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June 1, 2013

Justice Dept., IRS abuses worth screaming about

By Sam Pollak
The Daily Star

---- — “If this had happened while a Republican was president, the liberal media would be screaming.”

We’ve been hearing that a lot lately from conservatives, and — for once — with good reason.

There’s the Justice Department’s ham-fisted attempts to learn how classified information got leaked to the news media, and then there is the Internal Revenue Service admitting that it has targeted tea party and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.

Setting aside for another day the question of whether the national news media is all that liberal, as a gun-hating, abortion- and gay-rights-supporting admirer of President Barack Obama … I’m screaming.

It’s not one of your short-lived, horror movie, chain saw victim screams, either. No, this is Edvard Munch, hands on the side of my face, Scream of Nature despair stuff.

While right wing politicians and their amen chorus in the media have made victimization and paranoia an art form, in this case they happen to be right about all this being scream-worthy.

The Department of Justice’s Mission Statement includes ensuring “public safety against threats foreign and domestic.” It also includes ensuring “fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”

In its efforts to accomplish the former, the Justice Department trampled on the latter.

It is an abomination.

Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration were catching a lot of heat, particularly from Republicans, over an information leak that led to an Associated Press account of an unsuccessful plan by terrorists to bomb a U.S. airplane.

Recusing himself because he had already been questioned about the leak to the AP, Holder left it to Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who decided to ask a judge for a secret subpoena of AP phone records.

The Justice Department apparently didn’t listen in on any conversations between AP reporters and their sources, but it knew who the reporters called and who called them. It’s almost impossible to overstate the chilling effect that could have.

While I doubt that any of the reporters were intimidated, the same can’t be said for the people they spoke to … or are likely to speak to in the future. Why would confidential sources or whistleblowers have anything to do with a reporter if they think the government will have a record of the call?

In 2010, our Justice Department also obtained subpoenas and search warrants for phone records, e-mails and security badge tracking of Fox News correspondent James Rosen. Rosen had revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency had a 2009 source in North Korea who said that country was about to conduct a nuclear weapons test.

Mr. Holder will be spending a lot of time over the next few months answering questions from Congress about his involvement in the Rosen matter. As well he should.

This isn’t about the problems of journalists, about which the public cares little. It’s about Americans’ right to unfettered and unintimidated information that only a free press can provide.

The IRS, perhaps the most unpopular government agency based on the fact that it takes everybody’s money, didn’t do itself — or this country — any good when it let politics infect its work.

We still don’t know all the facts, but what we know is bad enough. IRS agents in Cincinnati delayed approval of tax-exempt status for conservative groups over an 18-months period that included the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. The delays — while requests from liberal groups whizzed through — certainly didn’t help the conservatives’ fundraising efforts.

Clearly, that kind of thing stinks.

But the Republicans would be wise not to overplay a pat hand.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, looking ahead to what promises to be a tough re-election campaign, has an ad out this week giving the impression that Obama sicced the IRS on his political opponents.

That kind of unsubstantiated blather will only get in the way of what is clearly a major headache for the White House and for Democrats in the 2014 elections.

Also muddying the waters is continued bloviating by some in the GOP about the murders of four Americans in Benghazi. Unending investigations of that tragedy are rightly seen by most Americans as blatant politics — a transparent attempt to nick up former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the 2016 elections.

Isn’t it enough that between the IRS outrage and the Justice Department fiascos, a lot of Americans are wondering what kind of country we’re living in? Where is our freedom from government overreach? Where is our privacy?

Even if — as it seems quite likely — President Obama had no direct involvement in all of this, it’s still happening on his watch. As someone who voted for him twice, it’s mortifying to see these abuses occur under a Democratic administration.

And yes, it’s quite enough to make me want to scream.

Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208. His columns can be found at