Commentary Magazine


Topic: corruption

Hillary’s Emails Raise Questions That Require Answers

In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

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In case you thought the special House committee investigating the Benghazi attack is a waste of time, think again. It was inquiries from that panel that led to the discovery of the fact that Hillary Clinton only used a private email account during her time as secretary of state. This revelation is, to understate the matter, a very curious business. Though not the first such cabinet official to use a private account, she appears to be the first to only use one, a violation of federal regulations that require all such communications to be preserved. At the very least this is the sort of thing that will fuel the imaginations and the energy of conspiracy theorists. But even those of us who are not afflicted by Clinton derangement syndrome (the forerunner of the syndromes that have popped up since then in reaction to the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama), the existence of untold numbers of emails that may never see the light of day raises some serious questions about her lack of transparency. But in a political career that has always blurred the line between personal and public, Clinton must also be prepared to answer even more worrisome queries about possible connections between her husband’s fundraising from foreign powers and her conduct in office and future plans for the presidency.

In addressing Clinton’s violation of the rules, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. Conspiracy theorists notwithstanding, the former first lady and secretary of state isn’t guilty of a host of possible crimes until she can prove herself innocent. But we needn’t raise the ghost of Vince Foster or Whitewater, let alone indict her on charges of sending men to their deaths in Benghazi or selling the country down the river to Persian Gulf oil states, to accept the fact that this highly suspicious.

As an expert in the field told the New York Times:

“It is very difficult to conceive of a scenario — short of nuclear winter — where an agency would be justified in allowing its cabinet-level head officer to solely use a private email communications channel for the conduct of government business,” said Jason R. Baron, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath who is a former director of litigation at the National Archives and Records Administration.

At the very least, the bizarre decision to forgo a government email while serving as secretary of state is a violation of the rules that apply to all those in high office. The regulations exist since all such emails are government records, much the same as correspondence and dispatches were in the era when snail mail was the only form of written communication. Government accounts are also far more secure than any personal account, a factor that Clinton was irresponsible to ignore in this era of cyber warfare. She was not the only secretary of state to use a personal account. But she’s the only to use it exclusively. As such, none of her emails were preserved during her time in office. It is only subsequent to her leaving her post to prepare for a presidential run that her staff began the process of sorting through her emails and deciding which of them should be sent to the government to be archived.

That the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee would behave in this manner is not all that surprising. The Clintons are legendary for their conspiratorial mindset and lack of transparency. But despite her spokesperson’s claim that she followed the letter and the spirit of the law, we are still left with the question of who got to decide which of her emails were private and which was government business and what were the criteria they used.

But as our Seth Mandel wrote last month when the scandal about foreign governments being solicited for donations by the former president while his wife ran U.S. foreign policy broke, transparency is not a minor concern when it comes to the Clintons. We don’t have to assume that she was personally participating in this highly corrupt practice to be curious about whether the same email account that she used to conduct business was also receiving communications about her husband’s success in shaking down governments for contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative. The mixing of her government business with her family’s private ambitions was bad enough even if one doesn’t take for granted, as we probably must, that all such donations were bribes aimed at winning the good will of a secretary of state, if not a future president. But now that we know that her emails were not automatically being preserved for the archive, it’s not unreasonable to worry that somewhere in this treasure trove of information are some nuggets that may not put her and her affable spouse in a flattering light, if not legal jeopardy.

If Clinton is smart, she will repress her instinctual reflex to stonewall and release her emails as Jeb Bush, one of the people who hope to oppose her in November 2016, has done. At the very least she should choose someone not associated with her family political machine to go through these communications and redact those that are truly personal. If not, she shouldn’t be surprised if this issue haunts her throughout the coming election year. More to the point, if Clinton doesn’t realize how damning this looks and the need to be above board when running for president, she will be disqualifying herself for the job.

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New Revelations Show IRS Is Judge, Jury, Executioner–And Grave Robber

The most important piece of information about the IRS’s targeting of conservative and pro-Israel groups is this: it is still going on. Politico reported yesterday that there are two categories of groups still being delayed and silenced by the IRS’s tax-exempt apparatchiks. The first category is Karl Rove (and his Crossroads organization). The second category is financially strapped mom-and-pop shops who have been driven into debt by the IRS’s corrupt practices in which critics of the Obama administration are deprived of some of their constitutional rights.

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The most important piece of information about the IRS’s targeting of conservative and pro-Israel groups is this: it is still going on. Politico reported yesterday that there are two categories of groups still being delayed and silenced by the IRS’s tax-exempt apparatchiks. The first category is Karl Rove (and his Crossroads organization). The second category is financially strapped mom-and-pop shops who have been driven into debt by the IRS’s corrupt practices in which critics of the Obama administration are deprived of some of their constitutional rights.

The story notes that this contradicts new IRS director John Koskinen’s claim that the agency “completed” its set of recommendations to get the corruption under control. As of this week, it’s still taking place. What this means in practice is that these groups, some of which applied several years ago, are still in limbo, unable to proceed. The point is to destroy the groups by bankrupting and suffocating them. Politico quotes a former IRS official using the agency’s term for this: “death by bureaucratic delay.”

Here’s how it plays out for the groups the government’s weaponized tax collectors set out to crush:

The years-long delay has gutted these groups’ membership, choked their ability to raise funds, forced them to reserve pots of money for possible back taxes and driven them into debt to pay legal bills.

“If you say the targeting issues have been resolved … how come we still haven’t received a determination one way or the other?” asked Rick Harbaugh, leader of the Albuquerque Tea Party, which has been waiting five years for its tax exemption. “We are still being targeted.”

Rove’s Crossroads group can afford being the target of a government campaign against those who would or should appear on the president’s enemies list (though obviously the IRS’s behavior is still morally repulsive). But what about all the others? Here’s one example:

At one point, for example, Unite in Action, a group that’s been on hold for more than 1,700 days, looked poised for growth. With members in various states and a mission to “prepare current and future generations to be guardians of our Constitutional Republic,” it quickly built a nationwide following, fundraising $600,000 to throw a multiday rally on conservative priorities in Washington, D.C., in 2010. Thousands attended.

IRS agents flagged its tax-exempt application, citing a blog post that said “fire Timothy Geithner,” then the Treasury secretary, and “demand Joe Biden apologize,” according to leaked IRS documents from 2011.

When the IRS asked Unite in Action for its list of donors, their occupations and addresses, the group’s finances took a nosedive.

“We told everybody that we will in no circumstances surrender that … [donor] information, but it still has dried up about 95 percent of the fundraising that we were able to do prior,” said current president Jay Devereaux, who joined the group in 2009. The IRS would later apologize for asking for groups’ donors, which it said was inappropriate.

Now Unite in Action is $16,000 in debt and operates on an annual budget of $8,000 to $10,000.

That case is an important one, because the IRS admitted afterwards that its own actions were inappropriate. There is no debate, in other words, about the injustice of the government’s actions here. But that didn’t stop the government from destroying a growing group and plunging it into debt because it dared criticize the administration of Dear Leader.

They lose donors and members “out of fear and frustration.” Some groups, Politico notes, “went belly-up while waiting.” That’s the point of the death-by-delay targeting. In other cases, the IRS demanded back taxes to try to pick the pockets of the activists one more time before the groups faded away. The IRS is both executioner and grave robber.

It’s also been engaged in a cover-up, and new revelations suggest that cover-up may be exactly as illegal as it looks: which is to say, very.

Politico reports on the congressional testimony of the IRS’s inspector general J. Russell George and his deputy, Timothy Camus. They revealed that the IRS actually withheld communication and evidence related to Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the abuse-of-power scheme:

In addition, TIGTA learned two weeks ago there were more than 400 additional back-up tapes that IRS did not disclose to the agency for examination when it opened its probe last summer and asked for all the relevant back-ups, said Deputy IG for Investigations Timothy Camus. They believe those could include more Lerner emails from 2011.

“There is potential criminal activity,” Camus said when pressed by Republicans.

And unsurprisingly, the Democrats in Congress are aiding in the cover-up by attacking the inspector general. These Democrats, including Virginia’s Gerry Connolly, want an investigation into the investigator. For whatever reason, the Democrats continue to act as though any serious investigation will be damaging to them.

And the Justice Department, led by outgoing attorney general Eric Holder, is lending its own support to the abuse of power. One of the reasons the IRS has given for the continued delay on some applications is that those applications are the subject of litigation and therefore the Justice Department has a say. But of course the Justice Department is not seriously investigating the administration or its political allies, so it’s a cover and an excuse to deny justice. It’s a scam.

The IRS, by the way, has basically proved that it shouldn’t be the free-speech gatekeeper not only because it’s unconstitutional but also because it’s simply incapable of respecting the rights of ordinary Americans. For example, the IRS, according to Politico, made the groups an offer: “immediate approval if they pledged to spend less than 40 percent of their time and resources on political campaigns. But several of the groups dismissed that option on principle, calling it unfair because it was a stricter standard than other 501(c)(4)s had to abide by.”

Precisely. The IRS told groups they could surrender a portion of their rights to which they are legally entitled and the IRS would allow them to retain the remaining portion of their free-speech rights. This is the behavior of an organized crime syndicate, not a governmental institution of a free country. It is extortionate, deeply immoral, and a permanent stain on the agency and the politicians who enabled it.

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Call Clinton Foundation Action What It Was: Corruption

So, it’s now become clear that the Clinton Foundation violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, which had been drawn up to avoid conflicts of interest when President Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to become his secretary of state. Because the Clinton Foundation often received donations from foreign states and Hillary Clinton didn’t want her tenure in Foggy Bottom to drain the Foundation of the funds upon which it came to rely, Obama administration lawyers hashed out an agreement in which foreign states could donate, but only if they had donated before and only if they did not provide additional money beyond what had been their previous practice.

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So, it’s now become clear that the Clinton Foundation violated its ethics agreement with the Obama administration, which had been drawn up to avoid conflicts of interest when President Obama tapped Hillary Clinton to become his secretary of state. Because the Clinton Foundation often received donations from foreign states and Hillary Clinton didn’t want her tenure in Foggy Bottom to drain the Foundation of the funds upon which it came to rely, Obama administration lawyers hashed out an agreement in which foreign states could donate, but only if they had donated before and only if they did not provide additional money beyond what had been their previous practice.

In 2010, however, the Algerian government, through its embassy in Washington D.C., allegedly gave the Clinton Foundation $500,000 in theory to support earthquake relief in Haiti. Now, the Haitian earthquake was devastating, and Algeria doesn’t have an embassy in Port-au-Prince and so on the surface, a donation is plausible.

But to believe that Algeria chose the Clinton Foundation randomly or because it was best positioned to work in Haiti beggars belief. After all, the Clinton Foundation does not appear to specialize in emergency relief. Its Haiti program page charts activity dating back only to 2010, the year of the Algerian donation. Most countries seeking to donate to Haitian earthquake relief might simply have answered the United Nations’ emergency call for assistance. There was also the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund stood up specifically for the purpose of Haiti earthquake relief and, with its mission completed, now folded.

Now, Algeria is a problematic regime at best. Through the Cold War, it was firmly in the Soviet camp. It has waged proxy war against Morocco, one of the most pro-Western, moderate Arab countries and continues to sponsor the totalitarian Polisario Front. To believe that its aims were humanitarian are belied by its persistent theft—according to Europe’s anti-fraud office—of humanitarian assistance donated by the European Union for the use of refugees in its remote Tindouf province. Rather, it seems that Algiers simply sought to influence the secretary of state with a back-channel donation. Now, let’s assume the Clinton Foundation passed money forward on earthquake relief, but the Foundation is famous for its high overhead, that is, support for the Clintons’ luxurious travel preferences, so a significant portion of the Algerian donation likely never made it to the Haitians in need. And let’s assume that Clinton was simply open to her Foundation taking money from everyone without enabling those donations to influence her decisions. The appearance of corruption is unavoidable.

Now, many states in the Middle East are woefully corrupt. Often, this corruption occurs because of a lack of legal framework defining what would ordinarily be a conflict of interest. There’s the problem of first sons, for example, with Middle Eastern leaders—Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, among others—each engaging in business with their sons acting as business agents. In the United States, we call it corruption, a violation of the spirit if not the letter of the law. It’s a type of business practice with which Algerians are both aware and comfortable. And in Hillary Clinton they seem to have believed they found a kindred spirit. Now, this doesn’t mean Clinton violated the law, but a competent secretary of state understands perception is often more important than reality. Her actions and those of her Foundation have at the very least undercut the ability of future American governments to make serious efforts to undercut corruption abroad, for Algerians and others will simply call American officials hypocritical given Clinton’s favorite charity and namesake accepting the cash. Hillary Clinton can plead that no corruption occurred—perhaps it depends what the meaning of “is” is—but the rest of the world simply won’t buy the spin. Judgment matters.

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Green Hypocrisy and the Hillary Scandals

One general rule of observing a Clinton scandal is that it’s always worse than it looks. And while the recent spate of stories exposing Hillary Clinton’s ethical deficiencies as secretary of state and prospective presidential candidate raised the specter of serial influence peddling or worse, last night the foreign-money story took a turn for the worse. The Washington Post reported that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign-government money while Hillary was secretary of state, a clear-cut violation of basic ethics, to say the very least. Which raises another question: What should liberals do now?

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One general rule of observing a Clinton scandal is that it’s always worse than it looks. And while the recent spate of stories exposing Hillary Clinton’s ethical deficiencies as secretary of state and prospective presidential candidate raised the specter of serial influence peddling or worse, last night the foreign-money story took a turn for the worse. The Washington Post reported that the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign-government money while Hillary was secretary of state, a clear-cut violation of basic ethics, to say the very least. Which raises another question: What should liberals do now?

The planned coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s nominee without the hassle of a serious primary has certainly helped both the Democrats and Clinton in the obvious ways (party unity, fundraising, etc.). But the foreign-money scandal and the reaction to it show how this also represents an obstacle to both.

It’s an obstacle to Clinton because she has delayed officially declaring her candidacy since she has no true rival to push her to enter the race earlier. That means she’s spending this time not only raking in questionable cash from foreign governments but, as Politico’s Glenn Thrush noted last night, she doesn’t have the campaign communications shop up and running, or at least in midseason form. Thrush tweeted:

This may surprise some Clinton watchers who are used to the Clintons’ obsessive pushback PR machine, but it shouldn’t. Hillary’s acceptance of questionable cash is not done. Indeed, she reopened foreign donations after leaving the State Department with the intention, it appears, to turn off the spigot again when her campaign becomes official (if not after). That means any rapid-response team would have to be kept in the loop on all incoming donations, especially the shady ones. This is not easy to do if the Clintons also wanted to accept the donations in the utmost secrecy.

Hillary’s advantage, then, was (and is) also her disadvantage: keeping the foreign money coming in as late as possible.

This is an obstacle for Democrats in general because they have essentially already taken their oath of loyalty to Clinton. There is no Plan B. This is important, because the Clintons are notorious grudge holders. So when Democratic interest groups want criticism of the Clintons aired, it’s helpful for them to have opposing candidates through which to filter that criticism. The candidate is already on the Clintons’ bad side, and he or she is looking for ammunition anyway. And if Clinton is weak and ought to be challenged or defeated, the primaries are the time to do so. Without a candidate to launch plausible lines of attack against Clinton, the interest groups retreat and reveal the fact that most liberal interest groups are Democratic Party groups looking for an excuse to attack Republicans.

In other words, via Reuters, this is what happens:

Hillary Clinton’s connections to oil and gas interests has created a dilemma for some environmental groups, troubling activists for whom she would be the natural candidate to support for president.

So how are they dealing with this “dilemma”? With a self-imposed gag order, of course:

Uncharacteristically, many green groups normally quick to attack politicians linked to oil and gas companies shied away from commenting on the Clinton Foundation’s relationship with these donors.

The Environmental Defense Action Fund had no comment because it does not have anyone with knowledge of the subject, a spokesman said. Another business friendly green group, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund also declined, saying it would discuss the issues “when we have declared candidates.” The World Wildlife Fund had no comment.

The Reuters explanation for this towering monument to hypocrisy is priceless. I’d like to meet the person able to keep from laughing out loud when Reuters offers up this cartoon spin:

The reluctance to criticize Clinton reflects her mixed record on climate change. She has made two recent appearances at green-related events, addressing a League of Conservation Voters dinner in December, where she talked about the need to produce natural gas in a way that minimizes pollution. She also spoke at a green energy conference in September.

You see, she may be tied to the oil companies and taking donations from petrostates, but she attended a League of Conservation Voters dinner, so let’s call it a wash.

Of course it may be true that she has done some important things for climate change, like talk and speak and ramble and rant and maybe talk some more. At the very least, her emission of hot air raises awareness of the potentially harmful gas all around us.

But I don’t think a single person is fooled by the spinelessness of the green lobby. These pressure groups exist to elect Democrats and defeat Republicans. Nothing has changed about their political activism or their role or their raison d’être. Instead, they’re merely exposed as the partisan actors they are.

Even though that’s true, on some level it should engender some sympathy. Because those who act out against the Clintons are punished, and that isn’t good for anybody’s green agenda either. If the World Wildlife Fund gets sidelined, who will pretend to save the polar bears?

The lesson here is that there is a danger in going all-in on one candidate and being “Ready for Hillary” long before the campaign even begins. And “Stuck with Hillary” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

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How to React to Algeria’s Diversion of Humanitarian Aid?

Within both the United States and Europe, foreign aid has become a feel-good operation more successful at creating jobs for bureaucrats and consultants in Washington and Brussels than in achieving real success among its targets. This shouldn’t surprise since so often the metric of success used by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is money spent rather than results achieved. A decade ago, for example, it emerged that 95 percent of the money which the United States spent to “fight” malaria in Africa was actually being spent on consultants, and only five percent was making it to Africa itself to counter Africa’s most deadly disease. Lots of malaria experts bought new cars, but it didn’t do the public health in Africa much good.

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Within both the United States and Europe, foreign aid has become a feel-good operation more successful at creating jobs for bureaucrats and consultants in Washington and Brussels than in achieving real success among its targets. This shouldn’t surprise since so often the metric of success used by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is money spent rather than results achieved. A decade ago, for example, it emerged that 95 percent of the money which the United States spent to “fight” malaria in Africa was actually being spent on consultants, and only five percent was making it to Africa itself to counter Africa’s most deadly disease. Lots of malaria experts bought new cars, but it didn’t do the public health in Africa much good.

For both the foreign or humanitarian aid industries, refugees have become a particular cash cow. The Palestinians have received more per capita in aid than any other people, but have little to show for it, except perhaps the inflated bank accounts of UNRWA officials and the tremendous mansions built by Palestinian politicians, from both Fatah and Hamas. And as for those with their hands out on behalf of their people? Let’s just say that Palestinian spokesmen like Hanan Ashrawi (a speech for whom I once handled while working at Yale University) don’t often fly economy class or stay at the Hampton Inn. The main victims of the refugee industry become the Palestinians themselves, who are used as diplomatic distractions and pawns for others’ enrichment.

Alas, the Palestinians are not alone. I have written before about the Tindouf refugees camps over which the Polisario Front and its self-styled “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” rules with an iron fist. Tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees remain stranded in the desert with their voluntary return to Morocco prevented so that Algeria and the Polisario can profit off them. And almost a year ago, I wrote here how the Polisario Front and its Algerian backers were diverting and smuggling humanitarian aid.

Now it seems the European Union is catching on. Last month, Le Monde reported on a new report out of Brussels which confirms what has become obvious: Algeria has been actively colluding with the Polisario Front to divert international aid, using the remaining refugees as humanitarian pawns while enriching themselves. According to Le Monde, the diversion of humanitarian aid begins in the Algerian port of Oran, but assistance gets diverted along the almost 1,000-mile route into Tindouf. It’s really no different from how the North Koreans diverted food and fuel aid in the 1990s.

Alas, just as the State Department sought to bury talk of North Korean cheating, the Pentagon actually for a time thought it wiser to classify corruption rather than eliminate it, and the United Nations sought to bury investigation into its multi-billion-dollar oil-for-food corruption scheme, the European Commission is so far keeping its full report under wraps. In every case, the bureaucratic response is without fail to excuse corruption and protect the reputations of incompetent administrators even at the expense of helping those in need.

So what to do? The European Commission should release its full report. And, with proof of Algerian and Polisario embezzlement, it should also first demand restitution and reimbursement of the diverted funds—perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars over the years—from Algeria and, second, investigate and explain the failure of checks and balances that led the criminal scheme to continue for so long. Accountability should never be a dirty word. Foreign assistance should never be an entitlement, and it should never occur into perpetuity lest as with the cases of Tindouf, North Korea, and Gaza, it becomes an obstacle to conflict resolution rather than a solution to humanitarian crises.

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New York’s One Party State and Corruption

The arrest today of Sheldon Silver, the speaker of New York’s State Assembly, on federal corruption charges created what could well be described as an earthquake in New York politics. Silver has ruled over the state’s lower house for 20 years and wielded great power in Albany. But his fall from grace is about more than the tale of one crooked politician and the crumbling network of legal, political, and social service connections that he presided over. Accused grafters like Shelly Silver can be found throughout our nation’s political history and, indeed, that of any democratic country. Crooks like him are a dime a dozen. But what made him significant was not just his venality and fast and loose approach to ethics. He was dangerous because his decades of thievery were enabled by a political culture that treated such things as being of no consequence.

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The arrest today of Sheldon Silver, the speaker of New York’s State Assembly, on federal corruption charges created what could well be described as an earthquake in New York politics. Silver has ruled over the state’s lower house for 20 years and wielded great power in Albany. But his fall from grace is about more than the tale of one crooked politician and the crumbling network of legal, political, and social service connections that he presided over. Accused grafters like Shelly Silver can be found throughout our nation’s political history and, indeed, that of any democratic country. Crooks like him are a dime a dozen. But what made him significant was not just his venality and fast and loose approach to ethics. He was dangerous because his decades of thievery were enabled by a political culture that treated such things as being of no consequence.

That Silver is accused of raking in millions in bribes and kickbacks from those doing business with the state does not come as a great shock to those who have followed his career. His rise from an undistinguished lawyer and local political hack with close ties to Heshy Jacob—a prominent povertician on Manhattan’s Lower East Side—to a political giant brought him great wealth and far-reaching influence within the state’s business, legal, and political worlds. Moreover the sentencing last year of William Rapfogel, the husband of Silver’s chief of staff Judy Rapfogel, on charges relating to the looting of one of the city’s leading Jewish social welfare agencies made it impossible to avoid the possibility that the thread of corruption would eventually lead to the uncovering of even greater crimes by the speaker of the Assembly.

Silver’s shakedowns poured millions into the coffers of law firms with which he was associated but they were also ill concealed. How a part-time lawyer (members of the New York legislature work part time and, unlike members of Congress, may be active in the legal profession) that did not appear to work on any cases could become a wealthy partner in a law firm specializing in personal injury cases was a mystery that was always treated as one to which the answer was known to any politically aware person in New York City or Albany.

But somehow this open secret was never considered worth looking into by legal authorities. Neither crusading state attorney generals like Eliot Spitzer or Andrew Cuomo (both of whom used that office as a stepping stone to the governorship) or tough guy district attorneys ever managed to find the time or the resources to pursue Silver. Why would they when doing so when put them in opposition to a powerful man who could make their political lives miserable? In the go-along-to-get-along world of New York politics, picking a fight with Shelly was never a good business proposition. In the end, it took a federal prosecutor to unravel this tawdry case.

But instead of just cheering the determination of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, it is also an apt moment to think back on a political tempest that came and went with no political repercussions last year.

It should be recalled that Governor Cuomo belatedly responded to concerns about Albany’s tradition of thievery by creating a special panel known as the Moreland Commission to root out corruption. But as soon as it started to make some noises about actually doing just that—as opposed to merely talking about it as almost all past anti-corruption efforts had done—Cuomo disbanded it, as Bharara said, “to the great relief” of Silver. But a culture of tolerance for corruption—something that Silver used to his advantage for years—ensured that the governor suffered no political consequences for this outrageous act. Silver made deals with Albany Republicans who made no trouble for him. But in a one-party state like New York, the usual checks and balances of a democracy in which a credible opposition can make the party in power pay for its sins simply don’t exist.

That is why as troubling as the tale of Silver’s alleged misdeeds may be, unless accountability is brought into the picture it is a given that there will be more Shelly Silvers in New York’s future. A leviathan-like state government such as the one that operates in New York is awash in money and contracts that are an open invitation to looters and grafters. But until the state’s political culture becomes one where indifference to corruption can bring a new party and reform to power, criminals will continue to prosper at the taxpayers’ expense.

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The Problem of Electing Judges

Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will hold a hearing on whether the bans on candidates for judicial office in 30 states directly soliciting contributions violate the First Amendment. The New York Times this morning put the story on the front page and ran an editorial on the subject.

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Tomorrow the U.S. Supreme Court will hold a hearing on whether the bans on candidates for judicial office in 30 states directly soliciting contributions violate the First Amendment. The New York Times this morning put the story on the front page and ran an editorial on the subject.

Judges are elected, in one way or another, in 39 of the 50 states. In some states all judges are elected, in others only some are elected and others appointed. Some are elected in partisan elections, some are appointed but then face a retention election. You can see the particulars here.

The reasoning behind the bans is that if a judge or a candidate for a judgeship personally asks for a contribution, especially from lawyers or companies that might have a case before him, that sets up a quid that might at some future date produce a quo.

This is not just theoretical. As the Times reports:

In the 1970s, two justices of the Florida Supreme Court resigned after evidence emerged that they had tried to fix cases for contributors. A third stepped down when a gambling junket paid for by a litigant came to light. A fourth left the court in connection with a scandal including draft opinions ghostwritten by lobbyists.

But banning direct solicitations simply puts the problem at one remove. Instead of the judge asking for a contribution, his campaign manager (or his wife)  asks for it. The quid and the potential quo are still there.

The problem is in electing judges, a practice unknown outside the United States. It dates to the 1830s with the flowering of “Jacksonian democracy.” Andrew Jackson was a fierce anti-aristocrat and thought that one of the ways to dilute the power of the elite was for all public officials to be elected, including judges. The thoroughly Jacksonian New York State constitution of 1846 required the election of almost all public officials, from town clerks and receivers of taxes to the head of the prison system.

But town clerks and receivers of taxes are, well, clerks. They have important and responsible jobs but they don’t make policy; they execute it and should be responsible to the executive, not the electorate. The same is true of judges. They can’t promise to do this or that or the other thing if elected, they can only promise to be fair and impartial and to follow the law.

Federal judges are nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and have life tenure. They can only be removed by impeachment. But in the whole history of the federal judiciary only eight judges have been impeached, convicted, and removed from office while another three resigned in the face of impeachment. That’s not a perfect record, to be sure, but it’s an impressive one, and far better than that of judges elected to office.

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Holder Does Something Right

It’s hard to believe, but Eric Holder’s Justice Department has actually done a good thing. On Friday, the attorney general barred state and local police from using federal law to seize property from citizens without a warrant or criminal charges. Under a program called Equitable Sharing, police could pull someone over for some minor infraction, and then, if they found, say, a large amount of cash, seize it and the vehicle without any evidence that the cash had been obtained illegally. The citizen would then have to prove his innocence to get it back.

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It’s hard to believe, but Eric Holder’s Justice Department has actually done a good thing. On Friday, the attorney general barred state and local police from using federal law to seize property from citizens without a warrant or criminal charges. Under a program called Equitable Sharing, police could pull someone over for some minor infraction, and then, if they found, say, a large amount of cash, seize it and the vehicle without any evidence that the cash had been obtained illegally. The citizen would then have to prove his innocence to get it back.

This was no small business. Since 2008 there have been more than 55,000 seizures under this program, worth $3 billion. The proceeds were usually split 80-20 between the local police and a federal agency.

The program originated in the early 1980s as a way of attacking the illegal drug trade, which is largely conducted in cash. After 9/11 it was ramped up to fight terrorism.

Abuses were sure to follow, and they did. After all, if a local police department can substantially increase its revenues by seizing property and making the owners fight (at their own expense) to get it back, and they can then use that revenue to increase expenditure, that’s a tremendous motivation not to be over-scrupulous.

As a general principle, government departments should be funded solely by legislative appropriations. Doing otherwise, as in this case, produces an open invitation to corruption, which will all too often be accepted. In other instances, such as funding wildlife and environmental agencies out of hunting license fees, policy is skewed in order to maximize income.

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In Turkey, Will Corruption Kill?

Turkey has never been a particularly clean country when it comes to economic transparency and rule of law. One of the reasons why mainstream voters chose Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2002 elections was widespread disgust with the corruption of the established parties. Turkish voters basically gambled on the devil they didn’t know instead of the devils they did.

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Turkey has never been a particularly clean country when it comes to economic transparency and rule of law. One of the reasons why mainstream voters chose Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2002 elections was widespread disgust with the corruption of the established parties. Turkish voters basically gambled on the devil they didn’t know instead of the devils they did.

In hindsight it is clear they made the wrong decision. When Erdoğan became prime minister, he immediately set out to hijack the Turkish financial system, reportedly building a large slush fund with the assistance of oil-rich Persian Gulf emirates like Qatar. Over the course of his premiership, Erdoğan also became fabulously wealthy. Erdoğan explained his sudden good fortune as the result of wedding gifts sent to his son by his many friends and admirers. Still, U.S. diplomats privately suggested that Erdoğan has siphoned money off into eight different Swiss bank accounts. It is impossible to know for sure in the absence of transparency, but Erdoğan may very well be the most corrupt leader in Turkey’s history, and that’s a distinction for which the competition has been fierce.

The fact that Erdoğan is effectively above the law has led him to double down on opponents and answer corruption charges with impunity. A year ago, after a dispute erupted between Erdoğan and exiled Islamic thinker Fethullah Gülen, the Gülenists in the security services apparently leaked recordings allegedly depicting corruption in Erdoğan’s household and among senior ministers and advisors, like former EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış. In the recordings, Erdoğan purportedly asks his son to dispose of $1 billion stashed in various family members’ homes. The next day, Turks say that the Erdoğans bought several luxury villas, paying with cash. Meanwhile, police had seized millions of dollars from the homes of Bağış and colleagues. Bağış defended himself by calling such gifts a Turkish tradition. And so they have become.

A parliamentary commission charged with investigating corruption and bribery charges against four Erdoğan ministers decided, however, not to send the ministers to a Supreme Court trial. This outcome surprised no one because Erdoğan’s party enjoys a parliamentary majority and maintains authoritarian control over his party and its affairs. What is surprising, however, is that the AKP went further; the parliamentary commission handling the graft investigation decided to destroy all evidence. This is to ensure that no future government or independent court would have original evidence at its disposal. While recordings of the phone calls are all over YouTube and other Internet sites, under Turkish law copies are not admissible in court. The lesson? In Turkey, corruption occurs with impunity. That may be tragic for Turkey itself, the Turkish middle class, and foreign investors unwilling to pony up cash; but embezzlement, bribes, and kickbacks don’t necessarily take lives.

Alas, corruption has become endemic in other ways that can have devastating consequences. In his efforts to depict Turkey as a great, emerging power, Erdoğan decided to go nuclear. In 2010, he signed a $22 billion agreement with Russia—not exactly the industry standard of nuclear safety—to build a nuclear power plant at Akkuyu along Turkey’s southern coast. (In 2013, Erdoğan finalized another $22 billion agreement with a Japanese and French concern to build a second nuclear plant in Sinop, on Turkey’s Black Sea coast). Now it’s emerging that signatures on the engineering assessment of the plant’s environmental impact were forged. But, why worry? It’s only a nuclear plant in an active earthquake zone. Alas, the right people might have benefited in the short term, but the long-term impact of such fraud can be devastating and impact not only Turkey, but southeastern Europe, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Israel as well.

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How a Fugitive Family Bought the Obama W.H., Hillary, and Menendez

President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

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President Obama and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez may be on opposing sides of the issue getting the most media attention today–the president’s moves toward normalizing relations with the brutal Castro regime–but they’d surely rather be fighting about Cuba than locked in a co-defense against the other big story of the day. The New York Times reports on a blatant case of political corruption and influence-buying conducted by Obama, Menendez, and Hillary Clinton that is unfortunately being buried by other news. But it is a case study in the greasy, repellent politics Obama promised to do away with.

The crux of the story is fairly simple. As the Times report begins:

The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.

The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.

It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuador accuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.

The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.

The Times notes that there are essentially two dimensions to this family story. There are the family’s “patriarchs,” Roberto and William Isaías. They ran an Ecuadorian bank until, according to Ecuadorian authorities, they ran it into the ground. They stood accused of falsifying balance sheets in order to obtain access to bailout funds. The Ecuadorian government says this fraud cost the state $400 million. They were convicted and sentenced in 2012 to eight years in prison.

But they are not in prison. They are in Miami. (Yes, there is a difference.) They were sentenced in absentia and won’t be extradited.

Then there is Estefanía Isaías, whose case adds to the intrigue.

Estefanía was working as a television executive. She was also engaged in what American consular officials called “alien smuggling.” She was bringing people into the country under false pretenses so they could work as maids. For that, she was barred from entering the U.S.–and from a job with a major Obama campaign bundler–until recently when her ban was overturned by the Obama administration.

So how are they all free to live in the United States? The answer is as old as time: follow the money. Here’s what the Obama campaign got:

The Obama administration then reversed its decision and gave Ms. Isaías the waiver she needed to come to the United States — just as tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the family poured into Mr. Obama’s campaign coffers.

An email from Mr. Menendez’s office sharing the good news was dated May 15, 2012, one day after, campaign finance records show, Ms. Isaías’s mother gave $40,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, which provided donations to the president and other Democrats. …

In 2012, the Isaías family donated about $100,000 to the Obama Victory Fund. Campaign finance records show that their most generous donations came just before a request to the administration.

And Menendez:

Ms. Isaías’s mother, María Mercedes, had recently donated $30,000 to the Senate campaign committee that Mr. Menendez led when she turned to him for help in her daughter’s case. At least two members of Mr. Menendez’s staff worked with Ms. Isaías and her father, as well as lawyers and other congressional offices, to argue that she had been unfairly denied entry into the United States.

Over the course of the next year, as various members of the Isaías family donated to Mr. Menendez’s re-election campaign, the senator and his staff repeatedly made calls, sent emails and wrote letters about Ms. Isaías’s case to Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Mills, the consulate in Ecuador, and the departments of State and Homeland Security.

After months of resistance from State Department offices in Ecuador and Washington, the senator lobbied Ms. Mills himself, and the ban against Ms. Isaías was eventually overturned.

And Hillary Clinton:

But the case involving Estefanía could prove awkward for Mrs. Clinton, who was in charge of the State Department at the time high-ranking officials overruled the agency’s ban on Ms. Isaías for immigration fraud, and whose office made calls on the matter.

Alfredo J. Balsera, the Obama fund-raiser whose firm, Balsera Communications, sponsored Ms. Isaías’s visa, was featured recently in USA Today as a prominent Latino fund-raiser backing Mrs. Clinton for president in 2016.

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than that.

In declaring his candidacy for president in 2007, Obama took aim at special interests “who’ve turned our government into a game only they can afford to play.” He continued: “They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we’re here today to take it back. The time for that kind of politics is over.”

Obama has not only not changed the culture of Washington, but arguably made it more insular and susceptible to influence-buying, essentially turning the White House into eBay for ambassadorships, for example. If you’ve got your checkbook with you, Obama and Hillary and Menendez are all about constituent services. Obama’s Washington has never been for anyone other than elites and donors. And it’s never been clearer than it is today.

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Anticorruption or Power Grab in China?

After Stalin died, his longtime secret police chief, the sadistic Lavrentiy Beria, was arrested and shot in 1953 on the orders of the Politburo. A similar fate–minus, for the time being, the execution–seems to have befallen Zhou Yongkang, a former head of the Politburo Standing Committee in China with responsibility for domestic security. On the orders of President Xi Jingping, and with the compliance of the Politburo, he has been arrested and charged with a raft of offenses including bribery, disclosing state secrets, and adultery.

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After Stalin died, his longtime secret police chief, the sadistic Lavrentiy Beria, was arrested and shot in 1953 on the orders of the Politburo. A similar fate–minus, for the time being, the execution–seems to have befallen Zhou Yongkang, a former head of the Politburo Standing Committee in China with responsibility for domestic security. On the orders of President Xi Jingping, and with the compliance of the Politburo, he has been arrested and charged with a raft of offenses including bribery, disclosing state secrets, and adultery.

His arrest is shocking because in the past current and retired Communist kingpins were considered invulnerable. No longer. The Bo Xilai arrest was only a start to a wider purge of corrupt officials that Xi Jinping is carrying out. But is good government really his motive–or is he simply interested in accumulating more power for himself and is he using the anti-corruption crusade as a cover to depose various rivals?

There is division on this question among Sinologists but the bulk of the evidence points to the latter conclusion–that Xi Jinping is accumulating personal power unprecedented for any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong under the guise of fighting corruption. Indeed it is striking that, even amid this anti-corruption campaign, China is viewed in the Transparency International survey as being more corrupt than ever.

China actually dropped 20 places to rank 100th in corruption among the 175 nations surveyed. The New York Times quotes a Transparency International spokesman saying that the anticorruption drive is missing “stronger laws on bribery, access to information, whistle-blower protection, more open budgets and asset declarations.” In short, what is missing is the rule of law.

Unfortunately, it appears that China is not seeing the impartial application of rules against bribery. What it is seeing is a highly selective personal vendetta carried out by one Communist boss against other Communist bosses. That is not going to reduce the longterm questions about China’s future, which is undermined by corruption and lack of accountability and freedom

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The Worst Part of the IRS Asset-Seizure Abuse: Expect It to Continue

There are many outrageous details in the New York Times’s revelations about a law that lets the IRS seize the assets of Americans whose bank-deposit patterns the agency finds suspicious even if a crime wasn’t committed. There is the fact that “Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.” There is the fact that “The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint,” and the related issue that “the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.” There is the fact that in some cases, the banks (or their financial advisors) recommend that supposedly suspicious deposit pattern (less than $10,000 at a time, repeatedly). But the most disturbing part of a very disturbing story might just be this:

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There are many outrageous details in the New York Times’s revelations about a law that lets the IRS seize the assets of Americans whose bank-deposit patterns the agency finds suspicious even if a crime wasn’t committed. There is the fact that “Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.” There is the fact that “The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint,” and the related issue that “the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.” There is the fact that in some cases, the banks (or their financial advisors) recommend that supposedly suspicious deposit pattern (less than $10,000 at a time, repeatedly). But the most disturbing part of a very disturbing story might just be this:

On Thursday, in response to questions from The New York Times, the I.R.S. announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by “exceptional circumstances.”

Richard Weber, the chief of Criminal Investigation at the I.R.S., said in a written statement, “This policy update will ensure that C.I. continues to focus our limited investigative resources on identifying and investigating violations within our jurisdiction that closely align with C.I.’s mission and key priorities.” He added that making deposits under $10,000 to evade reporting requirements, called structuring, is still a crime whether the money is from legal or illegal sources. The new policy will not apply to past seizures.

Not nearly enough about the policy will change, nor will the law allowing it. And there won’t be consequences for those clearly abusing this authority. The IRS simply promises to use better discretion in deciding whose bank accounts they will–literally!–raid.

If you want a description of what happens when a federal agency operates with impunity and is incentivized to go trolling for cash, this is it. And the head of the relevant IRS department, after being exposed as the chief pillager, declares that you can trust him to pillage more responsibly. Any government that condones this is fundamentally at odds with the basic pillars of liberty, including presumption of innocence, due process, and private property protections. At least The Sopranos could be funny.

As the IRS goes blundering and plundering through America’s piggy banks, it’s important to revisit how we got here. Here is the explanation of the law in the Times piece:

The practice has swept up dairy farmers in Maryland, an Army sergeant in Virginia saving for his children’s college education and Ms. Hinders, 67, who has borrowed money, strained her credit cards and taken out a second mortgage to keep her restaurant going.

Their money was seized under an increasingly controversial area of law known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agents to take property they suspect of being tied to crime even if no criminal charges are filed. Law enforcement agencies get to keep a share of whatever is forfeited.

Critics say this incentive has led to the creation of a law enforcement dragnet, with more than 100 multiagency task forces combing through bank reports, looking for accounts to seize. Under the Bank Secrecy Act, banks and other financial institutions must report cash deposits greater than $10,000. But since many criminals are aware of that requirement, banks also are supposed to report any suspicious transactions, including deposit patterns below $10,000. Last year, banks filed more than 700,000 suspicious activity reports. Owners who are caught up in structuring cases often cannot afford to fight. The median amount seized by the I.R.S. was $34,000, according to the Institute for Justice analysis, while legal costs can easily mount to $20,000 or more.

Aside from the abuse of power–a pattern with the IRS, isn’t it?–this is a story about unintended consequences as well. The government put a regulation in place to catch depositors’ ill-gotten gains. Since criminals pay close attention to the laws they don’t follow, they started easily avoiding the paperwork. So the government simply cast a wider net, creating an air of suspicion around anyone who deposited less than $10,000. If that sounds like a lot of people to you, well, you’d be right, wouldn’t you?

One major objection to the sheer amount of regulation–especially that which is aimed at the financial industries–is that it virtually guarantees that anyone without a lobbyist and a D.C. lawyer on retainer will break the law fairly regularly. This is in part because so many of those laws are convoluted, nonsensical, or unconstitutional, and also because power corrupts and federal agencies have all the power.

This is your federal government in 2014: everyone’s a suspect. Madison is turning in his grave.

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“It’s Called the Department of Justice. It’s Not Called the Department of Revenue.”

In 2007, a huge forest fire burned 65,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada in California and neighboring states. The Justice Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) went after Sierra Pacific, the largest landowner in California, claiming its logging operations had caused the fire when a bulldozer hit a rock and struck a spark. Knuckling under to the enormous leverage government has in even civil litigation, Sierra Pacific, which claimed it was innocent, settled for $55 million and 22,500 acres of forest land, which was to be deeded over to the federal government.

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In 2007, a huge forest fire burned 65,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada in California and neighboring states. The Justice Department and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) went after Sierra Pacific, the largest landowner in California, claiming its logging operations had caused the fire when a bulldozer hit a rock and struck a spark. Knuckling under to the enormous leverage government has in even civil litigation, Sierra Pacific, which claimed it was innocent, settled for $55 million and 22,500 acres of forest land, which was to be deeded over to the federal government.

But in an almost unprecedented action this month, the chief judge of the eastern district of California, Morrison C. England, Jr., has ordered all federal judges in the district to recuse themselves from the case and has asked the chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal to appoint an outside judge, stating the possibility of a fraud upon the court by the Justice Department. A fraud upon the court happens when one party deliberately misleads the court in order to win a case. The chief judge, Alex Kozinski, is likely to oblige, as he has been seriously alarmed by what he calls an “epidemic” of prosecutorial misconduct in recent years.

Sierra Pacific claims that,

The United States presented false evidence to the Defendants and the Court; advanced arguments to the Court premised on that false evidence; or, for which material evidence had been withheld, and obtaining court rulings based thereon; prepared key Moonlight Fire [as this fire was called] investigators for depositions, and allowed them to repeatedly give false testimony about the most important aspects of their investigation; and failed to disclose the facts and circumstances associated with the Moonlight Fire lead investigator’s direct financial interest in the outcome of the investigation arising from an illegal bank account that has since been exposed and terminated.

Their evidence is the sworn testimony of two assistant U.S. attorneys, one of whom was fired from the case for raising ethical considerations and another who quit in disgust as it became plain to him that the Justice Department’s actions in this case were not to find justice but to extract a lucrative settlement, saying,“It’s called the Department of Justice. It’s not called the Department of Revenue.”

The state case against Sierra Pacific has also fallen apart. The state judge not only decided against the state’s case for lack of sufficient evidence, but also ordered it to pay $30 million in attorney’s fees. He wrote in his decision that, “the misconduct is so pervasive that it would serve no purpose for the Court to attempt to recite it all here.” But he recites enough: “CalFire failed to comply with discovery orders and directives, destroyed critical evidence, failed to produce documents it should have produced months earlier, and engaged in a systematic campaign of misdirection with the purpose of recovering money from the defendants.”

The Justice Department under Eric Holder is not only using its power for illicit reasons, it is divvying up the money with its favored pals. The stench of corruption at Justice is becoming overpowering. If this had come out prior to January 20th, 2009, it would be a front-page-above-the-fold story.

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Bridgegate, the Media, and Lessons for 2016

The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

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The apparent exoneration by federal investigators of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the scandal over the lane closures on a bridge last year may be good news for Christie, but other prospective 2016 GOP candidates should take notice. The media’s unhinged obsession with hyping and trumping up the story in an effort to take down a presidential candidate was just a warm-up act. Far from chastened, the media is almost certainly just getting started.

That means that if Christie really is exonerated–which he has been insisting he would be for months–conservatives should expect the leftist press to choose a new target. Although the coverage of this scandal leaves the mainstream press looking utterly humiliated, they won’t be humbled. A good precedent is when the New York Times concocted false accusations against John McCain in 2008 intended to destroy not just his campaign but his family; after the story was called out for the unethical hit job it was, especially on the right, then-Times editor Bill Keller responded: “My first tendency when they do that is to find the toughest McCain story we’ve got and put it on the front page.”

Getting called out for bias only makes the media more likely to give in to its vindictive instincts. This is the press version of an in-kind contribution, and those contributions don’t go to Republican campaigns.

In January conservative media watchers were passing around the statistics that showed the lopsided coverage the media was giving “Bridgegate” vs. the IRS scandal. One of the charts, which showed dedicated coverage over a fixed period of time, bothered reporters. In one of the unconvincing “defenses” of his fellow journalists, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza objected:

The comparison made in this chart in terms of coverage is not an apples to apples one.  The IRS story broke on May 10. That’s a full 52 days before the Media Research Center began counting the minutes of news coverage devoted to it. The Christie story, on the other hand, broke in the Bergen Record on Jan. 8, the same day that MRC began tracking its mentions in the media.

What Cillizza actually demonstrated, unintentionally, was a far worse aspect of the coverage that was tougher to quantify but jumps off the screen from Cillizza’s post. And that is the general lack of interest on the part of reporters in digging into the government’s shocking misconduct–you know, practicing journalism. The lack of curiosity has been astounding.

As our Pete Wehner wrote the other day, forget basic reporting: the press ignored a genuine piece of Benghazi-related news when it fell in their laps. That’s how the IRS developments happened too. The initial story was announced in the IRS’s attempt to get out in front of a report that had discovered the abuse of power and was going to detail its findings. The IRS decided to try to spin the news in advance to take control of the story.

And the recent revelations of the IRS’s ongoing strategy of destroying evidence during the investigation were brought to the public’s attention by the group Judicial Watch, which has been filing Freedom of Information Act requests for documents. The latest piece of news, that Attorney General Eric Holder’s office tried to coordinate a strategy with House Democrats to blunt the impact of future revelations about the IRS’s illegal targeting scheme, came to light because Holder’s office accidentally called Darrell Issa’s office instead of Democrat Elijah Cummings.

The difference in media coverage was only part of the story, then. The more serious part was that the media is just not doing their jobs when the target of the investigation is the Obama administration. That doesn’t mean all reporters, of course, or that they’re ignoring all stories. But the pattern is pretty clear: when we learn something about Obama administration misbehavior, it’s generally not from reporters, many of whom eventually get hired by the Obama administration.

The other aspect of the coverage gap is the type of story. Surely Cillizza thinks a staffer closing lanes on a bridge, however indefensible, is a different caliber of story than the IRS, at the encouragement of high-ranking Democrats, undertaking a targeting scheme to silence Obama’s critics in the lead-up to his reelection. Cillizza was right, in other words: conservatives weren’t comparing apples to apples. But he was wrong in thinking that stacked the deck in favor of conservatives’ conclusion; the opposite was the case.

We’ve already seen this with other prospective GOP 2016 candidates. When Wisconsin prosecutors initiated a wide-ranging “John Doe” investigation intended to silence conservative groups and voters in Wisconsin and level false allegations against Scott Walker, the media ran with the story. It turned out that the investigation was so unethical that those prosecutors now stand accused broad civil-rights violations. But the point of the coverage is to echo the false allegations against Walker, not to get the story right. So the media moved on.

And they moved on to Rick Perry, who was the target of an indictment so demented that only the most extreme liberals defended it. The point of the case, though, was to get headlines announcing Perry’s indictment. This one may have backfired because it was so insane that, aside from former Obama advisor Jim Messina, Rachel Maddow, and a couple writers for liberal magazines, the left tried to distance themselves from it. But the fact remains: Rick Perry is under indictment.

The criminalization of politics is part of the left’s broader lawfare strategy. This is the sort of thing repellent to democratic values and certainly should draw critical attention from the press. Instead, they’ve chosen to enable it.

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Will IRS’s Strategy of Destroying Evidence Pay Off?

If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one. And that media strategy appears to have been: conceal or destroy potential (and actual) evidence, and assume that this activity will be less damaging than whatever is in the files they’ve worked to hide.

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If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one. And that media strategy appears to have been: conceal or destroy potential (and actual) evidence, and assume that this activity will be less damaging than whatever is in the files they’ve worked to hide.

It’s a direct challenge to the media, in other words.

There are two aspects to the latest news. The first is that, according to Judicial Watch, the Justice Department believes Lerner’s records are backed up, but don’t want to put in the effort to find them:

Department of Justice attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service told Judicial Watch on Friday that Lois Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe.  The Obama administration attorneys said that this back-up system would be too onerous to search.  The DOJ attorneys also acknowledged that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is investigating this back-up system.

We obviously disagree that disclosing the emails as required would be onerous, and plan to raise this new development with Judge Sullivan.

This is a jaw-dropping revelation.  The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner’s missing emails. There are no “missing” Lois Lerner emails – nor missing emails of any of the other top IRS or other government officials whose emails seem to be disappearing at increasingly alarming rate. All the focus on missing hard drives has been a diversion. The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be – but dishonestly withheld this information. You can bet we are going to ask the court for immediate assistance in cutting through this massive obstruction of justice.

The second piece of news is pointed out by the New York Observer:

In two elusive and nebulous sworn declarations, we can glean that Ms. Lerner had two Blackberries. One was issued to her on November 12, 2009. According to a sworn declaration, this is the Blackberry that contained all the emails (both sent and received) that would have been in her “Outlook” and drafts that never were sent from her Blackberry during the relevant time.

With incredible disregard for the law and the Congressional inquiry, the IRS admits that this Blackberry “was removed or wiped clean of any sensitive or proprietary information and removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012.” This is a year after her hard drive “crash” and months after the Congressional inquiry began.

So the IRS attempted to destroy evidence of the emails after the investigation began, and those emails might still exist somewhere beyond the reach of the government officials in charge of destroying the evidence. Again, this is a direct challenge to the media: the IRS is expecting either a pass or scandal fatigue to play to their advantage. That is, they are hoping to set a precedent that the government can get away with heavyhanded abuse of its power so long as it destroys enough of the evidence once an investigation commences.

It is especially a challenge to the press if it’s true that the emails still exist but the government doesn’t want to go through the hassle of finding them. It’s actually more brazen, in some ways, than even trying to destroy them. It’s the sign of a government with nothing but pure contempt for the people. As Walter Russell Mead argues:

But if Fitton’s claim is true, then the IRS scandal really has arrived, and it is difficult not to conclude that we are dealing with a genuine constitutional crime. This wouldn’t be a matter of bribes or personal blackmail or sexual misconduct or any of the ordinary forms of corruption that are unfortunately far too common. Rather, it’s about the deliberate use of the power of the federal government to go after political opponents, and then a desperate attempt by others to cover it up. We’re still hoping that this story is exposed to a lot more light (and perhaps less heat), but the more we see, the worse and worse it looks.

Indeed, it would go beyond the sadly all-too-routinized forms of corruption, which are bad enough. The newest round of revelations describe a government agency (and its elected allies) not only thoroughly corrupted but also insistent on its entitlement to stand above accountability. The allegations warrant front-page headlines from the country’s major newspapers, surely. So where are they?

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Why Billions to Rebuild Gaza Will Go to Waste Yet Again

Though the fighting in Gaza shows no sign of ending, much of the world is already focusing on the next step–pouring billions of international aid dollars, for the umpteenth time, into repairing the damages caused by Hamas’s aggression. Germany, France, and Britain are working on a UN Security Council resolution dictating the terms of a cease-fire and reconstruction, while UN special envoy Robert Serry briefed the council on Gaza’s reconstruction needs earlier this week. All the international players agree that some form of international monitoring is needed to keep Hamas from diverting reconstruction aid into rebuilding its war machine. But that raises the question of who can provide this monitoring.

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Though the fighting in Gaza shows no sign of ending, much of the world is already focusing on the next step–pouring billions of international aid dollars, for the umpteenth time, into repairing the damages caused by Hamas’s aggression. Germany, France, and Britain are working on a UN Security Council resolution dictating the terms of a cease-fire and reconstruction, while UN special envoy Robert Serry briefed the council on Gaza’s reconstruction needs earlier this week. All the international players agree that some form of international monitoring is needed to keep Hamas from diverting reconstruction aid into rebuilding its war machine. But that raises the question of who can provide this monitoring.

Serry, who apparently inhabits a parallel universe, blithely asserted that the UN has successfully monitored projects in Gaza in the past and can do so today as well. This, of course, is the same UN that was shocked to discover Hamas rockets stored in three UNRWA schools in Gaza–and then promptly handed the rockets back to Hamas. It’s the same UN that allowed Hamas to booby-trap a UN clinic, resulting in its destruction when Hamas blew it up to kill nearby Israeli soldiers. It’s the same UN whose Gaza teacher’s union–i.e., the people who educate students at UNRWA schools–is run by Hamas, which controls all 11 seats on the union’s board, and whose “educators” include prominent members of Hamas’s military wing. And it’s the same UN whose own auditor recently released a damning report on the UN Development Program’s procurement in Gaza.

Inter alia, this report found that contract employees performed “core” procurement tasks that only regular staffers are supposed to perform, including for “significant” construction projects; that the UN wasn’t “monitoring and recording actual work” performed by contract employees handling “core” functions; that at least $8 million in construction spending was falsely recorded at far lower prices, thereby shielding it from scrutiny by higher-level officials who must approve major outlays; that many payments and receipts weren’t recorded; and that UNDP didn’t use an electronic fund transfer system that would let it monitor bank transactions and detect those “not made by UNDP.” In short, contrary to Serry’s assertion that “UN construction materials were not used for the [Hamas] tunnels,” the UN has no clue what was happening at its construction programs in Gaza.

Thus believing the UN could effectively monitor Gaza’s reconstruction is like believing cats can guard cream. Yet the main alternative–entrusting this task to the Palestinian Authority, bolstered by some unspecified “international monitoring and verification mission,” as the EU-3 proposes–is equally unrealistic.

Writing in The New Republic this week, Alexander Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky made a thoughtful case for the PA alternative, despite acknowledging that the PA is “monumentally corrupt.” And in principle, I agree with them. The fact that education, health, welfare, and development are currently largely handled by UNRWA encourages dysfunctional Palestinian government; Palestinian leaders can get away with being corrupt, irresponsible, and even diverting massive resources into rockets and tunnels precisely because the international community takes care of providing basic services to the public. Thus it’s long past time to defund UNRWA and force Palestinian governments–whether the PA or Hamas–to take responsibility for their own people.

But as veteran reporter Khaled Abu Toameh wrote this week, the idea that PA President Mahmoud Abbas can reassume control of Gaza now is ridiculous. First, he can’t afford to be seen as returning to Gaza “aboard an Israeli tank.” Second, Hamas remains the dominant military power in Gaza; Abbas’s forces are incapable of doing anything Hamas opposes, and even trying would be dangerous: Over the past month, Hamas has shot dozens of members of Abbas’s Fatah party just for daring to leave their homes. In other words, the PA can neither stop Hamas from firing rockets nor prevent it from diverting reconstruction aid. So all its return to Gaza would do is free Hamas of responsibility for day-to-day governance and allow it to focus all its energies on preparing for the next war.

In short, no international monitoring system can keep Hamas from rebuilding its war machine as long as it remains the dominant force in Gaza. And since the international community is vehemently opposed to letting Israel wage the kind of military operation needed to destroy Hamas, that means the billions it will soon spend to rebuild Gaza will be as wasted as all the previous billions were: All the gleaming new buildings will be destroyed again in another few years, when the next war erupts.

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More Stalling from the “Most Transparent Administration Ever”

The job of an inspector general is to root out fraud, waste, and abuse in the various government departments, boards, agencies, etc. It was the Treasury IG who blew the whistle on Lois Lerner and the IRS for discriminating against conservative groups.

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The job of an inspector general is to root out fraud, waste, and abuse in the various government departments, boards, agencies, etc. It was the Treasury IG who blew the whistle on Lois Lerner and the IRS for discriminating against conservative groups.

Under the Inspector General Act of 1978 IGs have a right to unimpeded access, “to all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations, or other material available.” Only another federal law explicitly limiting access can override that. And yet the Obama administration is doing its level best to impede the investigations of several inspectors general, at the Department of Justice, the EPA, and the Peace Corps.

The situation is so bad that no fewer than 47 of the 73 inspectors general in the federal government, almost two-thirds of them, have written a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa and Senator Thomas Carper, chairmen of the relevant congressional committees, to complain about the stalling tactics and refusals to provide documents for specious reasons, such as attorney-client privilege. (As the government is the client, a government attorney has no right to claim privilege when another part of the government, the IG, asks for access.) According to Rep. Issa, the letter is unprecedented. “This is the majority of all inspectors general saying not just in the examples they gave, but government wide, they see a pattern that is making them unable to do their job.”

The lawlessness of the Obama administration seems to have no bounds and yet the mainstream media has shown little interest in this story. The “paper of record” has not covered it at all. Had this happened in the Bush administration, it would have been front-page-above-the-fold news.

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Narendra Modi for President!

Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India, promised in his campaign to clean up the notoriously slovenly ways of the Indian bureaucracy. According to the Washington Posthe is doing exactly that. As the Post explains:

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Narendra Modi, the new prime minister of India, promised in his campaign to clean up the notoriously slovenly ways of the Indian bureaucracy. According to the Washington Posthe is doing exactly that. As the Post explains:

Babudom [“Babu” is the nickname for a member of the upper echelons of the bureaucracy] is now in peril. Modi signaled as much in the early days of his administration, when he summoned about 70 of the government’s top civil servants, gave them his personal cellphone number and e-mail address, and said it was time for work. A circular appeared the next day with what has been called Modi’s “11 Commandments” — orders to clean work spaces, shorten forms, weed out old files and review goals.

When the Home Ministry (roughly the equivalent of the Department of the Interior) cleaned out 150,000 files, they found some that went back to the British Raj. Then they allegedly compiled a list of bureaucrats known to frequent golf courses and stay at five-star hotels and sent it to the prime minister’s office. It seems to be working. About 200 babus were members of the elite Delhi Golf Club. Many have now resigned from the club and others are teeing off at 5:30 a.m. The prime minister is given to calling ministers on their landlines just to make sure they are in their offices.

Barack Obama is totally uninterested in managing the government he heads. That’s why he only finds out about, say, the mess at the Veterans Administration when he reads about it in the papers. But that’s part of the president’s job whether he likes it or not. And Republican presidential hopefuls for 2016 would be well advised to take a leaf from Modi’s playbook. The federal bureaucracy is nowhere near as corrupt, convoluted, rule-ridden, and slothful as the Indian one, which is the gold standard of bureaucratic inertia and dysfunction. But it is corrupt, convoluted, rule-ridden, and slothful enough. The federal government was last fundamentally reorganized in the late 1940s and early 1950s by the Hoover Commissions. The world has changed profoundly in the last sixty years and the government has not. Promising thoroughgoing government reform and reorganization, while riding herd on the bureaucracy, is a winning issue.

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Obama’s Awful Poll Reflects His PR Strategy

The latest Quinnipiac poll showing Americans believe Barack Obama to be the worst post-World War II president demonstrates that, in a perverse way, Obama’s PR strategy is working. The key part of the poll, which shows Americans overall coming to the realization that Obama’s presidency has been disastrous, is that a majority consider the president to be incompetent. Where would they get that idea? From the president himself, to judge by his characteristic responses to the manifold corruption and abuse-of-power scandals emanating from his White House.

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The latest Quinnipiac poll showing Americans believe Barack Obama to be the worst post-World War II president demonstrates that, in a perverse way, Obama’s PR strategy is working. The key part of the poll, which shows Americans overall coming to the realization that Obama’s presidency has been disastrous, is that a majority consider the president to be incompetent. Where would they get that idea? From the president himself, to judge by his characteristic responses to the manifold corruption and abuse-of-power scandals emanating from his White House.

Quinnipiac writes: “American voters say 54 – 44 percent that the Obama Administration is not competent running the government. The president is paying attention to what his administration is doing, 47 percent say, while 48 percent say he does not pay enough attention.” This is, in general, the president’s own strategy at work.

Back in May, the Washington Free Beacon’s David Rutz compiled a supercut of Obama and his spokesmen claiming he learned about various scandals from the media:

The latest ugly story that the White House claims Obama only learned of from the news is the VA scandal, where veterans’ hospitals around the country have mistreated or forgotten veterans seeking medical care.

“If you mean the specific allegations that I think were reported first by your network out of Phoenix, I believe we learned about them through the reports,” said Press Secretary Jay Carney Monday. “I will double-check if that’s not the case. But that’s when we learned about them, and that’s when, as I understand it, Secretary Shinseki learned about them and immediately took the action that he has taken, including instigating his own review — or initiating his own review, but also requesting that the Inspector General investigate.”

The story about the Justice Department seizing records from the Associated Press? The news that the IRS had deliberately targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status? The Fast & Furious gun-running scandal? That time the plane flew over Manhattan without authorization?

Obama learned about all of it on the news.

Obama has had to choose between two unpalatable options. Either he was aware of what he and his administration were doing, or he wasn’t. The latter is absurd and not remotely credible in some cases, but Obama sees it as preferable to the former, which would be openly admitting to the corruption the rest of the country sees unfolding practically daily.

Some attempts to absolve the president from his own presidency have been downright comical. Here, for example, was David Axelrod last year echoing conservative and libertarian critiques of the government in defense of Obama:

SCARBOROUGH: He’s saying to those at the University of Chicago’s school of politics, to students, to others, when they’re talking about looking at the IRS scandal and what an administration should or should not do.

AXELROD: Look, it’s an interesting case study because if you look at the inspector general’s report, apparently some folks down in the bureaucracy — you know we have a large government — took it upon themselves to shorthand these applications for tax-exempt status in a way that was, as I said, idiotic, and also dangerous because of the political implications. One prima facie bit of evidence that nobody political was involved in this, is that if anybody political was involved they would say: are you nuts?

Part of being president is there’s so much underneath you that you can’t know because the government is so vast.

Obama’s defenders are so desperate to avoid blame that they’ll even, as a last resort, take refuge in the idea that conservatives are right about the size and scope of the federal government. It’s true that government is so unwieldy as to insulate it from accountability and thus foster unmanageability and ultimately corruption. But this does not absolve the left. After all, Obama and his party want to continuously, recklessly expand the government even while claiming that doing so makes it impossible to govern properly.

And in this way Obama’s defenders end up indicting their hero (and themselves) anyway. The corruption they are enabling either helps them politically, as in the case of the IRS targeting Obama’s opponents, or perpetuates a fiction necessary to the liberal project, such as the Veterans Affairs scandal in which the failures of government-run health care were covered up rather than admitted while veterans died waiting for care.

Obama’s defense, then, has been incompetence. Perhaps that’s the silver lining in this poll, though also a warning: it might only be his incompetence that saves him from an even worse rating.

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Are Lois Lerner’s Emails Really Lost?

I wrote on Friday how the IRS, after a full year of stonewalling, sent a letter to Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saying that a vast trove of emails between Lois Lerner and government agencies outside the IRS, including the White House, had been lost thanks to a hard drive crash on her computer. Friday afternoons, of course, are when people who want something to go unnoticed make a public announcement about it.

This did not go unnoticed, however. As you can see from the TaxProfBlog, which has been covering the unfolding IRS scandal like a glove, all the major news outlets ran stories on it, even such liberal bastions as ABC News and the Huffington Post. Its similarity to the event that radically shifted public opinion about Watergate—the conveniently missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape—was just too strong. However, the New York Times, ever increasingly the public-relations arm of the Obama administration, has run nothing whatever in the print editions and, indeed, the only mention of it whatsoever was on a blog on the Times website that quotes what other op-ed pages are saying, a one-paragraph overview of the conservative Washington Examiner’s editorial. The Washington Post did not do a story of its own, settling for AP coverage about a potentially huge story taking place in its own backyard. Both of these legendary American newspapers are going to be severely embarrassed if this turns into a major scandal, as it well may.

The reason it may is because there are very good reasons to doubt the idea that these emails are irretrievably lost due to a simple crash of a personal computer’s hard drive.  For one thing, downloading an email from an email server does not cause the email to be deleted from the server itself. And a lawyer in the Department of Justice, who understandably wishes to be anonymous, reports that government email servers are automatically backed up every night. So both Lerner’s computer and the email server would have had to crash for these emails to have been lost. That would be some coincidence.

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I wrote on Friday how the IRS, after a full year of stonewalling, sent a letter to Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saying that a vast trove of emails between Lois Lerner and government agencies outside the IRS, including the White House, had been lost thanks to a hard drive crash on her computer. Friday afternoons, of course, are when people who want something to go unnoticed make a public announcement about it.

This did not go unnoticed, however. As you can see from the TaxProfBlog, which has been covering the unfolding IRS scandal like a glove, all the major news outlets ran stories on it, even such liberal bastions as ABC News and the Huffington Post. Its similarity to the event that radically shifted public opinion about Watergate—the conveniently missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape—was just too strong. However, the New York Times, ever increasingly the public-relations arm of the Obama administration, has run nothing whatever in the print editions and, indeed, the only mention of it whatsoever was on a blog on the Times website that quotes what other op-ed pages are saying, a one-paragraph overview of the conservative Washington Examiner’s editorial. The Washington Post did not do a story of its own, settling for AP coverage about a potentially huge story taking place in its own backyard. Both of these legendary American newspapers are going to be severely embarrassed if this turns into a major scandal, as it well may.

The reason it may is because there are very good reasons to doubt the idea that these emails are irretrievably lost due to a simple crash of a personal computer’s hard drive.  For one thing, downloading an email from an email server does not cause the email to be deleted from the server itself. And a lawyer in the Department of Justice, who understandably wishes to be anonymous, reports that government email servers are automatically backed up every night. So both Lerner’s computer and the email server would have had to crash for these emails to have been lost. That would be some coincidence.

John Hinderaker at Power Line has a great deal of experience in accessing emails in the course of legal discovery. He’s blunt: “The Obama administration is lying, and lying in a remarkably transparent way.” He points out that even if the email server were erased after a period of time, the IRS has elaborate protocols for the permanent storage of all electronic communications. Hinderaker also notes that even if a hard drive crashes, the information stored on it can usually be recovered. He politely offers to help:

One more thing: if it were true that the only copies of many thousands of emails existed on Lois Lerner’s desktop computer–which is certainly not true–and that computer’s hard drive crashed in 2011, the emails would in all probability be recoverable. Even if Lerner threw her computer into a lake, which has been known to happen. One of the world’s most famous data recovery firms is located here in the Twin Cities, and I would be happy to send Barack Obama the name and phone number of a person who, in all likelihood, could recover Lerner’s “lost” emails from her supposedly crashed hard drive. Even if the computer has been lying at the bottom of a lake since 2011.

Fox and Friends this morning reported that in addition to nightly email backups and permanent storage on another medium, IRS regulations require individuals to make paper backups of anything that falls under the rubric of a “federal record.”

The administration is desperately hoping that by making this public on a summer Friday afternoon, it will all have blown over by Monday morning, especially with the onrush of other news stories, such as the gathering debacle in Iraq, and the latter-day children’s crusade on our southern border. I doubt that will happen. I think enough elements of the media smell blood. If the Obama administration is caught in a bald-faced lie here, its political support might well collapse, just as Nixon’s did in the fall of 1973. That would sell a lot of newspapers.

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