Closing down a bridge to punish a mayor for not endorsing Gov. Chris Christie for re-election was an unambiguous abuse of power by individuals on the governor’s staff and was rather petty to boot. This kind of bullying is hardly unique to New Jersey, though. It goes on at the federal level, too. In fact, the now-former Christie associates are amateurs compared to President Obama’s team of pin-striped tough guys.
Consider the government shutdown last fall when the president authorized the needless closing of federal parks and museums in an attempt to smear Republicans. Obama’s team got so carried away that they even tried to close state-run parks in Wisconsin that weren’t dependent on federal funds. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had to defy federal orders to keep them open.
Then there were the Tea Party groups that challenged the Obama agenda and soon found themselves targeted and harassed by the IRS. Yes, the tax official who ran the program claimed her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a congressional hearing, but don't expect any criminal charges to emerge from the IRS scandal. Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department sees no evil in it, perhaps because the government attorney in charge of the investigation is a long-time Obama donor.
Another example of "the Chicago Way" as applied in Washington emerged this week in a legal filing by Standard and Poor's, which faces federal fraud charges. An executive recounted how then-Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the feds would seek payback for S&P downgrading the U.S. credit rating. Recall that back in August 2011, S&P dropped its credit-worthiness rating for the U.S. from AAA to just AA+. It was a reasonable decision, given the staggering U.S. debt load and the chronic inability of Congress to agree on annual budgets.
It was also highly embarrassing to a White House then gearing up for a re-election campaign. Two days after S&P’s announcement, McGraw Hill CEO Harold McGraw got a call from a steaming-mad Geithner, who told him the rating agency had made a huge mistake. “You are accountable for that,” Geithner reportedly said, adding that “you have done an enormous disservice to yourselves and to your country.”
The Treasury secretary then said S&P had made other mistakes in the past and would be “looked at very carefully." McGraw said he also recalled Geithner saying "such behavior could not occur without a response from the government." It wasn't a threat. It was a preview. Last year, Holder's Justice Department filed charges against S&P, claiming it defrauded investigators by falsely rating home loans as AAA. S&P denies the charges. A Treasury spokesman told Politico that McGraw's allegation regarding Geithner was “false,” while a Justice Department official wondered why the story was only being told now, more than two years after it “purportedly happened.”
Hmm, maybe McGraw was initially afraid to talk about the threat he received from one of the most powerful people in the government — and one uniquely positioned to do immense harm to his company. After all, scaring people into silence was the whole point of Geithner's threat, wasn't it?