There is no way of knowing for sure, but it’s a good bet that those around George Washington applied the PD standard when it was discovered that land speculators — including some in his family — sold the nation a bunch of swampland for the site of the District of Columbia. Since then, it would be difficult to find a chief executive except William Henry Harrison, who died almost before he got started, who hasn’t benefited from this policy.
So it’s no surprise that the counsel to President Barack Obama and possibly other aides decided not to tell the boss that the Internal Revenue Service was being investigated for some bad decisions — which, to the general public and anyone who isn’t in complete denial, seemed pretty much like an effort to “get” the president’s conservative enemies.
The furor over such Nixonian activities, they reasoned correctly, would be huge. Everything possible should be done to keep the rub-off on the boss as small as possible, including his getting out front by denouncing such dastardly business maybe even before the Inspector General’s report came out.
Former Attorney General Edwin Meese, who had been one of Ronald Reagan’s key advisers for years, including service as his White House chief of staff, was at the Justice Department when he found out about the effort to sell weapons to Iran and use the money to finance the Nicaraguan contras.
Meese, a very smart man and obviously an honest one, blew the whistle, knowing full well that this could be a very bad problem for the president and his administration.
Fortunately for Reagan, the investigation by a special prosecutor, who spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars, never could prove the president knew in advance of the deal. Plausible Deniability worked.
Nixon probably would have won the PD game had it not been for his penchant for keeping detailed records of his days in office, including the recordings of his Oval Office conversations that ultimately did him in. It’s tough to claim lack of knowledge under those circumstances. Perhaps he should have listened to Democratic Rep. Joe Waggoner of Louisiana when he advised him in a telephone conversation shortly after revelation “to burn the tapes.”
The matter of “What did Obama know, and when did he know it?” — a question posed first about Nixon by Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee, as ranking Republican on the Senate Watergate Committee — may seem especially relevant in this case.
But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to determine.
But the decision to conduct an activity that any prudent man, even a lower-level drone in Cincinnati, would understand is political dynamite had to come from somewhere.
Whose idea was it?
Who decided that organizations applying for tax-exempt status with Tea Party or Patriot in their names needed intense scrutiny as possible scams?
That obviously will be the focus of a scandal that isn’t going away and will have ramifications as far away as next year’s mid-term elections.
So far, no one is lining up to accept the blame or point fingers. The head of the IRS during Obama’s first term, Douglas Shulman, has testified to Congress that he was upset it happened on his watch.
He also said that he kept himself apart from such activities because he was a political appointee.
Are you kidding me? Where do we get guys with this kind of judgment?
There is ample evidence that the White House was involved with the Treasury much earlier than first believed on how to get ahead of the game, to keep the whole business from blowing up in their faces. Guess what? It did.
What is difficult to swallow is that such a potentially explosive scenario would be kept from the man who, Plausible Deniability notwithstanding, is going to take the heat: Barack Obama.
Dan Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.