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George F. Will: Forgetting Watergate's lesson

Published: May 15, 2013
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“He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavored to … cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.”

— Article 2, Section 1, Articles of Impeachment

— Adopted by the House Judiciary Committee, July 29, 1974

The burglary occurred in 1972, the climax came in 1974, but 40 years ago this week — May 17, 1973 — the Senate Watergate hearings began exploring the nature of Richard Nixon's administration. Now the nature of Barack Obama's administration is being clarified as revelations about IRS targeting of conservative groups merge with myriad Benghazi mendacities.

This administration aggressively hawked the fiction that the Benghazi attack was just an excessively boisterous movie review. Now we are told that a few wayward souls in Cincinnati, with nary a trace of political purpose, targeted for harassment political groups with “tea party” and “patriot” in their titles. The Washington Post has reported that the IRS also targeted groups that “criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution.” Credit the IRS operatives with understanding who and what threatens the current regime. The Post also reports that harassing inquiries have come from other IRS offices, including Washington.

Jay Carney, whose unenviable job is not to explain but to explain away what his employers say, calls the IRS' behavior “inappropriate.” No, using the salad fork for the entree is inappropriate. Using the IRS for political purposes is a criminal offense.

It remains to be discovered whether the chief executive is guilty of more than an amazingly convenient failure to superintend the excesses of some executive branch employees beyond the Allegheny Mountains. Meanwhile, file this under “What a tangled web we weave”:

The IRS official in charge of the division that makes politically sensitive allocations of tax-exempt status said last Friday that she learned of the targeting of conservatives from news reports. But a draft report by the IRS inspector general says this official was briefed on the matter two years ago.

An emerging liberal narrative is that this tempest is all the Supreme Court's fault: The Citizens United decision — that corporations, particularly nonprofit advocacy groups, have First Amendment rights — so burdened the IRS with making determinations about who deserves tax exempt status that some political innocents in Cincinnati inexplicably decided to begin by rummaging through the affairs of conservatives. Ere long, presumably, they would have gotten around to groups with “progressive” in their titles.

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