, Newburyport, MA

June 30, 2014

Editorial: IRS investigation needs someone with Baker's integrity

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Howard Baker, the Republican former senator from Tennessee who died Thursday, was a man of great honesty and integrity. In 1973, he was the ranking Republican on the special Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal embroiling the Nixon administration.

It was in that role that Baker asked his famous question, one that distilled the complex Watergate scandal down to its essence:

“What did the president know and when did he know it?”

It’s worth reflecting on Baker’s integrity as he set aside party loyalty to get to the truth of a matter that was threatening the foundations of the republic.

An investigation into a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex ultimately revealed evidence that the Nixon administration was bugging political opponents as well as using the Justice Department, Internal Revenue Service and the CIA to harass activists, politicians and others on the president’s “enemies list.”

Today, there is growing evidence that the Internal Revenue Service is being used to harass conservative nonprofit organizations, tea party activists and even mainstream Republican politicians. Much of this evidence points at Lois Lerner, the IRS official responsible for tax-exempt organizations. But at whose behest was Lerner acting?

Where is the Democratic leader today who will show some of Howard Baker’s integrity and ask:

“What did the president know and when did he know it?”

Instead, the Democratic leadership marches in lockstep, from Senate President Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on down. “Nothing to see here, move along” is their mantra.

The use of the IRS to harass political opponents is a serious abuse of power. The massive IRS bureaucracy has the power to command taxpayer cooperation with audits, compel the product of documents, seize assets, levy huge fines and put those who fail to comply in prison.

Investigations have found that, beginning in 2010, the IRS began to selectively target conservative organizations — such as those with the terms “tea party” or “patriot” in their names — for scrutiny regarding their tax-exempt status.

Some progressive organizations, such as those linked with the “Occupy” movement, were targeted as well.

IRS officials attempted to claim that the targeting was coming out of a low-level office in Cincinnati. But in an investigation last year, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that IRS officials in Washington, including Lerner, knew of the targeting. The IG’s report prompted the ongoing congressional investigation.

The latest outrage testing the gullibility of Americans is the claim by the IRS that Lerner’s emails, subpoenaed by Congress, have been lost due to a crash of the disk drive on her computer. Anyone familiar with the way organizations handle email understands that this is nonsense. Emails are stored not just on desktop PCs but in corporate servers, back-up drives, the recipients’ hard drives and other locations.

What information is in Lerner’s missing emails that someone is so keen to hide? Is there a link to the White House to be found there? The whole matter of the missing emails is eerily reminiscent of the missing 18 minutes in the audiotapes from Nixon’s Oval Office recordings.

The nation needs to get to the bottom of this scandal. Americans need to know that the most powerful and feared bureaucracy in Washington is not being used as a political weapon against them.

The importance of this investigation transcends party politics. We need a Democratic Howard Baker to stand up and ask the tough questions.