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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Looming IRS Scandal

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.” — James Madison, Federalist No. 62 — 1788

Last week was a really bad week for the Obama administration There was Wednesday’s hearings of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Jay Caney’s belabored press 45 minute conference, and finally at the end of the day the announcement by the IRS spokesperson of the illegal auditing of conservative and Tea Party 501-C organizations. There was so much going on that the media did not which story t cover.

The scandal surrounding those politically targeted IRS audits grew to massive proportions over the weekend, as the agency's initial denials — aLois_Lerner1 fanciful story about "low level employees in the Cincinnati office" going rogue and launching a huge wave of audits targeting conservative and Tea Party groups across the nation — fell apart with dizzying speed. We now know that high-ranking IRS officials — notably Lois Lerner, head of the agency's tax-exempt organizations division — knew about the problem as far back as June 2011, concealing this knowledge from congressional investigators.

This could lead to serious charges of perjury, which will give the investigation into the IRS scandal a different character than other Obama Administration controversies. In the case of Benghazi, for example, Congress has been trying to unravel a series of stunningly poor decisions, and a cover-up of the consequences. The results of this effort could be broadly described as career-damaging embarrassment for those involved. Democrat efforts to protect top Administration officials may yet require the sacrifice of a fall guy, or gal — State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland looks like an excellent prospect, as she's on record orchestrating those remarkable edits of the Benghazi talking points.

A few conspiracy-minded observers have wondered if the Obama Administration dropped the IRS political-audit scandal to distract attention from the Benghazi scandal. It’s starting to look as if the reverse conspiracy theory would be more plausible, because the IRS thing is going nuclear. Four days in, and we still haven’t heard a single word from the President who bends our ears so relentlessly when he’s got an agenda to push, even as more high-profile commentators — most recently George Will, on ABC’s This Week — are reminding us that Nixon’s fall was partly due to just this sort of politicized abuse of Internal Revenue Service power.

John Hayward writes in Human Events:

“We’ve learned that the target list for these political IRS audits was far broader than we initially thought. Fox News got its hands on a timeline prepared by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that shows this scurrilous operation growing even faster than most government programs do:

The internal IG timeline shows a unit in the agency was looking at Tea Party and “patriot” groups dating back to early 2010. But it shows that list of criteria drastically expanding by the time a June 2011 briefing was held. It then included groups focused on government spending, government debt, taxes, and education on ways to “make America a better place to live.” It even flagged groups whose file included criticism of “how the country is being run.”

By early 2012, the criteria were updated to include organizations involved in “limiting/expanding government,” education on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and social economic reform.

In other words, basically every group that organized dissent against the Obama regime. The only bright side to this scandal is that it might win Obama some respect and admiration from the likes of Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and Bashar Assad.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight Committee, promised further investigations, and dismissed the IRS’ weak efforts to get ahead of the story during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. In fact, it sounds like Issa might be launching an investigation into the behavior of IRS officials just over the past weekend, as they tried to get the spin machines churning.

“This is something you have to institute changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Issa. ”There has to be accountability for the people who did it. And quite frankly, up until a few days ago, there’s got to be accountability for people who were telling lies about it being done. And lastly, to be honest, one of the most offensive parts is, my committee and Jim Jordan and I instigated this investigation, got the IG to do the investigation – and before the IG’s report comes to the public or to Congress as required by law, it’s leaked by the IRS to try to spin the output. This mea culpa is not an honest one.

But the IRS scandal is moving into the "criminal offenses" category very quickly, and the threat of facing such consequences may loosen a few tongues. The minimal level of trust Americans must retain for the government is threatened — and, frankly, Obama-style super-government requires a much higher level of trust than assurances the IRS will not be used to punish political dissidents and a Nixonian manner.. That seems like the very least we should be able to expect, even from a modest State run by small-government libertarians, doesn't it? Instead, the same IRS that used audits as a weapon against Barack Obama's political opponents is about to become the enforcement arm of his massive health-care program.

Welcome to 1984. The government that is supposed to govern by the consent of the people is now attacking those who seek to preserve the Constitution. Even as a number of non-profit organizations that aid and abet illegal aliens or Islamic terrorists are able to operate without any fear of investigation, we now know that Tea Party Patriot organizations have been singled out for audits by high level officials at the IRS.

On Friday, it was all about “low-level employees” and was not “politically motivated.” It must have been a random glitch in the system that forced these officials to target limited government educational groups. Now the AP is reporting that this witch hunt was approved at the highest levels and was going on for 2 years:

“The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week. The AP obtained part of the draft report, which has been shared with congressional aides.

Among the other revelations, on Aug. 4, 2011, staffers in the IRS’ Rulings and Agreements office “held a meeting with chief counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue.”

On Jan, 25, 2012, the criteria for flagging suspect groups was changed to, “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement,” the report says.

During an election year, it’s hard to imagine a directive like this not coming straight from the White House.  Evidently, the audits were so ubiquitous that a number of tea party organizations approached Mark Levin, President of Landmark Legal Foundation, complaining of harassment from the IRS. Mark Levin then wrote a letter to the Treasury Inspector General last March demanding an investigation into improper inquiries. These improper inquiries included demands from the IRS that these organizations divulge their political positions on any given policy issue, list all of their key members and family members, and explain their relationships with media outlets.

In response to Levin’s letter, the inspector general launched the year-long investigation referenced in the AP article. At the very minimum, House Republicans need to hold hearings after the report is released, and bring in Levin and the other organizations who were involved in this story from day one. Additionally, they must also strike out at the root of the problem. Over the next two months, the House will be taking up the annual appropriations bills, including the Financial Services appropriations bill, which funds the IRS. They must refuse to sign off on the final bill funding the IRS before there is a policy rider criminalizing this behavior with the threat of jail time.

The IRS scandal provides Boehner with the opportunity to restore the backbone he lost during the Benghazi scandal.

Meanwhile, in a legal field dominated by pro bono leftist legal defense groups that advocate for trees or illegal aliens, you might want to help Landmark in their continued stand for We the People.

Watching the Friday briefing with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, it was easy to believe the media were going to hit hard on the Obama administration.

Carney had to endure 46 questions about two big scandals hitting his boss – Benghazi and the IRS targeting of conservative groups. The Washington Post later called it a “feeding frenzy.”

Over the weekend, the top 10 newspapers seemed to lose interest. On Sunday, just two of the eight that published that day had any mention on their front pages.

But by Monday, the stories had returned with a vengeance. Half of the top 10 papers — including the influential trio of The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal — all featured the IRS scandal on the front.

USA Today had the lead headline: “GOP Demands Obama Apology” and the Post got hold of the “draft audit by the inspector general that has been given to Capitol Hill.”

The Denver Post once again devoted front-page play to the IRS scandal, running the same Washington Post story under the headline: INSPECTOR GENERAL AUDIT: IRS’s scrutiny went beyond keywords to target ideology.”

The New York Times also aired the IRS scandal on its front page Monday, but focused less on the scandal and more on how the GOP would use it against Obama. “I.R.S. Focus on Conservatives Gives G.O.P. an Issue to Seize On.” The Wall Street Journal led with the tax scandal under the bold headline: “Wider Problems Found at IRS.”

On Sunday, only The Washington Post and Denver Post mentioned either scandal. The Denver Post had the story in a prominent place under the headline: “TEA PARTY TARGETED: IRS leaders knew in 2011: A draft of IG report seems to contradict the commissioner’s words.”

The Washington Post mentioned the scandals in a front-page story, but in typical Postian fashion, put them in Obama context. Under the headline, “Can Obama avoid curse of 2nd term?” the paper discussed the “two flaring controversies.”

To put that in perspective, early on Sunday, even the lefty Huffington Post had the tax story featured prominently. The headline “Plot Thickens in IRS, Tea Party Debacle” was accompanied by three other stories further down the page.

The question remaining is how the media handle both scandals going forward. Will journalists allow the IRS attack on the tea party to drown out the Benghazi follow-up or will they link them to an administration spiraling out of control?

The Benghazi scandal has gone too far to be completely ignored, but the major media probably only have room for one Obama disaster at a time. So expect the focus on the IRS to largely push it out of the Washington conversation. I hope not.

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