As regular visitors to this space know, we miss no opportunity to poke fun at the federal government’s penchant for clinging desperately to the trailing edge of technology. So it might be understandable that we might hear of the latest tech-related foul-up in the nation’s capital and barely take notice. Nevertheless, the explanation of why Internal Revenue Service emails Congress is seeking in connection with its probe of alleged IRS targeting of conservative political groups sounds to us too inept to be believed.
According to explanations proffered by IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and lesser agency officials, every device or service on which the email messages members of Congress want to see should be stored have either malfunctioned or been dispensed with. This is the most implausible explanation for vanished information since the Nixon White House put forward the “Rosemary Woods Stretch” to explain the erasure of 18 minutes of potentially incriminating conversation about the Watergate break-in recorded by the Oval Office voice taping system.
Using the IRS to punish Nixon administration political enemies and anti-Vietnam War activists was one of the “White House Horrors” that led to Nixon’s resignation in August 1974.
U.S. Archivist David Ferriero told a House committee this week that IRS officials “did not follow the law” concerning the lost emails. We’re not suggesting President Barack Obama has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, but he and members of Congress have fostered an atmosphere in Washington, D.C., that suggests using the nearly unlimited power of government to silence political opponents is acceptable. This wasn’t acceptable 40 years ago and it is no less objectionable today.