IRS brass concealed abuse of power scandal for a year

The UK Daily Mail delivers one of the more astounding revelations from this week’s congressional testimony, charmingly dubbed the “IRS tea-party bloodbath”:

Tempers flared in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday, with members on both sides of the aisle castigating the Internal Revenue Service for targeting conservative groups with special scrutiny, and then hiding the practice from Congress.

Rep. Darrel Issa, the committee’s chairman, said that the committee learned just yesterday that the IRS completed its own investigation a year before a Treasury Department Inspector General report was completed.

But despite the IRS recognizing in May 2012 that its employees were treating right-wing groups differently from other organizations, Issa said, IRS personnel withheld those conclusions from legislators.

‘Just yesterday the committee interviewed Holly Paz, the director of exempt organizations, rulings and agreements, division of the IRS,’ Issa said. ‘While a tremendous amount of attention is centered about the Inspector General’s report, or investigation, the committee has learned from Ms. Paz that she in fact participated in an IRS internal investigation that concluded in May of 2012 – May 3 of 2012 – and found essentially the same thing that Mr. George found more than a year later.’

‘Think about it,’ he continued: ‘For more than a year, the IRS knew that it had inappropriately targeted groups of Americans based on their political beliefs, and without mentioning it, and in fact without honestly answering questions that were the result of this internal investigation.’

In other words, the impending arrival of the Treasury Inspector General report ended a year-long cover-up, in which top IRS officials withheld vital information from Congress.

It shouldn’t have been very difficult for that earlier IRS investigation to locate the wrongdoing, since it affected hundreds of groups.  How long would it take to establish that those fabled “low level rogue employees” were using keywords like “Tea Party” and “patriot” to persecute dissidents?  Agency spin portrays this as an atom-splitting feat of mental prowess, requiring length and delicate investigations, but we’re talking about highly-paid veteran managers of an agency that specializes in data mining discovering blatant malfeasance by a relatively small, curiously coordinated group of employees.

That’s assuming you’re willing to swallow the “rogue agent” stuff, which the former manager of the fabled Cincinnati IRS office told NBC News was “inconsistent with the kinds of checks and balances that are inherent in the way the organization is set up,” since “front-line employees do not make key decisions about policy and how work is processed.”  Instead, “work is reviewed by the managers… the employees don’t operate autonomously where there is no review.”

Once again, we see the interests of high-powered managers and political appointees elevated far above the interests of the American people.  The first, second, and third thought of everyone involved in this scandal – from IRS supervisors to Barack Obama – was public-relations spin and career protection.

House Oversight chairman Issa was livid at this breach of government accountability, and the oppression of American citizens.  “There is nothing we, as representatives, should find more important than to take it seriously, get to the bottom of it, and eradicate the behavior.”  But that’s not how the IRS management or the White House sees things, is it?  That hasn’t been their “most important” objective at any stage of this scandal.

Holly Paz, incidentally, is a $2,000 donor to the Obama 2008 campaign.  IRS agents in general donated over twice as much money to Obama in 2012 as they did to his opponent, Mitt Romney.  It’s not hard to see how public knowledge of a blockbuster scandal involving abuse of power against Obama’s opponents would have hurt the President’s re-election campaign, if it had broken over the summer of 2012.  Why should we do any of these people the courtesy of assuming their motivation for concealing the scandal didn’t involve such considerations, along with personal posterior covering and protection of the agency’s power?  Let them go under oath and convince us otherwise.

They don’t seem eager to do that, or answer any of the “intrusive” questions they so freely asked of the American citizens they targeted for abuse.  Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner was allowed to drop a prepared statement, invoke the Fifth Amendment, and scurry off today, rather than being made to sit for the cameras and repeat her Fifth Amendment shield against self-incrimination in response to the dozens of serious questions she should be answering.  When Issa asked if she’d be willing to stick around and help the committee out, she replied, “I will not answer any questions or testify today.”

That’s consistent with the reluctance of the IRS to answer any questions since this whole outrage began, years ago.

Update: Well, what do you know!  That bombshell Inspector General report was supposed to be delivered before the 2012 election… but it wasn’t.  The Inspector General was required by statute to keep Congress updated on the progress of his investigation… but he didn’t.  Whatever could explain such curious, and possibly illegal, behavior?

Funny how the agents of this titanic government expect us to obey thousands of pages of rules and regulations, but seem cheerfully ignorant – or actively contemptuous – of the laws governing their own offices.

Update: It looks like Lerner’s going to get a return engagement before the House Oversight committee… and this time she won’t be able to take the Fifth, because she waived her Fifth Amendment rights by giving that self-serving “I did nothing wrong” statement today.  Whoopsie!