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Am I crazy, or is the biggest scandal of the Clinton administration — and any other modern White House, including Richard Nixon’s — being swept under the rug?
I am referring to the political manipulation of the Internal Revenue Service to attack Clinton’s critics and adversaries. Even Nixon didn’t successfully use the IRS to go after his enemies — though he tried. Yet, there is compelling, prima facie evidence that Clinton is doing it and getting away with it.
Of course, the establishment press isn’t interested in this story — even though it was a journalistic institution — my own Western Journalism Center — that was one of the victims and it was me, a “mainstream” journalist, who blew the whistle on the abuse nearly a year ago. But, you have to wonder why this pathetic, directionless, agenda-less Congress can’t focus on the simple facts long enough to challenge this serious threat to everything for which America stands.
Let’s review what we know. In 1994, the Western Journalism Center hooked up with investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy to sponsor a full-time investigation of the still-mysterious death of White House Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster. Now, you would think that if we were chasing wild geese, the Clinton administration would have a good laugh about our efforts and be happy and relieved we were wasting our time on a dead-end story rather than focusing on one of a dozen other serious White House scandals. But that was not the case.
By December 1994, a memo prepared by White House Associate Counsel Jane Sherburne shows, the administration was mobilizing an all-out effort to discredit Ruddy and the Western Journalism Center. It is clear that one of the ways the White House did this was by using its many friends in the press. Though the Sherburne memo doesn’t specifically mention the possibility of an IRS audit, there is reason to believe the agency had already been drawn into the disinformation program by the time the memo was prepared.
The Western Journalism Center was referred to in Sherburne’s task list as the Western Center for Journalism. There is only one place in Washington, D.C., where the center is known by that name — you guessed it, at the IRS. Western Center for Journalism is the name we use for tax-filing purposes only. Everywhere else — in all of our brochures, our letterhead, our newspaper ads, etc. — we have used the name Western Journalism Center.
So, it appears that somebody in the White House had already at least done some signficant research on the center and possibly even pulled our IRS file.
Then, in 1995, the White House began a quiet, but full-scale, media black operation against the center. That was the year the very same White House counsel’s office, in cooperation with the Democratic National Committee, prepared the infamous 331-page “Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce” report alleging that the center, and two other news agencies, the American Spectator and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, were at the source of a “media food chain” disseminating scandalous stories about the administration.
This report, full of inaccuracies and including a five-page biography of me, the only journalist so profiled, was then distributed to select reporters around the country. It was not until a year later that we even learned of its existence from two reporters — one from the New York Times and the other from the Philadelphia Inquirer. When we did learn that the White House was keeping files on us and distributing misleading reports, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the material. In typical Clinton administration style, the White House’s response said that no such files existed and claimed privilege under the FOIA statute in the event any such files did exist.
To this day, my friends, the White House has refused dozens of written and telephoned requests from my organization for even the report it distributed to hundreds of other media outlets. This is not only a gross abuse of power and misuse of taxpayer funds for overtly political purposes, it demonstrates how far this administration will go to attack its adversaries.
It was also in 1995 that the administration began a campaign to dry up Western Journalism Center’s sources of funds. In one instance, then-Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary point-blank told one of our major donors that if he gave any more money to the Western Journalism Center his federal contracts would be in jeopardy.
In early 1996, I began hearing rumors that the Western Journalism Center had “tax problems.” Several potential donors mentioned they had heard that the IRS was preparing to shut us down. Friends told me that we were being audited. In other words, a whisper campaign against us had been initiated.
Then, in June 1996, lo and behold, we were notified that our 1995 tax return was indeed being audited. The very first visit by an IRS field agent to our accountant, John Roux, revealed that this was no ordinary or routine audit. Most of the document requests and questions had little to do with our fund-raising operation or our bookkeeping practices. Instead, they dwelled on the content of our First Amendment-protected investigative reporting — notably, Chris Ruddy’s work.
When the accountant offered a mild protest, he was told by the IRS field agent, Thomas Cederquist: “Look, this is a political case, and the decision is going to be made at the national level.” He was to make similar statements on at least two more occasions.
As the document requests multiplied and the agent informed us in advance of an investigation that he was persuaded that we were not a legitimate “educational organization,” I went public, in the form of a column in the Wall Street Journal that blew the lid off the political audits being conducted against not just the Western Journalism Center, but many other Clinton administration critics in the non-profit world.
Initially, there was a firestorm of controversy generated. The Wall Street Journal editors, God bless them, published no less than four editorials on the subject. The Washington Times and Washington Post published some stories, as did a few others in the “establishment media.” Robert Novak made our scoop his “Outrage of the Week” on “Capital Gang,” and even Margaret Carlson agreed with him. Even the American Civil Liberties Union expressed some initial interest in representing the center in a possible lawsuit against the government. But, predictably, partisan politics ruled the day at the ACLU, and cooler heads prevailed.
In February 1997, a few months later, IRS Commissioner Margaret Milner Richardson announced her resignation. The New York Post and others attributed her decision to the controversy over the political audits. Within two months, Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation announced a bipartisan decision to investigate the charges of such political abuses by the IRS. A report would be prepared by Sept. 15, the committee promised.
But, like so many other big ideas that begin in Congress, other matters — like the budget reconciliation process — took precedence. A few weeks ago, the committee staff announced that the report would have to wait, perhaps until the end of the year, perhaps longer. Not a single witness has been questioned. Not a single document subpoenaed.
Is this the end? Not if I have anything to say about it. A few months ago, after costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost contributions and tens of thousands in legal and accounting costs, the IRS cleared the center of any wrongdoing and extended our tax-exempt status as an educational organization. As soon as I was notified that the case was closed, I filed a Freedom of Information Act demand for our entire case file, including any and all memos to and from other government offices.
Unless documents are destroyed or “lost,” I am certain they will prove that the Western Journalism was targeted for political reasons. But that’s a big “unless.”
What an opportunity Congress has to raise the stakes by issuing subpoenas for this material. I don’t expect the Joint Committee On Taxation will do it. But, just last week, I received an interesting call from Sen. Fred Thompson’s Governmental Affairs Committee. It seems the staff is interested in expanding the scope of its current hearings into campaign financing abuses and is beginning to explore the issue of political audits by the IRS.
Will this probe, too, go by the wayside? Possibly. In fact, definitely without some pressure from down below. The public has forgotten about this heinous abuse of power by the White House and IRS because the press let the issue die.
If you want to live in a country where people are targeted by the IRS for political reasons, all you have to do is nothing. Because that’s what we’ve got. But, if you want to live in a free country, again, where we play by rules and where innocent people exercising their First Amendment rights have nothing to fear from the government, you had better speak up now.