, even the media that despises the Tea Party will admit that the nationwide grassroots movement was a major factor behind record GOP electoral gains. By the time the smoke cleared, Obama had lost the House and his filibuster-proof majority in the United States Senate.
Is it just a coincidence that it was only after these 2010 victories that the IRS decided to single out Tea Party groups for special scrutiny? And not just scrutiny, but the kind of scrutiny that bogged these groups down with paperwork and restricted their political activities.
The Narrative some in the media, like JournOlist founder Ezra Klein of The Washington Post, are desperate to spin is that this was a single Midwest IRS office concerned with political groups abusing a new tax exempt status. The isolation of Tea Parties was merely “discriminatory.”
Already this morning, though, Klein’s spin is falling apart. Chris Good of ABC News reports that Jennifer Stefano of Philadelphia was so intimidate by the IRS that she closed her Tea Party down:
“In the documents that were sent to me, if you did not tell the whole truth by not putting all your personal information out there by Facebook, by Twitter, of your personal relationship with candidates and parties… it could be considered perjury and perjury carried jail time,” Stefano, 39, told ABC News.
“That was frightening and that’s why I shut it down. I shut my group down.”
Tom Zawistowski, former president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, told ABC News that, “The reason for this attack by the IRS on the tea party was to make sure we were not as effective in 2012 as we were in 2010, and that’s what they did[.]“
Zawistowski also believes that the ridiculous amount of information and documents requested by the IRS was “opposition research,” having nothing to do with whether or not a group would qualify as tax exempt.
The IRS asked another Ohio tea party organization, the Liberty Township Tea Party, about its political views and relationships with an individual and another group.
“Provide a list of all issues that are important to your organization. Indicate your position regarding each issue,” the IRS commanded in a letter with 35 questions, many including between three and six bullet-pointed subquestions.
ABC News adds:
In letters obtained by ABC News, the Internal Revenue Service asked detailed questions of local tea party groups from 2010 to 2012.
Other Tea Party groups interviewed complained of getting bogged down by the paperwork. One group claims that “500 pages of stuff” went “back and forth” between them and the IRS:
There was kind of a cloud over us… It did curtail the things we could do. We could not go outside the IRS rules. Tax-exempt status allows you to do certain things, and we did not go outside them.
These groups say they didn’t hear from the IRS until after their 2010 victories. Then, before they could recreate that success against Obama in 2012, all of a sudden they are intimidated, restricted from certain political activities, and bogged down in a bureaucratic nightmare – all at the hands of the IRS.
Sorry, Ezra Klein, that doesn’t sound “discriminatory” to me – that sounds like a political tactic. Moreover, if it was a political tactic, we already know that it was not one confined to a single office in the Midwest. Klein’s own Post reports Tuesday that…
Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, making clear that the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
We now know that the IRS targeted Obama’s political enemies, and either by accident or design, made them less effective during his reelection campaign in 2012. W also now know that Administration officials are lying about what they knew about this scandal and when they knew it.
The only question that matters now is whether or not anyone in the Obama re-election campaign is in any way tied to this. And at this point, that is a perfectly reasonable question to ask.
President Obama knows he’s in trouble when Andrea Mitchell – Andrea Mitchell! – proclaims the IRS and AP scandals to be among “the most outrageous excesses I’ve seen” in all her years in journalism [which pre-date Watergate]. The strength of Mitchell’s statement drew gasps from Scarborough and Brzezinski. Then Ron Fournier, former AP editor now with the National Journal, darkly described the White House being “consumed” if it turns out someone there or in the Obama campaign had been aware of the IRS targeting of conservative groups. It happened on Morning Joe today.
But hey, President Obama still has his hangers-on. Take good old Carl Bernstein. As we reported, on yesterday’s Morning Joe Bernstein blathered that he “can’t imagine” that President Obama coudl be involved in the IRS mess. And there was Bernstein again today. When Fournier spoke of consequences of White House or Obama campaign knowledge of the IRS targeting, Bernstein quickly burped out that “we have no evidence of that whatsoever.” Joe Scarborough had to remind the former Watergate reporter: “that’s why you have investigations. You know that.” View the video after the jump.
…………………….Click on image above to watch video.
Watch the clouds gather over the White House. And when among your few umbrellas are the likes of Carl Bernstein…
Note: The screencap brings Hollywood Squares to mind. PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’ll take the joker in the upper left-hand corner for the block!
ANDREA MITCHELL: Yes, they did have to look and see whether some of these groups were political rather than pro bono. But not in any kind of non-neutral way. The test had to be neutral. The fact they went after the Tea Party here as David said earlier feeds the Republican critics -
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: It really does.
MITCHELL: And this is one of the most outrageous excesses that I’ve seen in all my years in journalism.
BRZEZINSKI: Oh my gosh.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Wow.
MITCHELL: We knew about the past national security probes, but I think this Associated Press investigation just rises to that standard, as well. The press is not popular, we are not popular. But this is, I think, an outrageous invasion of constitutional rights.
SCARBOROUGH: Andrea, it’s remarkable. As long as you’ve been a reporter at the top of your game, to say that a scandal that broke on Friday is one of the most outrageous excesses, the IRS scandal, and then for us to talk about what happened yesterday that most reporters agree with Ron and you, it rises to that level as well. To have two of these falling in two successive business days is going to require a dramatic reset inside the White House, is it not?
MITCHELL: And I don’t see why they don’t get that yet.
RON FOURNIER: The IRS thing, to me, I think that’s the one that has the most chance to be a game changer. If we find out in these hearings that somebody in the White House, especially in the political shop, or somebody in the campaign knew about this political targeting of conservative groups, I think that could be something that could consume the White House for the rest of his second term.
SCARBOROUGH: I agree. That is the key.
FOURNIER: I’m not pleased to say that.
CARL BERNSTEIN: We have no evidence of that whatsoever.
SCARBOROUGH: How could we, Carl? Of course we don’t have any evidence of that, but that’s why you have investigations. You know that. I know that.