- Perhaps you remember Henry Cisneros. He's the former
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who pleaded guilty in 1999 to
lying to FBI investigators during his pre-appointment background check
about hush payments to a former mistress, on which it also happens he hadn't
paid the requisite taxes.
- Well, the special counsel report investigating all this
still hasn't been made public, thanks largely to procedural roadblocks
by Mr. Cisneros's attorneys. And now, all of a sudden, a rash of news stories
and editorials are urging Independent Counsel David Barrett to wrap up
his investigation forthwith, without releasing his findings.
- Then there's the amendment that North Dakota Senator
Byron Dorgan and co-sponsors John Kerry and Richard Durbin are trying to
attach to the latest supplemental war appropriations bill that would de-fund
Mr. Barrett immediately. This would have the practical effect of making
sure that Mr. Barrett's report never sees the light of day. After 10 long
years and $21 million, don't they think taxpayers deserve to see what the
special counsel has learned?
- We should add that any blame for this delay lies mainly
with Mr. Cisneros's lawyers at Williams and Connolly, who have filed more
than 190 motions and appeals; one single appeal took some 18 months to
deal with. The 400-plus page Barrett report has been largely done since
last August, and awaits only a requisite period for review and response
by those named in its pages. The only thing threatening a hold-up past
June are further defense motions seeking still more delay.
- So what don't Democrats want everyone to know? We're
told that early on the Barrett probe moved away from Mr. Cisneros and his
mistress and focused on an attempted cover-up by the Clinton Administration,
especially involving the IRS.
- Back in the early '90s Mr. Cisneros was considered the
rising savior of the Democratic Party in Texas. "So there were people
who wanted to save his political future," a source tells us. To that
end, when the IRS began investigating him for tax fraud an extraordinary
thing happened: The investigation was taken from the IRS district office
that would always handle such an audit and moved to Washington, where it
- "Never in the history of the IRS has a case been
pulled out of the regional office and taken directly to Washington,"
our source continues. This information was originally provided to Mr. Barrett,
some years into his investigation, by a whistleblower in the IRS regional
office with 30 years of experience.
- Using his subpoena power, Mr. Barrett also found that
the IRS would not have been able to kill the case on its own. It had to
have cooperation from the Justice Department, particularly the Public Integrity
and Tax divisions. We're told Mr. Barrett beat back several attempts by
Justice to squelch or otherwise limit his investigation, and that a lot
of important names from the Clinton era appear in the report. One key figure
is likely to be former Clinton Administration IRS Commissioner Peggy Richardson,
a prominent Texas Democrat, and a friend of both Mr. Cisneros and Senator
Hillary Rodham Clinton.
- With Mrs. Clinton likely to run for President in 2008,
all of this obviously bears on the character of her potential Administration.
(Bill Clinton pardoned Mr. Cisneros in 2001.) But just as important is
the rare look the report may provide of how the IRS can be manipulated
for political ends. This is the first time the IRS has been investigated
with grand jury subpoena power, and it is likely to be revealing.
- Abuse of the taxing power is about as serious as corruption
can get in our democracy, and it should be of bipartisan concern. In the
1990s, conservative critics of the Clinton Administration such as the Heritage
Foundation had to endure suspicious audits. And of course the Nixon Tapes
reveal that the former Republican President ordered tax investigations
of Democratic opponents and donors. These columns recently raised doubts
about an IRS probe of the tax status of the NAACP.
- Yet now three highly partisan Democrats want to de-fund
this probe and prevent publication of the report. "There is no other
way to characterize this but as obstruction of justice," a source
tells us, noting that Congress has never before tried to step on an Independent
Counsel investigation like this. Surely given the ethical history of the
Clinton years, the public deserves to see the report and judge for itself
whether the IRS and Justice Department were misused for political purposes.