WASHINGTON — In a very clever year-end column, the venerable William Safire writing in the New York Times asks whether “special prosecutor David Barrett’s 400-page expose of political influence within the Internal Revenue Service and the Clinton Justice Department” will be the government report “most likely to resist investigative reporting” this year. I certainly hope not. The misuse of the IRS and Justice Department has a long record going back to Richard Nixon and Watergate and before that to Franklin Roosevelt and his harassment of former Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon and publisher Moses Annenberg. Wealthy individuals such as Mellon and Annenberg can protect themselves — though Annenberg was cruelly sent to jail. Ordinary citizens cannot, and the way the IRS is set up today not much provocation is necessary to instigate a costly investigation…costly to ordinary taxpayers.
People familiar with the Barrett Report claim that during his investigation of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, Barrett came across illegal IRS and Justice Department activity in the Clinton years that involved corruption and infringements on the civil liberties of private citizens. A whistle-blower in the IRS, John Filan, delivered up an 18-page blueprint sketching out the illegal activities and perhaps identifying the victims. Sources claim it contains some of the most illuminating revelations of IRS misconduct ever. Lawyers at the Clintons’ ever-reliable Washington firm of Williams and Connolly have bottled the report up since it was finished in August of 2004. Democrats and a couple of incompetent Republicans have seen to it that the report is gutted. This month the gutted report will be made public. The date is January 19. Safire seems to want investigative journalists to get the rest of the report out. Frankly I would like to see our elected legislators on Capitol Hill get the whole, unredacted report out.
If Senator Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had his way, the unredacted report might get out. His committee has oversight of the IRS and he thought a month or so back that he had the agreement of the three-judge panel overseeing Barrett to allow him to receive the unredacted report and make it public for the citizenry to see. Unfortunately Democrats on the Hill led by Senator Byron Dorgan, Senator Dick Durbin, and Congressman Henry Waxman have thwarted Grassley’s wishes by late-night legislative subterfuge. They were assisted in this project by two easily confused Republicans, Senator Kit Bond and Congressman Joe Knollenberg. Now the 120 pages of the report that outline illegal behavior by the IRS and Justice Department during the Clinton Administration will be suppressed unless the investigative journalists Safire hopes for get to work on the January 19 release. Of course Republican leaders Bill Frist and Denny Hastert could weigh in too. They head both houses of Congress.
Just before Christmas one of the perpetrators in the Democrats’ cover up, Senator Durbin, the Minority Whip, boldly asseverated that “We will initiate at the beginning of this year one of the most serious debates and discussions on Capitol Hill in our history about individual rights and liberties.” Well, I suggest that Frist and Hastert hold Durbin to his words. Surely Senator Grassley will be on their side.
This report by Independent Counsel Barrett is the first time in history that the unique powers of an Independent Counsel have been brought to bear on the IRS. With Barrett’s grand jury subpoena power he has, sources familiar with the report say, opened the internal workings of the IRS against private citizens for the first time. For ten years and at a cost of over $20 million to taxpayers Barrett has put together this important report. Surely the taxpayers have a right to see it.
Senator Durbin has declaimed his desire to look into the state of our “individual rights and liberties.” No agency of the federal government has more power to infringe on our rights and liberties than the IRS. Surely Durbin should be held accountable for suppressing this report. There are no legitimate grounds for not publicizing it in its entirety. The reports of every other Independent Counsel have been published in full, save for brief sections containing classified materials. Gutting a report of 120 pages of detailed government wrongdoing goes too far. Are Safire’s investigative reporters ready to pounce? Will Frist and Hastert rise to their responsibilities? Civil libertarians throughout the country should take note, and so should historians.
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