At some point, when Congress winks at enough criminal behavior by the Clinton administration, you have to conclude that the legislative branch of government is complicit in this unprecedented pattern of administrative law-breaking.

That’s my conclusion after the latest revelations of White House abuse of the Internal Revenue Service were whitewashed by the Congress.

The Capitol Hill newspaper, Roll Call, checked in with congressional leadership recently to find out the status of the investigation launched into IRS political abuse in early 1997. Its conclusion: “More than two years after it was supposed to be completed, the investigation remains unfinished and it may never be done, say people familiar with the work.”

Here’s the way the timetable has been fudged on this report: It was supposed to be issued Sept. 15, 1997. When that deadline was missed, congressional aides assured us it would be ready by the summer of 1998. That deadline was then moved to December 1998. And here we are nearly a year later and there is not even a hint that the report is close. There is some debate about whether the report will ever be issued. It kind of reminds me of the way Congress has attempted to balance the budget.

Based on the Roll Call report, there seems to be confusion in Congress even as to what they were investigating. The question should never have been whether the IRS was auditing groups and individuals because of their ideology. That was never my claim. Rather, the preponderance of evidence suggests that groups and individuals considered adversarial to the Clinton administration were targeted.

Think about it. The Heritage Foundation. The National Rifle Association. Citizens Against Government Waste. Concerned Women of America. The American Family Association. Christian Coalition. Paula Jones. Billy Dale. And so on. Paula Jones was not audited because of her politics. She doesn’t have any politics. She was audited because she was a thorn in the side of the Clinton White House.

Likewise, the Western Journalism Center, the non-profit parent company of, has no politics. It investigates political corruption by Republicans, Democrats and independents. It serves in the traditional watchdog role of the press. Why was it audited? Because, early on, it began investigating corruption in the Clinton administration.

By December 1994, the White House counsel’s office had taken notice of the center’s activities and targeted it in a “task memo” written by Jane Sherburne. In 1995, the center was the major focus of the 331-page Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce report written and distributed by the White House in association with the Democratic National Committee. A year later, the audit of the center was under way.

But even more compelling evidence of the political nature of the audit was discovered this summer. In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Treasury Department produced a report on the audit of the center. An investigation of the audit by Clinton’s own Treasury Department concluded that the process began when the White House sent a letter complaining about the center to the IRS’ exempt organizations division.

Did you catch that? The audit began when the White House sent a letter to the IRS complaining about the organization. That is prima facie evidence of political retribution by the White House. The fact that the White House is maintaining dossiers on individuals and groups critical of its policies is reason enough for concern and action by Congress. But lawmakers have, by their inaction, provided the White House with tacit approval of illegal and heavy-handed political pressure tactics.

This is something worse than an oversight by Congress. It is criminal contempt of its own responsibilities not to hold the president accountable to the people under the Constitution.

The time for hearings and phony reports is long overdue. Congress has the evidence before it. It has had ample time to investigate. Under the weak-kneed Republican leadership, the House and Senate have chosen to obfuscate, to excuse, to rationalize and to cover their own butts.

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