Robert Knight

It’s pretty clear that the Internal Revenue Service acted illegally in its abuse of tea parties and other conservative groups and individuals since 2009.

Why else would Lois G. Lerner, director of the IRS’s division of exempt organizations, plead the Fifth before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee?

She invoked it last Wednesday after reading a statement in which she claimed, “I have not done anything wrong.” My lying eyes conclude that the lady has something to hide but hates the idea that we think so. By contrast, most organized crime figures who are dragged before congressional committees shrug, look down, plead the Fifth, and don’t bother pretending that they’re innocent. That’s why they have lawyers.

For the past three years, the IRS has behaved like Soviet-style apparatchiks, using power and fear to stunt a grassroots movement that flexed mightily in 2010 but then mysteriously quieted down. Now we know why. When the IRS began carpet bombing conservatives with punitive audits and demanded to know things like what kind of prayers were uttered at meetings, the Big Chill was under way.

In fact, it’s still going on despite misleading media reports that all that bad stuff was in the distant past, such as 2012. As Hillary Clinton might insist, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

A 40-page memorandum released on May 20 by Cleta Mitchell, a prominent attorney representing conservative nonprofit organizations, shows exactly why the IRS is still a threat to our constitutional republic.

“Prior to 2010, the time frame for review and receipt of IRS tax exempt status would

typically be three months to one year for a 501(c)(3) organization and 3 to 6 months for a 501(c)(4) or (c)(6) organization,” she writes. In 2010, the IRS “changed its system for reviewing and processing applications. The timeline for some of the clients I currently represent demonstrates that the IRS is STILL holding up the applications for exempt status recognition of dozens — if not hundreds — of conservative organizations.”

In four cases, she reveals a pattern of years-long indifference, followed by ever increasing scrutiny.

Here are some of the questions the IRS posed in letters that follow a statement warning respondents that they risk a criminal charge of perjury if they get anything wrong or leave anything out:

--Provide a list of all issues that are important to your organization. Indicate your position regarding each issue.”

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.