Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Watergate and IRS Scandal--the Parallels

Here’s the truth. Republicans aren’t likely to impeach Barack Obama for misusing executive power in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scandal. There won’t be a secret taping system, or even DNA on an unwashed dress, to provide the “smoking gun” of presidential guilt. But impeachment aside, there are parallels between Nixon’s Watergate and the scandal touching our current leader.

The origin of the IRS scandal seems traceable, as conservative attack dog Dick Morris suggests, to the Supreme Court’s January 21, 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. According to Morris, IRS at the time was already going after Obama enemies. The IRS had in 2009 acted against pro-Israeli settlement non-profits thwarting Obama administration efforts to halt West Bank settlement expansion. Why not just use the IRS to frustrate anti-Obama non-profits seeking to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling?

We know how much the 5-4 Citizens United decision upset the president. With the Supreme Court justices sitting directly in front of him just 6 days later, Obama attacked “the law of the land” head-on in his state of the union address, even drawing a “not true” response from associate justice Samuel Alito, one of the 5-person majority Obama confronted.

How easy was it to sic the IRS on conservative organizations taking advantage of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission? Too easy. Lois Lerner, head since 2002 of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division that would oversee denying tax-exempt status to conservatives seeking to benefit--to Obama’s detriment--from the new ruling, had for 20 years before that been with the very same FEC that was on the losing end of Citizens United.

Lerner at the FEC had established a record of going after conservative organizations. And she is married to a partner (in the D.C. office) of a law firm that hosted an organizing meeting at its Atlanta headquarters for people interested in helping with voter registration for the Obama re-election campaign, a firm with another partner that even before the Citizens United ruling came down in 2010, Obama had already appointed as U.S. ambassador to Singapore.

As Obama’s anger after coming out on the losing end of the Citizens United decision led him to take (unproven conjecture, yes) extra-legal action using compliant lawyer-civil servants working nearby, so too did Nixon follow a similar path in 1971, after New York Times’ publication of the leaked Pentagon Papers.

The New York Times’ publication showed China’s leaders, whom Nixon so wanted to impress on the eve of national security advisor Henry Kissinger’s highly secret trip to Beijing to secure an invitation for Nixon to visit China, that the American president could not keep crucial national secrets. Nixon’s fury led directly to formation of the “Plumbers” (they fix leaks, ha, ha), an extra-legal unit drawn from nearby ex-CIA and FBI types who, one year later, attempted to bug the Watergate phone of Democratic Party chairman Larry O’Brien.

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