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Opinion: Editorials

Examiner Editorial: Get to bottom of IRS targeting of Tea Party to avoid future abuses

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Opinion,Editorial,Barack Obama,Judicial Watch,IRS,Richard Nixon,Washington Examiner

If there were any grounds before Wednesday for accepting President Obama's Super Bowl interview claim that there was “not a smidgen of corruption” in the IRS scandal, the latest release of emails from within the tax agency obliterated them. The same emails also put to rest any remaining reason for accepting anything said about the scandal by former IRS executive Lois Lerner. The emails were obtained by Judicial Watch, an independent non-profit government watchdog group, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

From the outset of the IRS scandal, the Obama administration has claimed the illegal targeting and harassment of hundreds of Tea Party and conservative non-profit applicants during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns happened in the tax agency's Cincinnati office. Nobody in the IRS headquarters or in the White House was involved. Only lower-level IRS agents in Cincinnati made the “bone-headed decisions” Obama referred to during the Super Bowl interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly.

President Nixon tried to use the IRS to punish his enemies.

But in a July 2012 email made public by Judicial Watch, Holly Paz, then director of the agency’s Rulings and Agreements division in the nation’s capital, asked an IRS lawyer on her staff “to let Cindy and Sharon know how we have been handling Tea Party applications in the last few months.” Cindy Thomas is the former director of the IRS Exempt Organizations office in Cincinnati, and Sharon Camarillo was a senior manager in its Los Angeles office. In other words, the direction came straight from Washington.

Something else was revealed in the latest emails that in some respects is the most worrisome aspect of the IRS scandal. In an April 2013 email, Lerner described the four criteria for deciding whether to subject a particular applicant to targeting and harassment. The third and fourth criteria were, Lerner said, whether the applicant described its purpose as to educate “the public through advocacy/legislative activities to make America a better place to live” or if statements were found in the applicants case file “that are critical of the how the country is being run."

Those two statements are so broad and potentially inclusive that they should instantly prompt Democrats and liberal nonprofit activists to rethink their opposition to House Republican efforts to get to the bottom of the IRS scandal. The day could come when a future president will be from the same party that controls both houses of Congress.

There are no guarantees that such an administration won’t seize upon Lerner’s criteria to put every politically significant non-profit group through years of document production; intrusive, recurring audits; unexplained administrative delays and reconsidered tax status interviews.

There were good reasons why the nation was outraged when it learned during the Watergate scandal that President Nixon tried to use the IRS to punish his enemies. Nixon violated the political consensus that the federal tax agency had to be unquestionably non-partisan. Nixon, thankfully, was rebuffed. To insure that any future effort of this type is also rebuffed, Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of the present scandal.

Editor's note: Judicial Watch is representing the Washington Examiner in the newspaper's federal lawsuit seeking access to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau records under FOIA.

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