When the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on June 3, he did not shy away from introducing a highly politicized framework for understanding the Internal Revenue Service's actions in targeting conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
"This is unprecedented, Congressman .... During the Nixon Administration, there were attempts to use the Internal Revenue Service in manners that might be comparable in terms of misusing it," J. Russell George, the George W. Bush appointee who leads the IG's office, told the committee in the closely watched hearing.
"I'm not saying that ... the actions that were taken are comparable, but I'm just saying, you know, that the misuse of the -- causing a distrust of the system occurred sometime ago. But this is unprecedented," he continued.
It seemed a needlessly inflammatory statement. The impartial investigator within the Treasury Department had just, unprompted, introduced the historic specter of presidential involvement in directing abusive tax treatment of White House enemies, despite a total lack of evidence that such a thing had occurred under President Obama, according to his own findings thus far. It was the first mention of Nixon at the hearing, albeit delivered with a deliberative caveat. He wasn't saying, he was just saying, you know?