The IRS scandal: made in Washington

NBC News delivered a thorough report on the state of the IRS scandal on Tuesday, which is a sure indication that the scandal is very much alive, kicking, and growing.  One of the major factors driving this new coverage is the involvement of lawyers.  The groups targeted for abuse by the IRS (and other agencies) are filing lawsuits.  If that doesn’t draw enough media interest on its own, a good high-profile legal team knows how to go out and get it.

A good deal of the information contained in the NBC piece was already known to careful students of the scandal, but will come as a dash of cold water in the face of any casual news consumers who still think it was all just a crazy misadventure involving a couple of left-wing goofballs in the deepest recesses of the Cincinnati office:

Jay Sekulow, an attorney representing 27 conservative political advocacy organizations that applied to the Internal Revenue Service for tax-exempt status, provided some of the letters to NBC News.  He said the groups’ contacts with the IRS prove that the practices went beyond a few “front line” employees in the Cincinnati office, as the IRS has maintained.

“We’ve dealt with 15 agents, including tax law specialists — that’s lawyers — from four different offices, including (the) Treasury (Department) in Washington, D.C.,” Sekulow said. “So the idea that this is a couple of rogue agents in Cincinnati is not correct.”

This was big, it was coordinated, and the abusive practices didn’t stop when IRS officials originally claimed:

Sekulow, who worked with the office of the chief counsel of the IRS in the early 1980s as a trial lawyer representing the IRS on tax-exempt cases, said the number of groups he’s heard from, and the scope of the requests for information the IRS sent them, persuaded him “that this was not something that was just created at an agent level, that this was certainly higher up.”

After reviewing all the IRS communications his clients received, Sekulow said he believes the IRS was engaged in a coordinated and deliberate attempt to silence, or at least stifle conservative organizations, he told NBC News.

Sekulow also said the practices continued well after May 2012, when the IRS has claimed they had stopped. Sekulow said 10 of the organizations he represents still have not received determinations from the IRS on their applications for tax-exempt status as 501 C (1)(4) organizations.

But then the NBC report offers us a fresh morsel of scandal to chew on:

Cleta Mitchell, another attorney representing conservative groups that allege they were targeted, said an IRS agent in Cincinnati told her a “task force” IRS office in Washington, D.C., was making the decisions about the processing of applications, and that she subsequently dealt with IRS representatives there.

“(The IRS agent in Cincinnati) told me that in fact the case would be transferred to a special task force out of Washington, and that he was told – he was the originally assigned agent – that he wasn’t allowed to make decisions, the decisions were all going to be made in Washington,” Mitchell said. “I know that this process was going on in Washington because I’ve dealt with those people.”

Catherine Englebrecht of True the Vote, which is one of Mitchell’s clients, also reports hearing that IRS agents were “taking their orders from Washington, and were waiting for Washington’s direction as to what steps to take next.”  It’s worth recalling that Englebrecht got the works, from agencies far beyond those lovable scamps at Internal Revenue.  “Task Force Washington” apparently had a very plump Rolodex.

It just never passed even the most cursory test of common sense that uncoordinated low-level operatives could pull of something like this, without anyone in their management hierarchy becoming aware of it.  The fact that everyone in that management hierarchy remains in place at the time of this writing – aside from one temporary assignment ending on schedule, one graceful retirement, and one case of “paid administrative leave” – is a national outrage.  But let’s not pretend any longer that these people should be cashiered for mere incompetence.  On the contrary, the effectiveness of this voter suppression operation was quite formidable.