The Wall Street Journal had an editorial this week about some IRS shenanigens involving the last ordinary California gubernatorial election. It seems that the IRS was having a dispute with the KPMG accounting firm over some tax shelter scheme and in order to put pressure on them released the names of some people who had called KPMG for information (note, not people who had participated in the tax shelter but had only asked about them). Of course, the release of that information is illegal. One of the people whose name showed up was Bill Simon. This was during the campaign and it had a real impact on the election. It was investigate by the Department of Justice under John Ashcroft and the result - nothing. According to the WSJ this wasn’t even consider to rise to the level of poor judgement. So there will be no punishment, not discentive from doing this kind of thing again. And that’s for an act that hurt a political ally of President Bush.
The WSJ editorial makes exactly the point I would - what does this say about how well any abuses of the Patriot Act will be reigned in? If Ashcroft and Bush wants us to believe that the DoJ can be trusted with these kind of additional powers, they need to take seriously their responsibility to be trustworthy with the powers they already have.
My opposition to the Patriot Act has not been that it’s instrinsically flawed, but that such things can’t be trusted to a federal government that is this cavalier about egregious violations of law by its own, the consequent violations of the rights of innocents (such as Simon) and one that chose to not use powers it already has. Proponents frequently argue about how we shouldn’t worry about abusing the guilty, but that’s never worried me - it’s the trashing of the not-guilty that is a concern. It’s also the use of powers granted for fighting terror on side shows like pornography and internet head shops. A DoJ with the spare time to do that kind of thing is one that doesn’t need additional powers to do better against terrorism.