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IRS, civil liberties scandals could cloud Obama’s second term

Roskam, Schock predict Friday IRS House Ways & Means Committee hearing to be explosive
Blog: Obama's civil liberties problem
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Updated: June 16, 2013 6:29AM



As the nation’s first African-American president and a liberal Democrat who promised change, Barack Obama was expected to emerge as a world leader who would break new barriers when it came to civil liberties.

Five months into President Barack Obama’s second term in office, scandals involving the erosion of Americans’ civil liberties are dominating headlines and threatening to dictate the narrative of Obama’s presidency for weeks, if not months, to come.

As the administration was reeling from a swelling scandal in which the IRS under Obama’s administration admitted it had targeted conservative groups for investigation, including those with the words “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their names, a new revelation emerged that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records belonging to Associated Press reporters and editors.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Justice Department and the FBI launched a criminal inquiry into allegations against the IRS.

“The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS,” Holder said. “We are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations.”

So far, that has done little to quell the firestorm of criticism facing the administration, with two Republican congressmen from Obama’s home state calling for answers – and change.

“It’s an unsettling day,” U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. Roskam, the GOP’s chief deputy whip, is a member of the powerful U.S. House Ways & Means Committee, which will hold what’s expected to be a significant and explosive hearing examining the IRS’ actions.

“It will not stand,” Roskam said. “Congress will not stand for it.”

Appearing before the committee will be Steve Miller, acting commissioner of the IRS, and Jay Russell George, Inspector General for Tax Administration from the U.S. Treasury.

U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock on Tuesday called for Miller’s resignation.

“As the evidence mounts there is one clear step that must be taken. The acting director, Steven Miller, must resign,” said Schock. “Either the top officials at the IRS are completely naïve with the information they have provided the committee or there is a serious dereliction of duty that has allowed these abuses to occur for years.”

Roskam said ultimately, Obama and his administration need to answer for the scandal, which will continue to haunt his presidency if there isn’t a full disclosure of what happened and why.

“I think the way the administration is handling it so far, makes that more likely,” he said of the scandal continuing to dog Obama. The congressman characterized the administration as releasing information in dribs and drabs, breathing new life into the story.

“This is the administration that ran on a theme of competence and the ability to govern well. The president has sold himself as a competent manager,” Roskam said.

“The power in of the IRS in the lives of individuals and the lives of businesses is difficult to overstate, they have tools and advantages and momentum … including very harsh penalties,” Roskam said. “It is difficult to overstate how unsettling it is when you come to learn that the people who are supposed to be collecting taxes on an objective basis, are moving a political agenda and are targeting groups,” based on a political agenda.

The American Civil Liberties Union pointed to the IRS scandal as “particularly alarming.”

“The IRS matter is particularly alarming and corrosive because what it suggests, of course, is the determination about how much attention you’re going to get from the government — how much scrutiny — is going to be determined by your political views and whether or not you’re going to express those views,” said Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois.

“That really is something that is troubling. The use of the IRS to do this is something that many of us from a civil liberties perspective have lamented for a long time.”

Late Tuesday, the president issued a statement saying he had read a Treasury Department report on the IRS scandal. He vowed to hold accountable those IRS employees who failed to be fair, impartial or act with the “utmost integrity.”

“The report’s findings are intolerable and inexcusable,” Obama said.

That story line was running up against another as details continued to emerge regarding the Justice Department seizing journalists’ phone records.

Associated Press president and chief executive officer Gary Pruitt called it a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.” Pruitt sent Holder a letter on Monday demanding the return of phone records and the destruction of any copies.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” Pruitt wrote.

“These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”



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