“Everything comes from the top.” This quote from an anonymous source in the IRS Determinations Unit explains why the IRS targeting of conservative groups did not likely originate with low level staffers at a remote IRS outpost. The truth is far different.
In March of 2010, the IRS offices on tax exempt entities, headed by Obama appointee Sarah Hall Ingram, began targeting conservative groups applying for tax exempt status by screening them based on impermissible criteria such as their political orientation or their names, names like “patriot” and “tea party.” The IRS denied these groups’ applications, burdened them with onerous document requests, demanded unnecessary personal information, or just ignored the applications.
The bulk of the harassment was carried out by the Orwellian sounding IRS Determinations Unit in Cincinnati, Ohio, which in January of 2012, began unlawfully screening organizational applicants according to their policy positions, instead of according to tax-exempt laws and Treasury regulations. IRS offices in other states got in on the act and slow-walked or denied applications for tax exempt status by conservative groups.
Thus, just in time for the 2012 election, the IRS’ political war against conservative groups was in full swing. The cover-up unfolded as follows.
In February of 2012, then director of the IRS Douglas Shulman testified before Congress that there was absolutely no targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. Yet only three months later, in May of 2012, the IRS finished its internal investigation into this allegedly non-existent targeting.
On June 4, 2012, Treasury’s general counsel, William J. Wilkins, learned that the Inspector General of the IRS was auditing the IRS for targeting politically conservative groups. Neal Wolin, the number two at Treasury and deputy to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, was informed of the investigation shortly thereafter.
Cindy Thomas, the program manager for the tax exempt division who leaked confidential application details on conservative groups to the liberal site Pro Publica, oversaw this abuse. Ms. Thomas has not been fired, summoned to Congress to testify, or faced criminal charges. Her time may yet come.
On May 10, 2013, Lois Lerner, head of the IRS Exempt Organizations division, acknowledged that her office had singled out conservative groups for legal and bureaucratic harassment.
On May 22, 2013, Ms. Lerner told the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, “I have not done anything wrong.” She made this statement then invoked her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. The problem is that she can’t have it both ways: She can’t proclaim her innocence, and then claim a privilege that requires silence.
The same duplicity is seen in the White House’s shifting explanations on the IRS scandal. The White House claims the president was not aware of the IRS targeting of conservative groups until news reports broke the story. Yet Kathryn Ruemmler, the president’s top lawyer, knew of the IRS investigation and the IG’s report, and she apparently failed to notify the president.
If she knew, that likely means many other White House officials on the president’s senior staff also knew. Did none of them inform the president? If not, why not?
The IRS scandal, the most recent of many to conveniently emerge after the 2012 election, demonstrates a consistent administration pattern: when the facts don’t fit the Obama political narrative, the truth is buried, ignorance is claimed by those at the top, and no senior staff is held accountable.
Prior to the election, the White House calculated that the president could, under the guise of campaign finance concern, demonize conservative groups, question their funding, and then claim ignorance and outrage when low level functionaries took actions consistent with his comments. We now see the fruits of this strategy in the IRS scandal. But the strategy goes beyond the IRS.
Obama claimed during the 2012 campaign that the War on Terror was over so the administration could not acknowledge terrorism at work in Benghazi. The Administration lied about what happened, lied about the explanation, and no one has been held to account.
Similarly, on immigration reform, the White House has been so obsessed with granting amnesty to illegal immigrants that it covered up the Fast & Furious gun running debacle, which proved the border is lawless and the government hapless to address it.
The law holds individuals responsible for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their actions. But not in Washington, where truth and accountability give way when they conflict with the political narrative. No senior political appointees lost their jobs as a result of Fast & Furious, Benghazi, or the IRS scandal.
In a more just world, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Hall Ingram and Lois Lerner would have been fired. But this isn’t that world. This is the Obama administration, where everything – the Fast & Furious debacle, the Benghazi deception, the IRS targeting – comes from the top.