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Obama's Treasury secretary owed $26K in taxes, but it's OK

January 13, 2009 |  3:50 pm

The U.S. Treasury Dept>

Uh, it seems that Democrat Barack Obama's secretary of the Treasury-designate owed something like $34,000 in back taxes when he was picked to head the nation's financial system.

Uh, it seems Timothy Geithner owed the back taxes because the would-be member of the president's new Cabinet employed a housekeeper who became an illegal immigrant while working for him. And Geithner did not pay self-employment taxes for several years until the IRS audited him.

It seems the Obama transition team discovered the back taxes while researching the nominee, unlike the federal grand jury investigation of now former would-be secretary of Commerce-designate Bill Richardson.

Democratic President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of the Treasury-designate Timothy Geithner who owed thousands of dollars in back taxes to the IRS

It seems that such legal problems have derailed would-be Cabinet members in the past -- think Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood for Bill Clinton and Linda Chavez for George W. Bush.

It seems that Obama spokesmen are calling the nonpayment of thousands of dollars in back taxes for years a minor thing. One news report described it as "a speed bump." Sam Stein over at HuffingtonPost calls it an "embarrassing public relations headache" but really a mistake "quite common in nature."

For a secretary of the Treasury? A Federal Reserve president? Somebody who, now that Bill Richardson is stuck in Santa Fe, is gonna mastermind the economic recovery?

Oh, and for someone whose department includes the Internal Revenue Service?

It seems that the Obama team's talking points focus on the words "honest mistakes."

Incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says of Geithner, "He's dedicated his career to our country and served with honor, intelligence and distinction. That service should not be tarnished by honest mistakes, which, upon learning of them, he quickly addressed."

Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he understands "honest mistakes." Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who like Reid and Obama happens to be a Democrat, also calls Geithner's tax failures "honest mistakes" and still expects his confirmation on Obama's inauguration day.

As part of Washington's new policy of government transparency, Baucus and other committee members met with Geithner behind closed doors today.

"These errors were not intentional," Baucus added. How, BTW, do you tell that after the fact?

So you're a bank president walking out of the store with a $34,000 candy bar you did not pay for. A large person with a gun points that out. So you pay the $34 Gs. And that makes it obviously unintentional and an "honest mistake"?

Remember now, Harry Reid is the fine fellow who vowed last month that no Senate appointee of Illinois' legally troubled Gov. Rod Blagojevich would ever be seated. Tomorrow, Reid will welcome Blagojevich's appointee, Roland Burris, to the U.S. Senate and to Obama's vacant seat.

Also, here's a Washington political danger alert for the new Obama transition team. The canny Reid, who's got his own reelection next year, vowed he still supports the Treasury nominee. Second danger signal: Reid added, "I do not know Mr. Geithner well."

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credits: Washington Visitors Bureau (U.S. Treasury); Charles Dharapak / Associated Press (Timothy Geithner).

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