During Richard Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign, the president's White House counsel, John Dean, met with the head of the Internal Revenue Service, Johnnie Mac Walters, and presented him with an envelope. Inside was a list of approximately 200 names -- the names of Nixon's political enemies -- and with it came the understanding that the IRS begin investigating the "enemies list" and perhaps start sending some people to jail.
Stunned, Walters sealed the White House list, locked it in a safe and later fended off complaints from Nixon aide John Ehrlichman about the IRS's "foot-dragging tactics."
Two years later, on December 22, 1974, with Nixon having resigned from the Watergate scandal, the New York Times' Seymour Hersh published a front-page blockbuster, headlined: "HUGE C.I.A. OPERATIONS REPORTED IN U.S. AGAINST ANTIWAR FORCES."
Hersh detailed how the CIA under Nixon hatched "an elaborate and secret domestic" spying operation built around illegal wiretapping and the reading of mail. Additionally, the Times confirmed "that intelligence files on at least 10,000 American citizens were maintained by a special unit of the CIA. "
The report sparked the creation of the Church Committee in Congress, which soon uncovered years worth of intelligence abuse inside the CIA, FBI and IRS, among others. Many of the abuses came at the request of the Nixon White House.
Keep those two historical points in mind and consider that Rush Limbaugh in recent days has been insisting Nixon "never even dreamed" of using the IRS has a political weapon, or of breaking the law by spying on Americans.
The backdrop of Limbaugh's clumsy rewriting of history, of course, is the current Obama administration controversies surrounding the IRS and its inappropriate targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, as well as the revelations of widespread domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, which continues to collect metadata, such as phone numbers and the duration of phone calls, from telephone providers. (Keep in mind, nowhere in the NSA or the IRS stories has evidence emerged that Obama or the White House ordered any individual be targeted for surveillance or IRS scrutiny.)
The controversies swirling around the IRS and the NSA are significant ones that raise legitimate questions about the scope and power of the federal government. But full-time Obama critics like Limbaugh can't stop inventing facts. They also can't stop trying to bolster "scandal" claims by making absurd comparisons to Nixon's previous criminal behavior; a hollow pattern that's been persistent throughout Obama's time in office.
Locked in his partisan perspective, Limbaugh now says both the IRS and NSA stories are far worse than the crimes of the Nixon administration. "Most people think Nixon did something ten times as bad as what's happening now," said Limbaugh on June 10. "But the truth is Nixon never even dreamed of this."
Added the host [emphasis added]:
You think about Nixon and Watergate, Nixon is a piker compared to what's happening here with Obama. Literally. I'm not even speaking to you politically. Nixon didn't even dream of the stuff that's happening. Nixon did not use the IRS against people.
Limbaugh though, manages to get the history comically wrong.
Nixon's White House ordered the use of government resources to harm his political enemies. In addition to his top legal aide giving the IRS a list of Democratic enemies to be investigated, there's the time Nixon personally picked up the phone and called his attorney general -- the nation's top cop -- and told him to break the law by prosecuting Nixon's enemies via their "income taxes."
The chapter was recently recalled in the documentary Inventing LA: The Chandler Family and Their Times. The film detailed the newspaper's often contentious relationship with California native Richard Nixon and featured a tape recording of a telephone call between Attorney General George Mitchell and Nixon, with the president giving orders to target members of the left-leaning Chandler family, led by patriarch Otis Chandler, whom Nixon despised:
NIXON: Otis Chandler, I want him checked with regard to his gardener. I understand he's a wetback. We are going to go after the Chandlers. Every one. Individually, collectively. Their income taxes. They're starting this week. Every one of those sons of bitches, is that clear?
Mitchell: Yes, sir.
Nixon: You Understand? Do it. Give me a report.
Mitchell. Very well, sir.
Additionally, the Church Committee determined that between 1968 and 1974, "the FBI requested at least 130 tax returns for domestic intelligence purposes." The list included 46 "New Left activists" and 74 "black extremists."
As for spying on Americans illegally (which is not what the NSA story appears to be about, by the way), that also became a hallmark of the Nixon administration.
From the same Church Committee:
Between 1969 and 1972, the Nixon administration used these criteria to justify a number of questionable wiretaps. One New Left organization was tapped because, among other factors, its members desired to "take the radical politics they learned on campus and spread them among factory workers."
Four newsmen were wiretapped or bugged during this period, as were sixteen executive branch officials, one former executive official, and a relative of an executive official.'
There were numerous wiretaps and some microphones used against the Black Panther Party and similar domestic groups.
Attorney General John Mitchell approved FBI requests for wiretaps on organizations involved in planning the November 1969 antiwar "March on Washington," including the moderate Vietnam Moratorium Committee.
Spinning a feel-good GOP fairytale, Limbaugh claims Nixon "never even dreamed" of abusing governmental powers the way the talker claims Obama is today.
Fact: Nixon didn't just dream it. He tried to do it.
Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.