Is the IRS scandal this generation's Watergate? More and more, all signs point to yes – though not necessarily for the reason many assume.
Watergate is most often remembered for a president who was brought down for targeting his political opponents. But its larger legacy was to usher in an era of public distrust of the federal government. The IRS scandal has given Americans plenty more reasons not to trust the government, just in case they had forgotten in the 40 years since Watergate.
Earlier this week, the Federal Election Commission raised questions about the scope of the IRS targeting of conservative groups in relation to other agencies.
The vice chairman of the Federal Election Commission told CNN on Monday he has seen numerous undisclosed e-mails between FEC staffers and the Internal Revenue Service that raise new questions about potential improper contact between two federal agencies in the alleged targeting of conservative political groups.
Don McGahn, a Republican FEC commissioner, said an investigator from his agency contacted Lois Lerner, the IRS employee at the center of the political storm now engulfing that agency.
As if bringing one agency into the matter wasn't enough, the IRS was involved with the Drug Enforcement Administration as well. This morning, Reuters reported that IRS employees used a controversial investigation method:
Details of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration program that feeds tips to federal agents and then instructs them to alter the investigative trail were published in a manual used by agents of the Internal Revenue Service for two years.
The practice of recreating the investigative trail, highly criticized by former prosecutors and defense lawyers after Reuters reported it this week, is now under review by the Justice Department. Two high-profile Republicans have also raised questions about the procedure.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who has spearheaded the congressional investigation of the IRS, has rightly called for a renewed effort to understand the extent of the scandal.
In a letter to FEC Chair Ellen Weintraub, Issa and subcommittee chairman Jim Jordan requested all communications between any IRS and FEC employees, as well as any FEC employees and any other government officials discussing tax-exempt groups, and any internal FEC documents relating to tax-exempt groups.
Issa and the Republicans on his committee seem to be the only politicians truly committed to uncovering the truth about what the IRS did and who was involved. Democrats have long declared this investgation over and done and President Obama even called it a "phony scandal." It's hard to see how all of these new details are phony, Mr. President.
From a conservative perspective, a skepticism towards government is healthy. For liberals, distrust of government is rarely justified and could greatly harm their big-government initiatives. It's interesting, then, that the people responsible for hiding the truth and making the government seem less trustworthy are exactly the people who need the people's trust.