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MARTIN: Using federal muscle to punish political enemies

Conservatives are targeted now, but liberals could be next

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The Internal Revenue Service unlawfully targeted American citizens who disagreed with the party in power — during an election season — then covered it up and lied about it.

This is a chilling revelation, for both the left and the right. It happened — not in China, not in North Korea and not in the Nixon administration during Watergate — but right here, right now, in America.

This scandal has erupted at a time when all the politicians talk about transparency and making information more available to Americans.

Now we know it went higher up in the IRS than originally known. The IRS and the White House have admitted to it. President Obama and White House spokesman Jay Carney declared it was indeed inappropriate for the IRS to target Tea Party groups, and the IRS itself admitted to abusing its immense government powers to single out and target groups of American citizens who dare to call themselves Tea Partyers or patriots.

What's worse, the IRS inspector general's draft report shows that the government has been targeting American patriots as far back as 2010.

IRS-gate is a true bipartisan scandal. We can all agree — Democrats, Republicans, independents and Tea Partyers — that the government does not have the authority to spy on, track or target its citizens in any political way. When the American Civil Liberties Union, Mother Jones and now even The New York Times agree that government abuse of power to target its own citizens is wrong, perhaps it signals an opportunity for us to end this partisan bickering and unite around a shared desire to return America to the constitutional government envisioned by our Founding Fathers — a system of a limited government that gave freedom to people of all political persuasions.

Now we've learned that the Department of Justice has been monitoring The Associated Press, tapping its phone lines and listening to the conversations of its reporters in what is being described as an "unprecedented intrusion." Since when does the government have the authority to spy on and single out the press, a violation of the First Amendment just as targeting Tea Party groups is a violation of that same principle?

What is the best way to prevent the government from abusing its power, like the IRS and now the Department of Justice appears to have done? A government whose power is limited would be held accountable and would not be allowed to single out and target American citizens with the power of its government agencies.

Over the past four years, the Tea Party Patriots has stood up — and often has stood alone — against the consolidation and abuse of power by the ruling elite in Washington from both political parties. We're learning now that unelected bureaucrats and elected representatives have disregarded their role as public servants and instead are acting as rulers to increase their own personal power and political positions.

During the 1972 election cycle, the Nixon administration was caught targeting its political opponents, and then caught trying to cover it up. Today, the IRS has been caught targeting American citizens and political opponents of the administration during an election year, and then caught trying to cover it up. Now we know that the so-called apologies from IRS officials were disingenuous: This was not some isolated incident, and it was not some low-level IRS office gone rogue. Our records show that Tea Party groups across America have been targeted as far back as 2010, and the recently released inspector general's draft report confirms what we have said all along. With Watergate and the unfolding IRS revelation, the crime was bad, but it was the cover-up that woke up the American people.

The IRS scandal involves one of the government's most powerful agencies — with the powers of search and seizure, and with the statutory authority to "make arrests without warrant for any offense against the United States relating to the Internal Revenue laws" — abusing its powers to unlawfully target American citizens during an election year.

It appears the agency committed crimes and violated the rights of American citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech and free assembly. Half-apologies are not sufficient reparation for violating the constitutional rights of United States citizens. Tea Party Patriots calls for a full congressional and possibly criminal investigation to uncover exactly what happened, who knew and when they knew it.

If conservative Americans can be targeted this way during a Democratic administration, then Democrats can be targeted during Republican administrations. That's why this is a bipartisan scandal, and that's why we all must join to honor the Constitution and stop these government abuses of power once and for all.

Jenny Beth Martin is co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots.

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