Politics

IRS hearings: ‘This scandal is not over. The lying has not stopped.’

IRS hearings: 'This scandal is not over. The lying has not stopped.'

Cleta Mitchell, attorney for an assortment of Tea Party groups that received very special attention from Barack Obama’s politicized Internal Revenue Service, lowered the boom on what she described as a “sham, non-existent” Justice Department investigation of the scandal during House Ways and Means Committee hearings on Thursday:

“I want to make three primary points here today,” said Mitchell.  “First, the IRS scandal is real. It’s not pretend, it’s real.  Number two, the IRS scandal is not just a bone-headed bunch of bureaucrats in some remote office contrary to what the President of the United States told the American People on Sunday.  And, number 3, the IRS scandal is not over.  It is continuing to this day.  And the Department of Justice Investigation is a sham.  It is a nonexistent investigation.”

Her one-sentence summary of the scandal was powerful stuff: “The IRS, at the direction of some political elites in Washington - not in Cincinnati, but Washington – took what had been, for decades, a process of reviewing applications for exempt status that, for 501(c)(4) organizations, could be expected to take three to four weeks, and they converted that process into one that took three to four years, and in some cases is still not over.”

Okay, it was a long sentence, but she got the whole thing in there with a few pauses for comma insertion.  This scandal is not complicated.  There’s no reason responsible reporters should throw up their hands and declare the whole thing an inscrutable mess nobody can ever figure out.  There’s no doubt the conservative groups targeted by the IRS received wildly disproportionate treatment, of a nature displayed to very, very few non-conservative applicants.  The media has been helping Obama drag the scandal out until the public loses interest, so perhaps some people have forgotten this whole thing began with the IRS admitting it acted improperly.  Remember that?  Long before Lois Lerner was taking the Fifth to avoid testimony over a situation Barack Obama claims is utterly devoid of corruption, she rose to fame by staging a press conference in which a planted question allowed her to get out in front of a devastating internal agency report.

As Mitchell noted in her testimony, there have been documented instances of an IRS official lying to Congress during the investigation, which is a crime.  Among those lies was a false assertion by the IRS commissioner that no targeting of conservative groups was occurring… the very same scandalous process Lerner would later admit to.  Confidential information from various groups – the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Governor Rick Perry’s Public Policy Council, the National Organization for Marriage, Koch Industries – has been leaked, which is a crime.

For the President of the United States to tell the American people there isn’t a “smidgen of corruption” about this scandal is a lie, an objectively false statement.  He didn’t say “yes, there were violations of the law, but I was not aware of them at the time, and I will ensure they are thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.”  He denied these crimes took place at all, and it is simply not credible that even this incredibly inept and willfully ignorant President was completely unaware of them.  He’s so lucky he’s not a Republican, and this scandal wasn’t about abusing power to target liberal groups; his caricature as a tyrant, liar, or at best bumbling ignoramus would already be written into popular culture.

And of course, if President Obama had repeated his long-ago promises to thoroughly investigate these crimes on SuperBowl Sunday, he’d have been laughed off the national stage.  As Mitchell angrily noted, no one is investigating any of this.  A few half-hearted investigatory rituals have been conducted here and there, just to check off the boxes, but this is the first investigation in history where the victims were only briefly consulted as an afterthought.  There hasn’t been much of a perp walk for the crimes Mitchell tallied up, has there?  Even in cases where the perpetrator’s identity is written into the Congressional Record?

One of those victims, True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht, appeared at this week’s hearings to deliver the testimony Obama’s “investigators” evidently aren’t interested in hearing:

“It must be made publicly known that across this country, citizens just like me are being targeted by an Administration willing to take any action necessary to silence opposition,” said Engelbrecht, who received visits from agencies far beyond Internal Revenue.  It should not be lost on anyone that she caught the eye of this regime by standing up against vote fraud.  The people who claim they can micro-manage 300 million health care policies don’t seem to like the idea of using the best available identification technology to monitor the polls.

The worse this scandal becomes, the more reluctant we’re supposed to grow about discussing it frankly, as Mitchell and Engelbrecht did this week.  It’s so huge that merely describing it is an act of extremism; the media has decided that blunt talk about the IRS story is more outrageous than the scandal itself.  It stinks to high heaven, but only extremists, obsessives, and Fox News are supposedly able to pick up the scent.  Almost every time I write about this story, I invite readers to perform a thought experiment and reverse the political polarity of this story – drop in John McCain as the President, swap out Mrs. Engelbrecht for the leader of a civil-rights organization, imagine Cleta Mitchell is representing pro-abortion and gun-control groups – but keep every other development in the story the same.  Is there anyone in the United States delusional enough to honestly believe the mainstream media and Beltway political culture would treat it the same way?

The Administration’s spin about how these IRS regulations were merely “difficult to interpret” is ludicrous on its face.  No conceivable level of difficulty would stymie one of the largest, most powerful bureaucracies on Earth for years.  Think back to all the outrageous demands that were made of the targeted groups, such as pro-lifers told to hand over their prayer books.  No honest government official needed years to decide whether these organizations, many of them quite small, qualified for the kind of tax exemption that was routinely handed over to virtually every other applicant in a matter of weeks.  The game here was not to deny tax exempt status to the targeted organizations – that would have involved a firm decision with supporting documentation, which could have been challenged.  Obama’s political enemies were simply kept in limbo, held at bay with occasional requests for intrusive and irrelevant data designed to intimidate them.

The Wall Street Journal supports Mitchell’s statement that the scandal is still in progress; the Administration is actually trying to use it to their advantage, employing their own excuses about how complicated the regulations are to write even more of them, a process that would “effectively silence White House opponents this election year.”  The Journal relates an interesting exchange from this week’s hearings about how the last pile of ostensibly baffling regulations was created:

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp blew up this fairy tale at Wednesday’s hearing with new IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. Mr. Camp unveiled a June 14, 2012 email from Treasury career attorney Ruth Madrigal to key IRS officials in the tax-exempt department, including former director Lois Lerner.

The email cites a blog post about the political activity of tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups and reads: “Don’t know who in your organizations [sic] is keeping tabs on c4s, but since we mentioned potentially addressing them (off-plan) in 2013, I’ve got my radar up and this seemed interesting.”

Interesting for sure. The IRS typically puts out a public schedule of coming regulations, and Mr. Camp noted that in this case “off-plan” appears to mean “hidden from the public.” He added that committee interviews with IRS officials have found that the new 2013 rules were in the works as early as 2011, meaning the Administration has “fabricated the rationale” for this new regulation.

Mr. Camp added that everything his committee has discovered contradicts the White House argument that the IRS scandal was caused by legal “confusion.” The current rules governing 501(c)(4)s have existed, unchanged, since 1959. Prior to 2010 the IRS processed and approved tax-exempt applications in fewer than three months with no apparent befuddlement.

The Daily Caller adds that emails obtained by the House Ways and Means Committee show that Lois Lerner was directly involved in drafting those hidden-from-the-public regulations.  The Wall Street Journal thinks it’s quite obvious what caused the system to suddenly change after 40 years:

The IRS hyper-scrutiny of conservative groups only began in 2010 amid the Obama Administration’s larger political attack on political donors like the Koch brothers, and emails show that IRS officials were acutely aware of this political environment. In February 2010, for example, an IRS screener in Cincinnati flagged an application to his superiors noting: “Recent media attention to this type of organization indicates to me that this is a ‘high profile’ case.”

From then on applications were routed through the offices of Mrs. Lerner and Obama-appointed IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, and long approval delays ensued. Extensive interviews and emails show that neither the initial Cincinnati interest, nor the subsequent Washington delay, was in any way driven by “confusion.”

None of the low-level people originally blamed for this scandal, or even the mid-level officials who became the next rank of fall guys, has ever sounded “confused” at all.  They received orders from above, and followed those orders perfectly.

Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have signed a letter calling on the current IRS commissioner, Josh Koskinen, to withdraw new rules that “would make intimidation and harassment of the Administration’s political opponents the official policy of the IRS,” rather than something they do quietly behind closed doors.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) brought it all home by returning to President Obama’s offhanded dismissal of the IRS investigation on SuperBowl Sunday.  Rep. Gowdy’s point, to put it far more mildly than he does, is that the President of the United States has no business pre-judging the outcome of an investigation that is nowhere near complete, especially given that evidence of criminal activity is already on the books, and a large number of the victims have yet to be interviewed by law enforcement at all.  I can remember a time when Obama’s “not a smidgen of corruption” comments would have been treated like a scandal unto themselves, in an era when the rule of law was taken far more seriously.

 

 

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