IRS Problem Not As Bad As They Are Making It, And Christie’s Role In An Affair That Was That Bad
Sunday, June 16th, 2013 by Ken
Many on the right are fond of saying that the IRS scandal is worse than Watergate. Another refrain from the right is that this is the worst scandal in our lifetimes. Darrel Issa has been moving heaven and earth to tie the affair to the White house with very little to show for his efforts. Without being able to prove the administration instructed the IRS to harass conservatives, Republicans are left grumbling about a general tone set by the president in which IRS agents sort of divined that they should make trouble for Obama opponents.
The firing of several US attorneys during the 2nd Bush administration is a very recent example of an administration instructing an independent department to attack political opponents. When some prosecutors declined to use their positions to attack Democrats, despite pressure from the Bush White house, they were fired. The investigation into those dismissals also uncovered an institutional politicization of the Justice Department in which applicants thought to be liberal were not allowed to take civil service positions.
By the end of the scandal 9 senior staff members of the Justice Department, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned.
Republicans would like nothing better than to make the IRS troubles a sort of scandal mirror image of the Bush administration’s Justice Department scandal. So far they are making a miserable failure of the attempt, despite the comparisons to Watergate and the overblown rhetorical descriptions of this being the worst abuse in our lifetimes.
One aspect of the Justice Department scandal which received very little notice is speculation that there were prosecutors who did use their positions to attack Democrats when they were pressured by the Bush administration. Since there never was much focus on this aspect there is little official proof of these types of political prosecutions. But there are two cases that stand out from my perspective.
First is the case of Alabama’s onetime Democratic governor Don Siegelman. In 2006 he was convicted of bribery and mail fraud, for appointing Richard Scrushy to a non paying position on the state hospital regulatory board, a position which Scrushy had served for 3 terms under previous Republican administrations. The supposed bribe was a donation Scrushy made to a fund for universal education which was supported by Siegelman. Siegelman did not receive one penny of that donation to his campaign or in personal renumeration. It would be as if someone donated half a million dollars to Planned Parenthood and then was appointed to a non paying oversight position, and whoever made that appointment (presumably being a supporter of Planned Parenthood) was considered to have taken a bribe.
Karl Roves fingerprints are all over this case. He expressed an interest in using the Justice Department to bring Siegelman down very early in the Bush administration, and he had close ties to the prosecutor in Alabama. I suspect that the Siegelman case provided a template for the Bush administrations use of prosecutors to attack political opponents.
The case of Don Siegelman is an absolute travesty of justice in which an innocent man was railroaded through the legal system and his life ruined, simply because of politics. President Obama should pardon the man immediately, if Siegelman would be willing to accept it.
Next is the case against New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. Put simply, conservatives really have it in for Senator Menendez. The most recent example of this grudge is the false allegation that he used prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Running with the story proved embarrassing to the Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson who wound up having to fend off allegations that he had paid the prostitutes to make their claims against Menendez. It may not have been Carlson handing out cash, but someone who really does not like the Senator was paying to smear him, and failed at the job.
But that recently debunked “scandal” was not the first brush Senator Menendez has had with Republicans bringing spurious charges against him. This is where the Bush Justice Department scandal, and speculation that some prosecutors buckled to administration pressure to attack Democrats comes into play.
During the Justice Department scandal a list of prosecutors that were targeted for firing came to light. One of the names on that list was US Attorney Christopher J Christie of New Jersey.
In the heat of the 2006 mid term election word leaked to the press that Senator Menendez was under investigation by the US Justice Department, and that subpoenas had been issued for a non profit organization with ties to Menendez. At the time this was a bombshell, and Republicans did not spare the rod while beating Menendez with it. Menendez won the election because it was a Democratic wave year, but the relationship between Menendez and Christie has been ice cold since then. The timing of the subpoena’s directly contradict Justice Department guidelines that “[A]ny criminal investigation by the Department must be conducted in a way that eliminates, or at least minimizes, the possibility that the investigation itself will become a factor in the election.”
The timing of the Menendez subpoena was opportune for Republicans to say the least. Christie had previously charged Republican officials with corruption (which may be why his name was on the list of attorneys to be canned) so any sort of question that the Menendez subpoena was politically timed was not considered seriously. Yet several years later the prosecutor given the case when Christie was elected governor took the unusual step of publicly clearing Menendez of any wrongdoing in the affair, leading many who had once championed Christie’s handling of the issue to reconsider.
The curious timing of the Christie-Menendez investigation makes me (and others) wonder if Christie didn’t play a part in the Justice Department scandal that bears more scrutiny. Despite his name being on the list for termination, Christie kept his job. That scandal and pressuring prosecutors to make politically motivated prosecutions is a real world example of an overbearing and corrupt administration going off the rails to attack their political opponents. Obama’s tone setting and atmospheric signals do not compare to that, but I’m certain Issa and the rest of the right would like to prove otherwise, if only they could.
Democrats may be enjoying the spectacle of Christie pissing off the Republican base, but he is only doing it because it is good for him politically. That is really what motivates Christie at the end of the day. His decision to hold a special election within a month of a scheduled statewide election is the latest example. It may be to the benefit of Democrats so we think it’s ok, and Republicans are steamed about it, but he is on tape talking about what would happen if Senator Frank Lautenberg died. Christie specifically ruled out a special election due to the cost, but the prospect of having Cory Booker on the ballot with him was enough motivation for Christie to completely backtrack on that.
Christie is primarily motivated by what is best for his career, and right now his interests are best served by being a bit irritating to the Republican base. Christie turned down the Freedom Values Confab, or whatever they called it, to go buddy up with Bill Clinton in Chicago this year. But I will be positively shocked if we do not see Christie veer sharply to the right after the coming election. He is following a tried and true formula to win the Republican nomination. Early on be centrist, then when the race for the nomination starts go full on caveman conservative on the base to win their support.
I just hope that New Jersey Democrats who are thinking of voting for him in November are not too bitterly disappointed when he turns into a raging conservative a-hole as we start to approach the 2016 primary season.