Friday, June 13, 2014

I Thought Rose Mary Woods Had Retired

Rose Mary Woods.jpgLate this afternoon as part of the Friday afternoon news dump, the IRS informed the House Ways and Means Committee that there is a mysterious "two-year gap" in the emails of Lois Lerner, the Democratic political appointee at the heart of the IRS scandal.  To be precise, for the period January 2009 to April 2011, the IRS can produce Lerner emails to and from other IRS employees but cannot find any to or from outside agencies or groups, such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, the Federal Election Commission or offices of Democrat congressmen - in other words, the most critical emails are missing.

For those who may not remember, Rose Mary Woods was Richard Nixon's secretary who, after the 1974 revelation of an 18 1/2 minute gap on an audio tape of an Oval Office conversation on June 20, 1972, right after the Watergate break-in, took partial responsibility for a mistake leading to an erasure during the transcription process.  Miss Woods' explanation was difficult to accept (the picture above illustrates the "Rose Mary Stretch") though very few thought she did it intentionally.  For an interesting and informed recent article speculating on how, why and by whom the tape was erased read this article.

The Lerner email disclosure comes only a week after the IRS acknowledged to the House that it had illegally turned over to the FBI up to 1.1 million pages of confidential taxpayer information as part of its seek and destroy mission against Tea Party groups.

The Lerner emails as well as the information illegally disclosed by the IRS was requested by Congress more than a year ago.  It is inconceivable that the Department of Justice did not know what happened well prior to June of 2014.  There are a hundred questions that come to mind that must be answered about the missing emails.  It deserves a full investigation and DOJ is incapable of conducting it.

Of all the Obama Administration controversies, the IRS one is by far the most troubling because it goes to the heart of the public trust in government.  If the agency that for the average citizen is that most powerful in the federal government cannot be trusted with the sensitive information it has and, in fact, will harass its political enemies then the very foundation of our system is shaken.

The Justice Department's behavior has been disgraceful from appointing an Obama campaign donor to oversee the criminal investigation to the failure of the FBI to contact any of the groups or their attorneys who have complained of the IRS behavior.  The President, after first saying he was disturbed by the scandal, now dismisses it as a nothing.  He does that because he knows he can get away with it which illustrates a bigger problem for our country.

The bigger problem is that both the media and the permanent federal bureaucracy (non-political appointees) lean heavily liberal creating a curious dynamic making Democratic abuses of power more threatening than Republican ones.

When there is a Republican administration and it takes executive actions that offend the permanent bureaucracy it reacts by leaking copiously to sympathetic sources in the media.  And when those leaks reach media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post they get amplified and picked up by other media and get elevated to issues that are in the press day after day.  It's hard to keep anything truly secret.  While THC may think it is often unfair in how a particular issue is played by the media, overall he sees that as a good thing for our governance structure.

But when a Democratic administration is in place there is a different dynamic.  Because the bureaucracy is more supportive of the goals of the administration there is less leaking and to the extent there are leaks it is often because the administration is not seen as sufficiently liberal.  These leaks can be picked up by large media outlets because they will occasionally criticize the Party from the left.  If it is the much rarer leak from a dissident conservative bureaucrat leaks it is less likely to be picked up by the general media because of its disinterest (or perhaps, disbelief would be the better word) or distrust, because the perceived source is seen as conservative.  Although it did not involve bureaucratic links think of the general media's shock since October as the impacts of Obamacare became more visible; the cancellation of policies, increased deductibles and other costs and narrowed doctor access.  None of those issues were a surprise to THC because conservative health policy wonks have been pointing these issues out since 2010.  So why was the media so surprised?  They live in an intellectually closed world where many, most prominently the New York Times, serve merely as stenographers for the progressive movement.

That's why a slew of issues that would be headline scandals day after day in the Times and Post in a Republican administration disappear in a Democratic one.

The IRS scandal poses an excellent example of this phenomenon.  Significant evidence arises of politically targeted agency review of Tea Party groups seeking exemptions arises and of leaks of confidential applicant information to liberal partisan; senior IRS political appointees take the Fifth when questioned by Congress;  the Attorney General announces that DOJ finds no evidence of criminal activity after an investigation headed by a government lawyer who made the maximum individual contributions allowed by law to the President's campaigns and in which the government investigators never attempted to contact any of the complaining entities or their attorneys; more data and emails keep flowing indicating problems at the agency; for details see the voluminous coverage at the Tax Prof Blog. Yet most of the media seemed relieved to hear the official explanations and have no continuing interest.

Further to THC's point about the makeup of the bureaucracy, when the IRS scandal first broke some of the Administration's defenders pointed out the President Nixon, a Republican, tried to use the IRS to audit his political enemies. The difference is that Nixon ran into an IRS chief who shut down the President's attempt to politically manipulate the bureaucracy.

So if you are interested in transparency in government vote Republican.  They may be bozos but at least you will know what they are doing!

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