SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

July 1, 2014

Our view: IRS investigation needs someone with Baker's integrity

Howard Baker, the Republican former senator from Tennessee who died last 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 political power. The massive IRS bureaucracy has the power to command taxpayer cooperation with audits, compel the production of documents, seize assets, levy huge fines and put those who fail to comply in prison.

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