Americans in the Government’s Bull’s-eye

BY DIANE DIMOND

Americans are being unfairly targeted by their own government. The proof is undeniable. It is clear that two of the nation’s biggest and most intimidating agencies — the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice — have overstepped their bounds by trampling on citizens’ rights. We should all be outraged.

You have to have been living in a cave not to have heard about the IRS scandal. The IRS’s Cincinnati office, which approved tax exempt status for citizens’ political organizations, deliberately singled out and harassed conservative Republican groups in advance of the last presidential election. Many of those who tried to legally establish groups with names that included the words “Tea Party” or “Conservative” or “Patriot” were strung along and denied tax exempt status, while the IRS quickly gave approval to groups from the other political spectrum. (Read that: the President’s Democratic Party.) It has been reported that the IRS also targeted groups describing themselves as wanting to “make America a better place to live” or criticized how the country is currently being run.

What if the IRS decided to target you because of your political affiliation, religion or sexual preference? That’s right — it would be outrageous and especially Kafkaesque for a country that was founded on equal rights for all.

Was there a wink-and-a-nod mentality at play here? Was the inner-office goal at the IRS to give approval to the Democratic Party but not to the opposition? We aren’t getting any answers from the woman who ran that program. IRS honcho Lois Lerner has refused to testify to Congress about what happened under her watch. She asserted her Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. I wondered, if her employees were not acting on her instructions (or a command from higher up in the administration), why not just say so?

President Obama says he didn’t know anything about the “inexcusable” IRS actions that stalled his political opponents until he heard about it on TV the other day. He says the practice won’t be tolerated in the future — but that is a little late for those who wanted to make a difference in the last presidential election, isn’t it?

Now we learn that news about the IRS scandal had reached the top level at the White House weeks ago and senior White House aides claim they kept it to themselves. If I had a staff that failed to warn me of a pending major event that could affect my standing — and I had to learn about it from the media — I’d be looking for a new staff.

It is not just conservative, politically minded citizens whose rights of free expression have been trampled by the government. It’s clear the Department of Justice has taken dead aim at those engaged in the business of a free press — the journalists that work to bring you, the public, the news you need to know about how your government works and doesn’t work.

I know it’s fashionable to complain about the media, but revelations about the Justice Department’s zeal to silence government insiders who leak information to journalists are astounding. Instead of concentrating on catching the leaker of information about a terror attack in Yemen, the DOJ targeted The Associated Press. Investigators got a secret and wide-ranging subpoena for two months’ worth of phone records on office lines that were used by 100 AP reporters and editors in four different cities. The government also combed through AP journalists’ private phone records and emails. To me, this looks a lot more like a fishing expedition than a bona fide national security investigation.

What if the feds scrutinized your personal records based solely on your occupation? Would that be OK with you? Certainly not.

And now comes word that the DOJ labeled James Rosen, a Fox News Washington-based reporter, as a possible “co-conspirator” in a criminal investigation because he “conspired” with an insider to get information about North Korea back in in 2009. What did he do? He gave a knowledgeable State Department employee his phone numbers and his email, and they devised a backdoor way to communicate via Google mail. Reporters are careful like that. It doesn’t make them criminals. Even though they had plenty of evidence from the alleged leaker’s computer and office records, federal investigators went ahead and scoured Rosen’s personal phones and emails, as well as his comings-and-goings at the State Department.

That the government would try to brand a trusted, working journalist who is gathering information for the public a “criminal” is beyond mere intimidation. (Full disclosure: Rosen is a former colleague of mine.)

If there are truly damaging leaks of national security information from government insiders, then by all means the DOJ should go after those employees. The leakers are the ones breaking the confidentiality rules of their employment, breaking the law in some cases. The reporter is simply doing his/her job to gather trustworthy information and report it. The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment’s protection of press freedom should be sacrosanct.

It was a source that provided the initial information that broke open the Watergate scandal. Sources finally revealed the true story behind the terrorist attack on Americans in Benghazi, and sources first revealed the so-called Fast and Furious “gun-walking” scandal. When that well-established information pipeline is interrupted — because a source fears his/her identity could be revealed through a government phone tap or email sweep — your right-to-know dries up.

If the IRS can target certain citizens for harassment and reward others, if the Justice Department can put your sources for news in a bull’s-eye and try to criminalize them — well, as I said, we should all be outraged.

Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net.