Sunday talk shows on NBC, CBS, and ABC compared reports that the Internal Review Service (IRS) applied extra scrutiny to conservative groups to President Nixon's Watergate scandal, a comparison which people who worked on both sides of the Watergate scandal agree is baseless.
IRS Inspector General Report Found Agency Used “Inappropriate Criteria” For Some Tax-Exempt Applicants
IG Report: “IRS Used Inappropriate Criteria” For Some Conservative Applicants. On May 14, the IRS' Inspector General released a report on how the IRS applied additional scrutiny to some conservative applicants for federal tax-exempt status. As CNN reported, the IG report found “lax oversight at the Internal Revenue Service allowed for the singling out of some conservative groups, resulting in lengthy delays in the processing of their applications for federal tax-exempt status, according to a report by the agency's inspector general released Tuesday.” CNN went on:
The report found that for more than 18 months beginning in early 2010 the IRS developed and followed a faulty policy to determine whether the applicants were engaged in political activities, which would disqualify the groups from receiving tax-exempt status.
“The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention,” according to the report. [CNN.com, 5/15/13]
President Obama Deemed IRS' Actions “Intolerable And Inexcusable” And Ordered That Corrective Action Be Taken. The White House released a statement on May 14 condemning the IG report's findings as “intolerable and inexcusable,” as the “federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS.” From the White House statement:
I have now had the opportunity to review the Treasury Department watchdog's report on its investigation of IRS personnel who improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And the report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable. The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.
I've directed Secretary Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General's recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again. [WhiteHouse.gov, 5/14/13]
Network Sunday Shows Invoked Nixon's Watergate Scandal Amid IRS Discussions
CBS' Schieffer: “I Do Not Think This Is Watergate By Any Stretch,” But Obama's Response Is “Exactly The Approach That The Nixon Administration Took.” On the May 19 edition of CBS' Face The Nation, host Bob Schieffer asserted that he didn't want to invoke a Watergate comparison to the IRS' actions, but then told Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer that the Obama administration took “exactly the approach that the Nixon administration took”:
PFEIFFER: This is a Republican playbook here. Which is, try -- when they don't have a positive agenda -- try to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped-up hearings, and false allegations. We aren't going to let that distract us and the president from actually doing the people's work and fighting for the middle class.
SCHIEFFER: You know, I don't want to compare this in any way to Watergate. I do not think this is Watergate by any stretch. But you weren't born then, I would guess, but I have to tell you that is exactly the approach that the Nixon administration took. They said, “These are all second-rate things, we don't have time for this, we have to devote our time to the people's business.” You're taking exactly the same line that they did. [CBS News, Face the Nation, 5/19/13]
WSJ Columnist Noonan Defends Claim That “We Are In The Midst Of The Worst Washington Scandal Since Watergate.” On NBC's Meet The Press, Peggy Noonan discussed her May 17 Wall Street Journal column in which she claimed that "[w]e are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate." When host David Gregory asked Noonan if her Watergate comparison was an overstatement, Noonan defended her claims, saying, “This IRS thing is something I've never seen in my lifetime.” [NBC News, Meet The Press, 5/19/13]
Wash. Post Columnist George Will: IRS Evokes Watergate As “It's The Use Of The Federal Machinery To Punish Enemies Of The Administration.” On the May 19 edition of ABC's This Week, host George Stephanopoulos asked panelist George Will if he still believed that the IRS scandal evoked “echoes of Watergate,” as Will had written in his Washington Post column last week. Will responded, “Sure, in the sense, it's the use of the federal machinery to punish enemies of the administration.” [ABC News, This Week, 5/19/13]
But Those Familiar With Watergate Say There Is “No Evidence” That The IRS' Actions Are Comparable To The Nixon Scandal
Carl Bernstein: “We Have No Evidence” That Obama Used The IRS For Retribution. Politico reported that Carl Bernstein, one of the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate scandal, deflated the idea that the IRS targeting was comparable to Watergate. From Politico:
But Bernstein said that conservatives who are eager to equate the IRS scandal to Watergate should hold their horses.
While the Nixon-era IRS investigated his political enemies and subjected them to audits, it did so at the direction of the president and his aides. No evidence has emerged linking Obama or the White House to the IRS scandal.
“In the Nixon White House, we heard the president of the United States on tape saying 'Use the IRS to get back on our enemies,'” said Bernstein, whose reporting helped lead to Nixon's eventual resignation. “We know a lot about President Obama, and I think the idea that he would want the IRS used for retribution -- we have no evidence of any such thing.” [Politico, 5/13/13]
Former Nixon White House Counsel: Anyone Comparing Obama To Nixon Is “Challenged In Their Understanding Of History.” John Dean, a former top aide to President Nixon, told The Boston Globe that "[t]here are no comparisons" between the IRS' actions and Watergate. The Boston Globe reported:
As startling as the reports have been in recent days -- from the IRS targeting of conservative groups to the Justice Department seizing phone records of the Associated Press -- one Nixonian element so far is missing: There has been no evidence that Obama himself ordered or knew about the actions.
“I find the comparison -- that whoever is making the analysis is challenged in their understanding of history,” John Dean, who was White House counsel during the Nixon administration, said in an interview. “There are no comparisons. They're not comparable with any of the burgeoning scandals.”
And Dean is in a position to know. Nearly 41 years ago, Dean was with Nixon in the Oval Office on a Friday afternoon when the president wondered aloud about utilizing the powers of the IRS to target his political opponents. [The Boston Globe, 5/17/13]
Wash. Post On Watergate: “Mr. Obama Has Done Nothing Of The Kind.” The Washington Post editorial board wrote on May 16 that with regards to Watergate, “Mr. Obama has done nothing of the kind,” in an editorial headlined “Obama a new Nixon? Oh, get serious.” The editorial board said of the IRS reports:
We still don't have a full picture of how the practice originated, how high in the administration knowledge of it rose and how members of Congress came to be repeatedly misinformed on the subject. But there is so far no evidence of White House knowledge or instigation of the practice. [The Washington Post, 5/16/13]
Associate Academic Director, University Of California: “The Comparisons To Nixon Are Hyperbolic.” In a May 17 op-ed for The Washington Post, Matthew Dallek, associate academic director at the University of California Washington Center, wrote that Watergate “remains a scandal unlike any other in modern times”:
[L]et's be clear: The comparisons to Nixon are hyperbolic. Watergate, with its unique depth of criminality, remains a scandal unlike any other in modern times, and the echoes today reveal far more about the culture of Washington than about the supposed similarity between Obama's troubles and Nixon's crimes. [The Washington Post, 5/17/13]