Systemic abuse of power shows the IRS cancer has metastisized
This past weekend, a popular tabloid recited the litany of administration scandals and carried the following sensational headline: “Worse than Nixon!” Tabloids are tabloids, but it raises an interesting question: How does the Internal Revenue Service scandal compare to Watergate?
Forty years ago, the White House spokesman called the Watergate break-in a “third-rate burglary” of the offices of the Democratic National Committee. While it may have been third-rate, it was also a crime, committed in the pursuit of political power. It led to a cover-up that created a constitutional crisis and shook our faith in government. The question is whether, and to what extent, history has repeated itself.
Like 40 years ago, White House apologists today describe the targeting of conservative Americans by the IRS as a third-rate bureaucratic bungle, committed by low-level officials in Ohio. Like the Watergate break-in, it is a crime. Federal law makes it a felony to deprive Americans of the exercise of their constitutional rights under color of law. While the IRS has a duty to ensure tax-exempt organizations qualify for that treatment, it has an even greater duty to conduct itself lawfully and evenhandedly in the administration of all of its responsibilities. It failed those tests here. It targeted people on the basis of their constitutionally protected political affiliations and opinions. This is far worse than the burglary at the Watergate in Washington. This particular offense was directed at traditional, law-abiding Americans all over the country and involved chilling and widespread abuses of federal power.