It wasn't even a case of an executive turning a blind eye to misbehavior. President Obama's pronouncements made it seem as if IRS employees had a patriotic duty to keep the organizations the president was criticizing from gaining exempt status.
Now, of course, if these IRS employees had taken the president's words at face value, they would have gone after left-leaning groups, as well as those on the right. But then the president clearly didn't have progressive groups in mind when he spoke. In fact, the president made it clear that so-called super PACs friendly to his campaign were on the side of the angels -- and democracy -- when he accepted millions in donations from them in 2012.
Congress will continue to investigate the IRS scandal, and it's conceivable charges against some employees will be filed at some point. Clearly the director of the tax-exempt branch, Lois Lerner, believed she was in jeopardy of prosecution or she would not have asserted her Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify this week. Lerner has subsequently been placed on administrative leave.
But even if there is no clear evidence that anyone in the White House directed the actions of Lerner and others in the IRS, the president is ultimately responsible. At the very least, he should fire anyone who tried to keep this story quiet, starting with those on his own staff.
Most of all, he owes the American people an apology -- and if he were in corporate America, a letter of resignation would likely accompany it.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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