EDITORIAL: The ‘sinister force,’ afoot again

Deleted computer files recall an ‘18 minute gap’

The government war against Republican conservatives gets curiouser and curiouser. It’s not just the IRS, but a state government, too. The link between the IRS pursuit of Christine O'Donnell and the state of Delaware’s snooping through her federal tax records may be just a coincidence, but color us suspicious.

Most curious of all is the latest revelation, that the Delaware tax sleuths got on Miss O'Donnell’s case because someone from the office read in a Saturday newspaper that a federal tax lien had been filed against her, and took it as a tip. The newspaper account, believe it or not, turned out to be in error.

The ordeal for Miss O'Donnell is not over, but the lady in the blindfold bearing the scales of justice may be on the case, too. The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration, the chief monitor of the IRS, has formally reopened its investigation of the saga of the IRS and Christine O'Donnell.

State officials in Delaware told Congress that they would like to explain the details of how often they looked at Miss O'Donnell’s tax records, and the when and why, but all the computer records have been destroyed. When a government tries to explain corruption, incompetence, chicanery or its own criminality, it invariably invokes the convenience of coincidence. When pushed hard, blame the computer. The computer can’t talk back, and everyone knows the computer is getting too big for its glitches.

The unfolding IRS scandal, with its tales of high times and miscreants partying in Hawaii on the public dime, of incompetents at work in Cincinnati and well-meaning rogues in Washington, invokes not “coincidence” but recollection — the recollection of the infamous 18 minute gap in the tape that recorded a crucial conversation between President Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, about the break-in at the Watergate Hotel. The president’s chief of staff, Al Haig, speculated that the missing words in the 18 minute gap might have been erased by “a sinister force.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, like the rest of us, can’t figure out how an article in a newspaper, alleging no violation of law, was enough to justify entrance into that holiest of holies, the tax records of American taxpayers. “The state says it looked at Ms. O'Donnell’s federal tax records because of a newspaper article describing a federal tax lien against her,” the senator says. “Does the state look at every taxpayer who faces a federal tax lien, or only those who happen to appear in a newspaper article? Is it routine for a state employee to email his boss about looking at a taxpayer’s records on a Saturday, when the article appeared? It’s hard to evaluate what happened in the O’Donnell case without answering these questions, and I’ll continue to work to get more information.”

Good questions all. The White House scoffs that the scandals bedeviling Barack Obama’s second term are small stuff, not worth sweating. He continues to duck and weave. Nevertheless, the mystery deepens and the questions, drearily familiar to capital scandal-watchers, multiply. The “sinister force,” no stranger to Washington, is still afoot.

The Washington Times

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