June 18, 2014
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We are watching the most significant crisis of constitutional order since Watergate, the last time an administration broke the law deliberately and repeatedly. And none of the current cases look more Nixonian than what has been happening at the IRS.
Thirteen months ago, President Obama stood before the American people, acknowledged that the IRS had “improperly screened conservative groups,” and promised to get to the bottom of the matter and to “hold the responsible parties accountable.”
“It’s inexcusable,” he said, “and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives…[T]he IRS has to operate with absolute integrity. The government generally has to conduct itself in a way that is true to the public trust. That’s especially true for the IRS.”
Americans might be forgiven for thinking their president actually meant to get to the bottom of the matter and hold the responsible parties accountable. But the administration’s conduct over the last year has proved that promise was just another lie.
By February, the president was already telling a very different story, saying on FOX News that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” behind the IRS screenings. He held to the line even after Bill O’Reilly gave him an out by suggesting that the corruption might have been contained to the Cincinnati office. Not even there, Obama said. Not a smidgen.
“What happened here,” the president now claimed, “is you have a 501(c)(4) law that people think is confusing. The folks did not know how to implement it.” The only reason “these kinds of things keep on surfacing,” he told O’Reilly, is “because you and your TV station will promote them.”
Is he even talking about the same events? Just months before, he’d fired the commissioner over the scandal. He’d labeled as “inexcusable” the conduct described in the Inspector General’s report–the report that first revealed the targeting of conservative groups.
In other words, despite the president’s promises, the White House handled the corruption at the IRS the same way it has handled every other question about the administration: express outrage if required, pledge an investigation, stonewall until coverage fades, and then dismiss any allegations as baseless, politically motivated attacks by a right-wing fringe.
The dishonesty is galling. That the news media falls for it boggles the mind. As Peggy Noonan points out in a recent column, it’s hard to find a reporter who believes there is an IRS scandal at all.
But even the media must have a hard time swallowing the explosive claim the IRS buried deep in a letter to Congress on Friday. The agency says it has lost two years’ worth of email for seven key people allegedly involved in targeting conservative groups, including Lois Lerner, who ran the division overseeing tax-exempt organizations during the period in question.
The IRS is asking Congress and the American people to believe that the seven individuals’ computer hard drives all crashed during this critical period, that their emails were also lost from the from the server where they were stored, that all the backups of the seven computers and the servers have been destroyed, and that forensic techniques for recovering data from hard drives failed on all seven and the server.
Just as bad, Congress asked for “all” of Lerner’s more than a year ago, as the Wall Street Journal notes today. It wasn’t until House investigators discovered, through other means, the emails Lerner sent to the Justice Department that they realized the IRS had not, in fact, turned over “all” of the emails. “Only after Congress demanded the IRS explain why it hadn’t provided this Lerner-Justice correspondence,” the Journal points out, “did the IRS suddenly confess in its Friday letter that it had been picking and choosing emails.”
The data-loss story is almost impossible to believe, and the IRS’s admission of missing emails only when caught elevates its already suspicious claims to Watergate levels of alarm–comparable, as others have pointed out, to the missing 18-and-a-half minutes on the Nixon tapes.
Where is the president who promised Americans more than a year ago “to hold the responsible parties accountable,” to “follow up on the IG report,” to “make sure we understand all the facts”? Who promised that he would “not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS”?
President Obama owes Americans an explanation as to why he looked the other way while the IRS continued its evasion and dishonesty. And he owes us something else, too. The administration has had its chance to cooperate with the investigation in good faith. It’s time for a special prosecutor.
IRS Scandal Just Got Much Worse
- on June 18, 2014