Truth is the lifeblood of democracy. Without honesty, the foundations of consensual government crumble.
If the Internal Revenue Service acts unlawfully, our voluntary system of citizens computing their own taxes implodes.
Yet Lois Lerner, one of the IRS's top officials, would not answer simple questions about her agency's conduct during congressional testimony, instead pleading the Fifth Amendment. Any taxpayer who tried that with an IRS auditor would end up fined and in court.
Almost everything that IRS officials have reported about the agency's unlawful targeting of conservative groups has proven false. IRS malfeasance was not limited only to the Cincinnati office, as alleged, but followed directives sent from higher-ups in Washington. Lerner confessed to the scandal only through a pre-planned public query by a planted questioner, designed to pre-empt an upcoming critical inspector general's report. There is legitimate dispute over both the number and purpose of former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman's visits to the White House and nearby executive office buildings, but he did his credibility no good by snidely remarking to Congress that he might also have visited for an Easter egg roll with his kids.
Attorney General Eric Holder – who’s already been held in contempt by the House for declining to turn over internal Justice Department documents for the "Fast and Furious" scandal -- swore to Congress that he had no knowledge of any effort to go after individual reporters. But Holder had earlier done just that, signing off on a search warrant to monitor the communications of Fox reporter James Rosen. In other words, the attorney general of the United States under oath misled -- or lied to -- Congress.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was recently asked by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) whether the National Security Agency collected the phone and email records of millions of ordinary Americans. Clapper said that it did not. That, too, was an untruth. Clapper's supporters argued that Wyden should not have asked such a sensitive question in public that threatened the secrecy of the program. But Clapper did not demur or request a closed session, instead finding it easier to deceive, later dubbing his response as the "least untruthful" answer possible.