"What did the President know and when did he know it?" was the phrase that made Howard Baker famous. The former Tennessee Senator, Chief of Staff, and Presidential candidate was a member of a Congressional committee when a real Presidential scandal took place.
Today, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is desperately trying to find a Watergate type scandal in the form of the IRS targeting conservative and Tea Party 501(c)(4) groups for extra scrutiny when they attempted to get tax exempt status as "social welfare" groups. The problem for Issa is that his committee has spent almost a year investigating this "scandal," only to find that there was no scandal, just some bureaucratic mismanagement.
In addition to Issa not finding what he hoped for, the FBI concluded its investigation and said the actions of the IRS did not warrant criminal charges.using words such as "incompetent, flawed, lazy, confused, and mismanaged," the FBI concluded that no criminal charges would be pursued. The investigation also did not find any link to President Obama or the White House.
If we want to see what a real IRS scandal looks like, we have to hearken back to the days of Senator Howard Baker in the 1970s.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. did an excellent piece for the Huffington Post, in which he outlines how a "real" President uses the IRS to harass his enemies. In Obama and Nixon: A Historical Perspective, Kennedy summarizes some of the Nixon excesses.
"On September 27, 1970, Nixon ordered Haldeman to get the IRS to investigate my Uncle Ted who was then the presumed frontrunner in the 1972 presidential contest, sharing the field with Edmond Muskie and Hubert Humphrey who Nixon also ordered audited."
This certainly answers Howard's question as to what the President knew and when did he know it, as does the following.
"On October 6, 1971, Nixon ordered Haldeman to have the IRS audit Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler who had transformed the Times from a right wing rag into a universally respected paper by recruiting top journalists from across the nation. Chandler and his very large family were close friends of my family and had spent the summer prior to my father's death running the Colorado River with us. "I want Otis Chandler's income tax," Nixon told Haldeman. Nixon then called his Attorney General and former law partner, John Mitchel, and ordered Mitchel to fire the Los Angeles Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. "The fellow out there in the Immigration Services is a kike by the name of Rosenberg." The President explained to Mitchel, "He is to be out." Fulminating on, Nixon told Mitchel, "I want you to direct the most trusted person you have in the Immigration Service to look at all the activities of the Los Angeles Times... let me explain as a Californian, I know everybody in California hires them... Otis Chandler... I want him checked with regard to his gardener. I understand he is a wetback. Is that clear?" When the Attorney General replied, "Yes, sir." Nixon crowed triumphantly, "We're going after the Chandlers! Every one, individually and collectively, their income taxes... every one of those sons of bitches."
Now that's a scandal!! Nixon may be long gone, but his utter disregard for the law ("When the President does it, that means it's not illegal") is what makes a Presidential scandal.
Obama can't even hold a candle to Nixon when it comes to arrogance and disregard for the law. Obama's truthful answers to Baker's multi-part question just aren't Nixonian. "What did the President know?" Nothing. "When did he know it?" When he saw it in press reports. Nixon would send someone to Congress to lie about what HE knew and Nixon never read anything in the news, because he hated everyone in the press. (Although, if he were alive today, bet you he'd be tuned in to Fox News.)
For those of you who say, "well, he should have known," we have news for you. If you assign an obligation on the President to know what every low to mid level career, non-political civil servant is doing, you have a gross misconception of what the Presidency is all about.
Nixon never would have left to chance or relied on a low level guy in the IRS to implement his vendettas. He gets the Attorney General or his Chief of Staff to lean on the head of an agency and pass them an envelope with the exacts names, addresses, and social security numbers of the people he wants to screw.
Since it is apparently in vogue for some conservatives (see Rudy's man crush on Putin) to praise a thug and strongman like Vlad Putin, maybe it's time they can look back admirably at Richard Nixon, and say "C'mon Obama if you had any real balls, you woulda called up the IRS yourself and told them to put the thumb screws on your enemies. Why don't you just go back to wearing your "mom" jeans and throwing like a girl on opening day of baseball season."
Let's get a guy like Nixon back in the White House, so 88 year old Howard Baker can make a cameo appearance at some Congressional committee and famously ask, for one last time, "What did the President know, and when did he know it?"
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