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The slow wheels of Congress

It’s been more than a year since Congress authorized the Join Committee on Taxation to investigate charges, raised by me in a Wall Street Journal piece in October 1996, that the Internal Revenue Service was selectively targeting for audits non-profit groups critical of the Clinton administration.

Last month, after no small amount of badgering by yours truly, I finally got the chance to tell committee staff about my own experiences as executive director of a targeted non-profit as well as the results of our own investigative reporting efforts into IRS abuses. It was a somewhat depressing experience.

The committee staff was respectful, attentive and concerned. Yet, after reflecting on this experience for a few weeks, I strongly doubt any good will come from this investigation. I expect the the staff will prepare a professional report that will raise good questions — perhaps even make strong recommendations. And that will be the end of it.

No hearings. No subpoenas. No indictments. No accountability.

I base this conclusion, in part, on the model of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee probe into campaign finance violations. To read the report is to be convinced that the highest offices of our government have been compromised by foreign money and foreign intelligence. There’s a case for treason charges against both the president and vice president. There’s just no question both were involved in a sordid conspiracy to collect illegal foreign campaign contributions from shady characters suspected of spying for Communist China. The overwhelming evidence has been met with a collective yawn from the establishment press. Thus, my guess is the report will collect dust on a shelf somewhere.

If Congress and the press are not going to get excited about a plot by a hostile foreign power to use campaign contributions to infiltrate the United States government, they probably won’t think using the IRS as a political weapon is any big deal, either.

It is a big deal, though. Unfortunately, the Joint Committee on Taxation’s mandate is too narrow to allow members to see the big picture. When I tried to demonstrate the broad pattern of IRS harassment of Clinton political enemies, I gave examples of individuals and for-profit corporations which had been targeted. I was reminded by staff that the committee was only investigating IRS treatment of non-profits.

My sense is that many members of the House and Senate are intimidated by this administration. They don’t won’t to turn over too many rocks for fear of what they might find. On more than one occasion I’ve been asked by members of Congress to investigate government corruption that they themselves were afraid to probe. It’s unrealistic, given the lack of courage and vision in the House and Senate leadership, that this Congress will get to the bottom of any major Clinton administration scandal. I only hope I am proved wrong.

So where do we go for justice? I guess the only recourse is the courts. Since Congress is obviously not interested in asserting its authority, exposing corruption or holding public officials accountable, those of us who still believe in justice must seek it through the judicial branch of government.

Of course, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr has also proved ineffective at catching the big fish. While Attorney General Janet Reno pretends there are no big fish worth catching. So that may leave much of the leg work to public-interest legal outfits such as Larry Klayman’s Judicial Watch.

My organization, the Western Journalism Center, has teamed up with Judicial Watch to explore just what we can do through the courts to pursue justice with regard to the issue of politically motivated audits — whether they are directed by rogue IRS agents or the White House. We expect to make an announcement about our intentions and our specific plan of action shortly. Suffice it to say we will never rest until every legal recourse has been exhausted.

Only when groups such as Judicial Watch and the Western Journalism Center make enough noise and rally enough popular support will the press establishment awaken from its slumber and Congress overcome its apprehension about doing its job.