As Congress continues investigations of the IRS and the Justice Department, some have noted that the scandals now plaguing President Barack Obama are hauntingly parallel to those that bedeviled another Democratic president following his re-election.
Following his dramatic come-from-behind win in the 1948 election, Harry Truman was plagued by charges of corruption in the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Department of Justice.
The corruption and appearance of lax prosecution cost President Truman and the Democrats dearly. In his "Harry Truman and the Crisis Presidency," historian Bert Cochran wrote, "The moral fiber of the Truman administration had been called into question. … The personal authority of the president had been undermined.”
In what could be a forerunner of the Republican campaigns in 2014, GOP candidates in 1952 drew roaring responses by focusing in large part on what they called “the mess in Washington.”
Winning presidential nominee Dwight Eisenhower told voters: “When we are through, the experts in shady and shoddy government operations will be on the way back to the shadowy haunts in the shadowy sub-cellars of American politics from which they came.”
Historian David Pietrusza told Newsmax, "As in Obama's second term, a whole raft of seemingly unrelated scandals bedeviled Truman's second term."
Pietrusza, the author of the much-praised "1948" on Truman's re-election, pointed out that the scandals included "gifts of deep freezers and fur coats to White House officials, problems with the Reconstruction Finance Corp., and notably, corruption involving anti-trust actions in the Department of Justice and tax favoritism in the Bureau of Internal Revenue."
This view was strongly seconded by historian Irwin Gellman, whose books include "The Contender," the first of a series on the life of Richard Nixon that deals with then-California Rep. Nixon's stint in Congress during Truman's presidency.
Gellman told Newsmax: "Truman and Obama both allowed their cronies to be protected, notably [Truman's Attorney General] J. Howard McGrath and [Obama's Attorney General] Eric Holder. Rather than get to the bottom of corruption in the Department of Justice, both refused to admit any kind of culpability. And when congressional committees began to investigate, the White House charged it was all a 'partisan witch hunt.'"
Charges of tax favoritism, bribery, and theft of federal dollars by the Bureau of Internal Revenue made headlines during investigations conducted by Senate and House committees in 1951-52.
As a result, "the tax organization was churned up from one end of the country to the other. Sixty-six individuals were dismissed and nine went to jail," wrote Cochran. Internal Revenue Commissioner Joseph Nunan and Assistant Commissioner Daniel Bolich both were convicted of tax fraud.
The Department of Justice was implicated in the tax scandals and faced other charges of corruption in its internal management. It was eerily akin to what many lawmakers say today about Holder’s management style.
The report of the Judiciary subcommittee investigating the Department of Justice wrote of then-Attorney General McGrath: "He exhibited a deplorable lack of knowledge of the department he was supposed to administer. He lacked information as to its organization and personnel and specific events of importance were unknown to him. … Mr. McGrath showed no enthusiasm for purging his department of wrongdoing or incompetence.”
Reacting to the charges, President Truman named Newbold Morris, a Manhattan attorney and twice Republican nominee for mayor of New York, as special counsel to investigate the Department of Justice. Political scientist Harold Seidman, then a Budget Bureau official, described Morris as “a bit of a dope who didn’t want to make any decisions."
His exact status was nebulous. Although named by the president and assuming he was a free agent to investigate, Morris had the title "special assistant to the attorney general" — leading the attorney general to assume Morris was working for him.
Morris unveiled a detailed questionnaire for Justice Department employees under investigation. In addition, he announced that a grand jury would be empaneled to give him subpoena power.
On April 3, 1952, 63 days after Morris took the investigative job, McGrath decided he was asking too much and dismissed him. As soon as the news broke, Truman telephoned his attorney general to tell him he, too, was fired.
At this point, it remains to be seen if what is increasingly being dubbed “the Obama scandals” will go as far as “the Truman scandals” did.
But what Jules Abel concluded in "The Truman Scandals," the definitive book on corruption in the Truman administration, is what many on Capitol Hill are beginning to say about the Obama scandals.
“The administration … far from taking effective action to wipe out corruption, was in some cases protecting the wrongdoers, in other cases was indifferent, and in other cases the machinery of the administration was used to block and thwart the investigators of corruption," Abel wrote.
"The frauds were revealed not because of the administration, but in spite of it."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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