The late John Williams, once known as the conscience of the U.S. Senate, must be up there shaking his head in disgust over the predicament of the Internal Revenue Service.
The Delaware Republican was elected to the Senate in 1946. In 1947 and 1948, he took on corruption within the IRS and ended up the winner, a feat that doesn’t happen that often. When it was over, probably the most feared agency in government was radically reorganized. People went to jail or resigned; and Williams every year thereafter boxed up all his considerable records, including those from chicken farms, and shipped them off down the avenue to the treasury agency’s headquarters.
Why? Because, he once told me, the odds were great that they would “audit the heck out of me
Those were the days when any member of Congress with the temerity to challenge the tax collectors’ policies could pretty much count on retaliation. The auditors never found anything wrong, and Williams got a kick out of the fact that the “guys with the green eye shades” had to pore over all those boxes.
Now this major IRS faux pas and two other scandals are threatening to derail Barack Obama’s ambitious second-term agenda — or at least slow it down and leave the president’s historic image in tatters.
While the tax agency’s official policy seems to be that the perusal of tea party tax-exempt applications was not politically motivated, I would offer anyone who buys into that a choice piece of
Washington real estate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at a ridiculously low price. If this was orchestrated solely by overworked drones in the Cincinnati regional office, with no instructions from headquarters, my name is really T. Lamar Caudle — one of those forced to resign in Williams’ investigation into unprecedented corruption.
A close perusal of that past scandal would disclose how often the blame is placed on subordinates who took things too far.
Two other debacles — involving Benghazi and the Associated Press — are every bit as politically damaging to Obama.
The first highlights the danger of diplomatic service in a State Department that, at least in this case, put a lower priority on security of human life and then concocted a story to cover up its failure, calling it the result of a “demonstration” gone wrong.
That is why we were unaware of the dangers facing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans who died as a result of this tragic lack of diligence. But let’s face it. While the inexcusable fishing expedition into the Associated Press’s telephone records probably isn’t as sexy to the general public as the other two scandals, it darn well should be.
At stake is the right of a free press to operate without the
intrusion of a government which when it comes to finding leaks comes close to being despotic. This is the worst kind of First Amendment violation, folks. It threatens your right to know — in a way that I’ve rarely, if ever, seen in my half-century of journalism in this town.
The chief executive says there should be a balance between protecting national security and a free press. There is, pal. It’s called the courts. When the government is conducting such a sweeping inquiry that it requires fishing into the telephone records of more than 100 journalists, there is an obligation not only to notify the targets of this expedition but to give them a chance to challenge the action judicially.
The Obama administration has been more aggressive about leaks than any of its predecessors. Leaks are the life’s blood of news coverage. Without them, any number of bad things can happen. That doesn’t mean national security shouldn’t be protected, simply that leaks are an immutable force and will remain so no matter how much intimidation is exerted from on high.
Actually, every president has used leaks to his advantage, flying trial balloons and spreading disinformation. When covering a White House, one needs to realize there’s only a tiny distance between being leaked to and leaked on.
Heads should roll at three
places — the IRS, the State Department and the Justice Department — and should include that of the attorney general of the United States.
Dan K. Thomasson, a Hoosier native and Franklin College trustee, is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.