Peggy Noonan returns to the multifarious IRS scandals in her Wall Street Journal column “Fortress IRS” (behind the WSJ subscription paywall, but accessible via Google). Here is her summary of the story to date:
The scandals that have so damaged the agency took place in just the past few years, since the current administration began. And it is not Republicans on the Hill or conservatives in the press who have revealed the agency as badly managed, political in its actions, and really quite crazily run. That information, or at least the early outlines of it, came from the agency’s own inspector general.
But the point is that it was all so recent. It doesn’t take long to crater a reputation. The conferences, seminars and boondoggles in which $49 million was spent, including the famous “Star Trek” parody video—all that happened between 2010 and 2012. The targeting of conservative groups, the IRS leadership’s public lies about it, the leaking of private tax information to liberal groups or journalists, the abuse of donor information—all that took place since the administration began, in 2009. Just this week, an inspector general report revealed excessive travel spending by a handful of IRS executives in 2011 and 2012.
All of it has produced the biggest IRS scandal since Watergate. Which makes it the second of only two truly huge scandals to be visited on the agency in its entire 100-year history. (The IRS began in its modern incarnation in 1913, the year the 16th Amendment was ratified.) And Watergate didn’t kill the IRS’s reputation, only Nixon’s.
Nixon and his henchmen desired the IRS to “screw” their political opponents, but their efforts were a pathetic failure. They represent a case of unrequited hatred.
Nixon henchman Jack Caulfield astutely complained that the IRS was a “monstrous bureaucracy…dominated and controlled by Democrats.” As we have come to see, Caulfield was on to something. By contrast with Nixon’s failures to misuse the IRS, the IRS has very effectively “screwed” Obama’s political opponents, and we have yet to learn what the president knew and when he knew it.