As the controversy concerning IRS targeting continues to grow, the president's defenders will say that he did not direct the targeting, and did not know about it beforehand. Though this affair is not Watergate, the president's critics might draw a parallel. During and after the Watergate scandal, various observers said that, even though President Nixon neither ordered the break-in nor knew about it in advance, he still bore responsibility for creating the atmosphere that led to it.
Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose: "Nixon doesn't have to specifically say, 'I want you guys to go do this.'"
Katie Couric; "He clearly created an atmosphere..."
Ambrose: "Oh certainly."
Couric: "...where his underlings thought this was perfectly acceptable behavior."
-- The Today Show, January 24, 2000
"Whether or not Nixon knew, he bears personal responsibility for the break-in because he created an atmosphere in which his subordinates would logically assume this was what he expected from them." -- David R. Gergen, Eyewitness to Power (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), p. 97.
"Well, you have to go to the best evidence, which are all--all of the tapes. And they showed that Nixon not only created the specifics, but created the atmosphere of paranoia, this--this incentive to get dirt on the opposition." -- Bob Woodward on The Today Show, June 17, 1997
"But there was an atmosphere created in the Nixon White House from the top down." -- Carl Bernstein, on Tim Russert, CNBC, Jue 15, 1997.
"As far as Nixon is concerned, we have no proof that Nixon was in on the (burglary) planning. All I say is that Nixon created an atmosphere around the White House that made it quite logical for his assistants to believe that this was a proper thing to do." -- Leon Jaworski, quoted in UPI story, July 17, 1979.
"I think the President, whether he knew about the Watergale break-in and bugging or not, created the atmosphere and the climate by which this could happen." -- Walter Hickel, quoted in AP story, September 7, 1973.At The New York Times, Ross Douthat points in a similar direction:
Where might an enterprising, public-spirited I.R.S. agent get the idea that a Tea Party group deserved more scrutiny from the government than the typical band of activists seeking tax-exempt status? Oh, I don’t know: why, maybe from all the prominent voices who spent the first two years of the Obama era worrying that the Tea Party wasn’t just a typically messy expression of citizen activism, but something much darker — an expression of crypto-fascist, crypto-racist rage, part Timothy McVeigh and part Bull Connor, potentially carrying a wave of terrorist violence in its wings.