Opinion

Getting to the truth about Obama's IRS scandal

|
Opinion,Op-Eds,Barack Obama,Treasury,IRS,Benghazi,Inspectors General,Conservatism

Public attention has been riveted for months on the IRS scandal, which is much larger and much more complex than the Obama administration wants to acknowledge.

The targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, the most serious of the Obamagate scandals, is no more the responsibility of “rogue agents in Cincinnati” than the massacre in Benghazi is the responsibility of a rogue videographer.

This scandal is rather the result of a strategy set forth by the White House and its “progressive” allies in the Washington bureaucracy to silence groups and individuals deemed a political threat to the administration.

Although President Obama called this massive abuse of the IRS “inexcusable,” his administration has found plenty of excuses not to “get to the bottom of it,” as his press secretary, Jay Carney, initially promised it would.

In the first flurry of damage control, Obama told the media he had instructed Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to investigate, but Obama left out the probability that Lew learned of the targeting -- and perhaps coordinated it -- in May 2012, when he was the president's chief of staff.

Conservatives looking for evidence of what they knew by experience was happening to them as a result of IRS “scrutiny” placed hope in the report issued by J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration, at about the time the scandal erupted.

This report indeed authenticated the focus on conservative groups and the use of the terms "Tea Party," "patriot," "9/12" and similar phrases.

But we still don’t know the exact criteria from which the IRS constructed its “be on the lookout” (BOLO) list, the fulcrum used to give groups excessive screening.

Nor is there any indication that the report used the agency’s extensive data-mining capacity to investigate the abusive and illegitimate targeting.

Such deficits give the report the feel of damage control, despite its revelations, rather than a rigorous hunt for truth.

But the Tea Party targeting was but one part of a larger scandal. No one seems much interested in the fact that Booz Allen Hamilton -- the very same firm that once employed National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden -- essentially got a no-bid contract to design the Google-like software used for the targeting.

The selective and repeated auditing of conservative pundits, including filmmaker Joel Gilbert and commentator Wayne Allyn Root, also raise interesting questions about the scope.

Root was audited just five days after he had cleared a previous audit. Many conservative and libertarian businessmen I have met have told me similar stories of audits.

As late as June 2013, long after Congress began investigating what the administration promised was a mistake of the past, pro-life groups were being badgered for information about their activities.

“We've had three more groups come to us that have had problems with the IRS -- some very recent, some current or still pending,” Peter Breen, senior counsel at the Thomas More Society, which represents pro-life groups targeted by the IRS, told the Daily Caller. “It's continuing, and it needs to be addressed.”

In an August closed-door session of the House Ways and Means Committee, an unidentified IRS agent testified that Tea Party groups were still being forced into special “secondary screening” because the IRS has yet to come up with new guidelines for granting tax-exempt status that guarantee an apolitical process.

Meanwhile, months after the FBI announced that it would launch an investigation into the IRS's targeting of conservative groups, these groups and their legal representatives are still waiting to hear from the bureau.

Rather than being cured, this disease is at best in remission, as the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform tries to discern what the IRS did, to whom, and for how long.

But this much is already apparent: A timeline extrapolated from White House visitor logs shows that the Obama administration has been dishonest about nearly every facet of the scandal, in which an archetypal pattern of response can be seen.

First, plead ignorance. (If the president isn’t in the loop, he can’t be held accountable.) Next, offer a plausible story that involves low-level employees, to be floated by sympathetic bloggers and journalists. (It helps if the talking points are provided to these journalists in closed-door meetings.)

Finally, when caught lying, slow-walk any investigation and promote anyone associated with the scandal so it will be tougher for Congress to compel them to testify.

The IRS matter will not go away until Congress takes up its powers of investigation and gets to the bottom of it.

Charles C. Johnson is author of "The Truth About the IRS Scandals" and "Why Coolidge Matters: Leadership Lessons From America's Most Underrated President," both available from Encounter Books. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions for editorials, available at this link.
View article comments Leave a comment