By Columnist Dick Morris
If the IRS/Tea Party scandal is at all reminiscent of the Watergate debacle that brought down a president in 1974, we may have just discovered the latter-day G. Gordon Liddy, the man who oversaw the chain of events that led to Nixon’s resignation.
Who would that be? Well, a good guess would be William Wilkins, Chief Counsel to the Internal Revenue Service. More and more evidence is sucking his office into the maelstrom of the IRS/Tea Party scandal.
Let’s take a look at him.
Wilkins is one of only two political appointees on the entire IRS staff. All of the other more than one hundred thousand employees in the agency are civil servants. Only Wilkins and the Director were directly chosen by Obama.
But there’s something else that’s worth knowing about Wilkins. He’s a long time Obama crony and Democratic donor who earned his spurs by successfully defending, pro bono (free), the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (Yes, that Reverend Wright) from charges that his radical politicization of his pulpit should deny his church tax exempt status. The event that triggered the IRS’ interest? Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speech to the congregation during the Democratic presidential primary campaign. Now does that sound like ‘political activity’?
Well, Wilkins was able to convince the IRS that it was not! He knows his stuff. Tax exempt organizations were one of Wilkins specialties in private practice. He knows the field, making him a likely key man in the emerging scandal. He’s not just a wealthy donor who was rewarded with a plum position who doesn’t know much about taxes. No, he’s an expert on the very area of tax law that is at the heart of the charges of politically motivated harassment of the Tea Party and other conservative groups by the IRS.
So you’d think he might be interested in what was going on.
At yesterday’s House Government Oversight hearing, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, there was testimony — for the first time — that as early as July, 2011, Wilkins’ office was involved in the decisions about the unprecedented targeting and unorthodox treatment of Tea Party organizations seeking tax exempt status.
What was patently clear from the testimony is that this illegal and improper operation wasn’t run by “rogue” IRS employees in Cincinnati, as the White House claims. Instead, it was run by rogue employees at the very top of the IRS and possibly the White House as well.
Carter Hull, recently retired after 48 years of service at the IRS, was the tax analyst in D.C. in charge of the Tea Party applications. Hull indicated that he was told by the top assistant to Lois Lerner (remember her? In May, she refused to testify and invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent) that Wilkins’ office had to review all of the tax exemption applications from Tea Party groups that Hull was overseeing. Hull noted that the one application that he had actually approved was immediately routed to Wilkins office for review. When Hull disagreed with the Counsel’s office and Lerner about how the Tea Party cases should be handled, the files were taken away from him and transferred to a woman with only several months experience at the IRS.
Hull also described a meeting about the Tea Party applications on August 4, 2011 where the IRS chief counsel’s office had three representatives present.
Here’s what the Inspector General’s Report stated in its timeline:
August 4, 2011
Rulings and Agreements office personnel held a meeting with Chief Counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue.
Sounds like the Chief Counsel knew about it, doesn’t it?
But Wilkins denies that he knew anything about the handling of the Tea Party cases. That’s hard to believe, because there’s uncontested evidence that his office was definitely involved. And, in addition, Wilkins was one of the top five officials in the IRS.
A close review of the Inspector General’s Report on the IRS and the Tea Party applications reveals that, in addition to the Chief Counsel’s office, the highest echelons of the IRS were aware of complaints about the treatment of the Tea Party applications in early 2012, and, in some cases, responded to complaints, particularly about disclosing donors. And the second or third highest official in the IRS, the Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement, told the team working on the applications that if there were complaints about “having to provide donor information” they would not have to send them at that time.
The IG Report also states that on March 23-27, 2012, high level officials discussed concerns about media attention to the Tea Party applications.
So the very top brass at the IRS knew about the problem in early 2012.
And now, there may be a direct link to the White House. Hull’s testimony revealed that Chief Counsel Wilkins’ office reviewed the draft criteria to be used in decided whether to approve the Tea Party applications for tax exemption.
And J. Russell George, the Inspector General who found inappropriate procedures regarding the Tea Party applications, indicated that on April 25th, 2012, Wilkins’ office provided Hull and Lerner “additional comments” on the draft criteria.
What is key about that date is that it comes just two days after Wilkins met with President Obama and the day after his boss, former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, saw the president at the White House.
On April 23, 2012, according to White House visitor logs, Wilkins had a meeting with President Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. There is no indication of what was discussed. On April 24, the day before the criteria for Tea Party groups was developed, former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman — the other of the two political appointees at the IRS — also visited the White House.
Well, even a coincidental meeting can result in an exchange of information.
NOTE: Here’s something of interest: When Dick worked in the Clinton White House, the Roosevelt Room was the only room where political activity could take place in the West Wing. We have no way of knowing of that is the case now.
These queries will undoubtedly be central to the next exciting episode of the Darrell Issa Show as the California Congressman seeks to penetrate the veil of deception and misdirection with which the Administration has cloaked the IRS scandal.
Before one could get to Nixon, one had to find G. Gordon Liddy and Chuck Colson behind the Watergate burglars. Before we can get to Obama, we needed to find William Wilkins. And now we might have the next G. Gordon Liddy.
Eileen McGann contributed to this column.