The IRS scandal for dummies

Paul Caron holds down the fort at the TaxProf Blog. On his site he has provided daily compilations of news stories and editorial commentary bearing on the IRS scandal over the past year. He has not otherwise made his point of view on the scandal apparent.

USA Today now runs a useful column by Caron reviewing the scandal. Drawing on his daily compilations, Caron sets out a timeline of key events, going back to Obama’s comment in a 2009 commencement address that the IRS would soon be auditing the president of the university and the Board of Regents for refusing to grant him an honorary degree. At the time Glenn Reynolds wrote a prescient Wall Street Journal column: “Tax audits are no laughing matter.”

Caron’s timeline concludes with a recollection of Watergate:

In that scandal, aggressive reporting by the media and thorough investigations by the FBI, Justice Department and a Senate Select Committee painstakingly uncovered the facts of the illegal break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters months before the 1972 presidential election. One of the three articles of impeachment charged that President Nixon had attempted to use the IRS against his political opponents.

That was then, this is now:

Today’s news media are largely ignoring the IRS scandal, and it is impossible to have confidence in the current investigations by the FBI, Justice Department, and House committee. I am not suggesting that the current scandal in the end will rise to the level of Watergate. But the allegations are serious, and fair-minded Americans of both parties should agree that a thorough investigation needs to be undertaken to either debunk them or confirm them.

Caron concludes: “Step one should be to give Lois Lerner full immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony. And then let the chips fall where they may.”

Caron’s column lays out the key elements of the scandal (although he omits any reference to the audits of individual Republican contributors explored by Kim Strassel, as in this column). Caron’s column makes a contribution to understanding. I hope interested readers will check it out.

Now with the warrant of Caron’s column I add my usual reminder. Nixon’s efforts to misuse the IRS were futile. They went nowhere. Nixon and his henchmen desired the IRS to “screw” their political opponents, but their efforts were a pathetic failure.

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.

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