Is the IRS targeting Clinton's foes?
IT'S NOT HARD to understand the discomfit with which ordinary Americans regard the ongoing White House sex scandal. Most folks don't have much use for inquiries into the sex lives of other people, especially not when the target of the probe is the president of the United States.
Not so, however, for other charges and accusations that have scarcely drawn any press attention, notwithstanding their insidious implications. A good example is the notion that this administration has used every weapon at its disposal, including the IRS, to enhance its own power and undermine its enemies.
Clinton & Co. know full well that most ordinary folks would not dismiss out of hand claims that it abused the power of the IRS. A White House that produced the Travelgate scandal in its first year in office and later turned out to have been sequestering confidential FBI files on prominent Republicans can't easily profess outrage at any abuse-of-power allegations.
The essential charge is uncomplicated: On a regular basis, it's alleged, the White House has used the IRS to frighten off or sap the resources and credibility of prospective foes. Consider Paula Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit based on unwelcome advances she says Clinton made toward her when he was governor. Her lawsuit has dogged the president for years. Beyond the embarrassment to Clinton inherent in the pending Little Rock trial, it was the pre-trial deposition questions put to the president by Jones' lawyers that forced the emergence of Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton, therefore, has long had good reason to try to damage Paula Jones' reputation. Now comes news that Jones is being audited by the IRS. In light of the president's understandable hostility, it's difficult simply to accept the suggestion that the audit is purely coincidental.
Jones, a homeworker, and her husband have a combined $37,000 a year income. In ordinary circumstances, their chances of being audited by the IRS are less than one in 100. Meanwhile, the Rutherford Institute, which has provided Jones with the funds to wage her legal campaign, is also an IRS target. Rutherford is a tax-exempt entity similar to any number of left-oriented groups. Thus, the fact that it has a political orientation doesn't disqualify it from tax-exempt status.
Indeed, Rutherford's role in facilitating a Supreme Court ruling on whether a sitting president can avoid facing civil charges until after he leaves the White House (the high court's "no" vote was unanimous) would seem to represent precisely the sort of public-service contribution that justifies granting the tax exemption.
Yet Rutherford, too, has been subjected to an audit. And as with all tax-related investigations (unlike even criminal inquiries) the burden of proof rests with the "defendanT": It's Rutherford's obligation, in other words, to demonstrate its innocence. IRS charges even when leveled in the context of an audit are presumed valid. Needless to say, the mere cost in legal fees and related expenses of proving innocence can virtually bankrupt an organization.
The 1993 Travelgate affair represents an early indication of the administration's seeming willingness to use the IRS for political purposes. The unjustifiable dismissal of White House Travel Office chief Billy Dale and his small staff as part of an apparent effort to move friends of the first family into a potentially lucrative office was attended by slanderous allegations of wrongdoing, by an FBI probe and finally by a criminal trial. (A jury acquitted the Travel Office team on all counts almost immediately; Congress subsequently voted to pay the group's legal fees with government funds.)
In addition, Dale himself, along with one aide, was subjected to an IRS audit. But no malfeasance on the part of the long-time government worker or his colleague was identified. The audit's impact consisted largely in heightening the disruption to Billy Dale's life.
Interestingly, despite administration protests that it has never even contemplated using the IRS as a political weapon ("We're not that stupid," said presidential spokesman Mike McCurry recently alluding to the likelihood that such abuse would quickly come to light), Congress' brief Travelgate probe led to the discovery of a disturbing White House memo. Referring to the impending Dale audit, a White House lawyer informed colleagues that the IRS commissioner "is on top of it." At the time, Margaret Milner Richardson, a long-standing Hillary Clinton friend, headed the IRS. (It scarcely needs to be noted that White House staffers, lawyers included, aren't meant to know about prospective IRS audits.)
The names Billy Dale and Paula Jones are, by now, well known. In this sense, the national media's failure to note that the IRS subjected both of them to audits is a striking sin of omission. Even more revealing, however, is the fact that an unusually large number of right-of-center not-for-profits are likewise undergoing tax probes most for the very first time. Among the organizations and institutions targeted by tax authorities during Clinton's tenure are: the Heritage Foundation, long a major conservative think-tank; the Christian Coalition; National Review, the semi-monthly "Bible" of the conservative movement since its founding by William F. Buckley Jr. more than 40 years ago; the Western Journalism Center; the National Rifle Association; and too many other right-wing groups all hostile to the Clinton agenda even to mention.
Again, it's difficult to prove IRS-related allegations. Beyond the secrecy rules, the fact that no pro-Clinton not-for-profit has come forward to deny the bias charges by affirming that it, too, has been audited proves very little. No entity, after all, enjoys acknowledging that it's being investigated by the IRS. Still, it's well to note that no such group has come forward -- not even one issued a post-audit clean bill of health.
In the end, Americans are left wondering whether the probes represent nothing other
than a huge coincidence or, as the first lady might put it, a massive
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