Would the IRS violate your privacy to further Democratic policy objectives?
The lesson of this week’s leak of billionaires’ tax returns isn’t that taxes are too low, the rich should pay more or any of the other claims the leak was designed to support. The lesson is that Republicans must realize that Democrats are no longer their only political foe. They face an equally potent and dangerous federal bureaucracy—committed to destroying GOP officials and propelling a liberal agenda.
ProPublica claims not to know who provided the confidential tax data of thousands of American citizens, including some of the nation’s wealthiest people. The left-leaning media outlet acknowledges it ran its piece even though its source could have been a “state actor hostile to American interests” that hacked the private data. Perhaps—though it’s unclear what value Russia or China might see in outing Warren Buffett’s tax returns.
The more likely scenario is that a federal employee with access to Internal Revenue Service records compiled the information, identified a media operation that could be relied on to disregard privacy rights and then dumped the data at a moment carefully timed to aid Joe Biden’s tax-hike agenda.
Mission accomplished. The ProPublica story was a moralizing snoozefest, thousands of words (and the threat of more installments) to explain that the U.S. tax code allows deductions for loan interest, charitable giving and business expenses, and that the nation’s elite actually use these deductions. Also, ProPublica informs us that people don’t pay tax on capital gains until they realize capital gains. The nation’s liberal and social media nonetheless spent the week dutifully pretending the story was a blockbuster exposé breaking the news that the wealthy don’t pay their “fair” share, while Democrats renewed calls for higher taxes.
The politicization of the federal bureaucracy is nothing new. Recall Anne Gorsuch, ejected from Washington in 1983 by a vengeful Environmental Protection Agency career staff furious that a woman nominated by an elected president and confirmed by an elected Senate would dare give it orders. For decades, the GOP has understood that the term “federal government employee” is increasingly interchangeable with “registered Democrat.”
Yet this cadre of civil servants are increasingly unsatisfied with merely causing trouble for department or agency heads under GOP administrations. They have realized they can also use their powers in ways that aid the political goals of Democrats.
Think of Lois Lerner, the IRS functionary who for several years managed to deprive conservative nonprofits of their free-speech rights. Think of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who vowed in secret texts to “stop” Donald Trump and nearly did so with their hoax of a Russia-collusion investigation. Think of the anonymous “whistleblower” and the likes of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, at the center of the nonscandal over Mr. Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president. Think of the 1,000 preening State Department employees who signed a cable protesting Mr. Trump’s travel ban. Think of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of career Justice Department prosecutors, Hillary Clinton boosters all, who spent years laboring to nail former national security adviser Mike Flynn to the wall.
The career bureaucrat’s tool of choice has become the leak. A congressional look at Mr. Trump’s first 18 weeks in office found 125 leaks—nearly one a day. The Trump administration referred a record number of classified leaks for criminal investigation, at least 334 in all, according to documents obtained by the Intercept. But even with Mr. Trump gone, anonymous “officials” continue to leak news designed to harm Republicans. They’ve leaked details of confidential federal investigations into Rudy Giuliani, Republican lawyer Victoria Toensing and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a GOP donor; tittle-tattle about private bipartisan conversations; internal documents about the Trump years; and now the private tax data of Americans. Nobody has leaked one of Mr. Biden’s private conversations with a foreign leader—something that happened to Mr. Trump so often it was almost routine.
The leaks are becoming bigger and bolder because the leakers know there are few if any consequences. Leak investigations are tough to begin with. But it’s even harder to take seriously the threat of an FBI leak investigation given that the man recently in charge of them— James Comey —was a leaker himself. And congressional Republicans have learned the hard way that their own oversight powers are limited, even when they’re in the majority, given the power of career officials to block demands for information into their own actions.
So what’s to be done? In the long term, the GOP will to need to make a campaign of far-reaching civil service reforms aimed at breaking up the liberal monopoly over federal agencies and returning power to politically accountable elected officials. For now, Republicans must internalize the threat of this faceless, nameless bureaucracy and understand that it has become as real a political opponent as any Nancy Pelosi.
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