So does Salon's reliable lefty Joan Walsh.
Yesterday, both men were seen arriving at the West Wing for, presumably, a new iteration of White House talking points (hey, maybe Walsh was there, too). So we can all assume that President Obama wants Lois Lerner gone.
Why can't he fire her himself? Well, according to Politico,
It appears that no one has been formally reprimanded and a spokesperson for the union representing IRS workers said it hasn’t been called to help any employees yet. Most employees involved in the targeting program are covered by protections for federal workers that could drag out the termination process.
If you want "reforms," this would be a good place to start. Stuff like targeting citizens for their political beliefs should be a no-brainer.
Even so, Lerner seems pretty senior to qualify for routine civil service protections. Presumably, she could be asked for her resignation, just as Steven Miller was. So why is the President stalling, and instead sending pundits out to seek her scalp instead?
Really, when we learn (1) who -- if anyone -- notified an administration member about the internal IRS report before the election confirming the targeting ; and (2) who was involved in slow-walking the IG report until after the election, a lot of these questions may answer themselves.
There was no way Lois Lerner's part in the IRS saga would end quietly, even as she invoked her right to remain silent.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, boldly asserted this afternoon that Lerner "waived" her right to plead the Fifth Amendment when she made an opening statement at this morning's hearing. From POLITICO:
The California Republican said Lerner’s Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination was voided when she gave an opening statement this morning denying any wrongdoing and professing pride in her government service.
“When I asked her her questions from the very beginning, I did so so she could assert her rights prior to any statement,” Issa told POLITICO. “She chose not to do so — so she waived." ...
“The precedents are clear that this is not something you can turn on and turn off,” he told POLITICO. “She made testimony after she was sworn in, asserted her innocence in a number of areas, even answered questions asserting that a document was true … So she gave partial testimony and then tried to revoke that.” ...
“I understand from her counsel that there was a plan to assert her Fifth Amendment rights,” he continued. “She went ahead and made a statement, so counsel let her effectively under the precedent, waive — so we now have someone who no longer has that ability.”
Essentially, he argues, her opening statement, in which she proclaimed her innocence, constituted a forfeiture of Fifth Amendment protection because she spoke on her own behalf about her involvement in the matter. Issa intends to invite Lerner before the committee again in the hopes of conducting a proper grilling, and others--including Rep. Trey Gowdy--agree that she must now give testimony.
"Mr. Cummings just said we should run this hearing like a courtroom, and I agree with him," Gowdy thundered. "[Lerner] just testified. She just waived her Fifth Amendment right. You don't get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross examination — that's not the way it works. She waived her right to Fifth Amendment privilege by issuing an opening statement. She ought to stand here and answer our questions."
However, it's not so simple as that. Legal scholars say that the Fifth Amendment works differently in Congressional fact-finding hearings than in a court of law--one cannot simply conflate the two, as they exist for different purposes. Fifth Amendment expert James Duane gave the following explanation (h/t to Allahpundit for the link):
First, unlike in a trial, where she could choose to take the stand or not, Lerner had no choice but to appear before the committee. Second, in a trial there would be a justifiable concern about compromising a judge or jury by providing them with "selective, partial presentation of the facts." But Congress is merely pursuing information as part of an investigation, not making a definitive ruling on Lerner's guilt or innocence.
"When somebody is in this situation," says Duane, a Harvard Law graduate whose 2008 lecture on invoking the Fifth Amendment with police has been viewed on YouTube nearly 2.5 million times, "when they are involuntarily summoned before grand jury or before legislative body, it is well settled that they have a right to make a 'selective invocation,' as it's called, with respect to questions that they think might raise a meaningful risk of incriminating themselves."
In fact, Duane says, "even if Ms. Lerner had given answers to a few questions — five, ten, twenty questions — before she decided, 'That's where I draw the line, I'm not answering any more questions,' she would be able to do that as well." Such uses of selective invocation "happen all the time."
Unfortunately for Issa and company, it seems Lerner was within her rights to make a statement and then clam up. Of course, drawing greater attention to her silence could, ultimately, help in the investigation of the IRS; if they ask her back and she stonewalls, the public might want to know why. Hopefully, in any event, someone--anyone--will bear some legitimate responsibility for the whole affair, and lose the job they clearly never should have had in the first place.
According to Finney, the fact that Mitt Romney didn't make a huge deal out of the IRS targeting scandal last year is somehow proof that the whole thing is essentially a non-story and wasn't buried until after the election. Where to begin? As a fellow panelist incredulously points out, the revelation of IRS abuse wasn't public knowledge in 2012. It just came out this month. Sure, everyone knew that Congress was demanding answers from the IRS about alleged targeting practices, but there was no public evidence that the victimized groups' suspicions were well-founded. IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman even told Congress under oath that political targeting was "absolutely not" transpiring. That was in March of 2012. In other words, Mitt Romney didn't beat the drum on this major scandal because...the major scandal didn't exist in the public sphere yet. He, like nearly every other American, didn't know about it. Indeed, one purpose of the current investigations and hearings is to determine who knew what, and when.
We know for certain that the IRS' own audit flagged inappropriate targeting in May of last year, and that senior Treasury Department officials became aware of it shortly thereafter. The White House's own timeline has shifted several times in recent days, so they've been tough to pin down. We don't yet know if the president's political or campaign team knew of the IRS scandal before the election (though even some liberals are beginning to admit it's hard to believe they didn't). What's self-evident is that Republicans in Congress and the Romney campaign had no indication that this bombshell was looming and had no concrete proof that a codified political targeting program had been in place at the IRS for years. Finney's point seems to be that Republicans should have made a giant stink about a theory, without any solid substantiation. It's not difficult to imagine how Finney and her cohorts at MSNBC would have reacted if the GOP had adopted such an approach last fall. Her entire "point" here is imbecilic and purposefully disingenuous. It's one thing to try to re-write distant history. It's another to do the same with still-unfolding history. I'm not sure who she thinks she's fooling, aside from those MSNBC viewers who are eager to be fooled, but kudos for at least slipping in the "overreach" talking point. Bravo.
It was wrong-headed to allow Lois Lerner to appear before Government Oversight Committee, made a self-serving statement, invoke the Fifth Amendment once and then withdraw in wounded, arrogant triumph.
But the idea that she can now be forced to answer questions -- on the theory that her statement constituted a waiver of her Fifth Amendment rights -- is, unfortunately in this case, not viable.
First of all, as a legal matter, Fifth Amendment waivers have to be knowing, intelligent and voluntary. What's more, a witness can actually begin answering questions, and then invoke the Fifth. So it's hard to see how just making an opening statement would qualify as an overall waiver.
As a strategic matter, Congress can try to force Lerner to testify, she can refuse, and the whole matter can go into legal limbo for some unspecified time (before Congress would, in all likelihood, lose). Whose strategic interests are served by delay? The IRS" and the administration's. It's almost enough to make you wonder if this isn't just litigation bait.
Wouldn't it just be smarter for the committee to offer Lerner qualified immunity -- requiring her to testify but promising that she cannot be prosecuted with evidence obtained during the hearing?
In fact, this alternative seems best particularly in light of today's revelations that the IRS knew of the targeting scheme through an internal investigation six months before the election. Given the extensive contacts between IRS and the Treasury -- and the White House -- about the roll-out of the IG report (and all the apparent concern for political appearances), it's really worth knowing whether Lerner or anyone else at the IRS tipped off the administration about the results of their own probe back in May of 2012, fully six months before the election.
The short answer? The highest-ranking official in the Cincinnati office where, the IRS would have us believe, a few rogue employees initiated a scheme to target conservatives.
A biography of Thomas from the Cincinnati bar describes her as follows:
Cindy M. Thomas has worked for the IRS for 35 years. She is the program manager for Exempt Organizations Determinations. During the last 29 years, she has worked for the Employee Plans/Exempt Organizations Division, now Tax Exempt/Government Entities Division, in the Cincinnati office specializing in the Exempt Organizations function. While working for the Exempt Organization function, Cindy has held a variety of positions related to determination applications including revenue agent, quality reviewer, first-line manager, staff assistant/training coordinator, processing section manager, program analyst, area manager, and for the last eight and half years, Exempt Organizations program manager.
Based on some fine reporting from Ben Swann at Fox 19 (the Fox affiliate in Cincinnati), we have learned the following:
When an application for tax exempt status comes into the IRS, agents have 270 days to work through that application. If the application is not processed within those 270 days it automatically triggers flags in the system. When that happens, individual agents are required to input a status update on that individual case once a month, every month until the case is resolved.
Keep in mind, at least 300 groups were targeted out of Cincinnati alone. Those applications spent anywhere from 18 months to nearly 3 years in the system and some still don't have their non-profit status. 300 groups multiplied by at least 18 months for each group, means thousands of red flags would have been generated in the system.
So who in the chain of command would have received all these flags? The answer, according to the IRS directory, one woman in Cincinnati, Cindy Thomas, the Program Manager of the Tax Exempt Division. Because all six of our IRS workers have different individual and territory managers, Cindy Thomas is one manager they all have common.
Oh and, Swann adds, Cindy Thomas is the person who just happened to be the person who signed off on the (improper) release of confidential IRS documents to Pro Publica.
Cindy Thomas has not been called before Congress . . . yet. But if she is, let's hope her appearance is handled better than Lois Lerner's was today.
The UK Telegraph is reporting a soldier who was walking on the street has been beheaded in Woolwich.
Several witnesses described seeing a "beheading" while another described seeing a man wearing a Help for Heroes T-shirt being attacked with a machete-style knife and dumped.
Prime Minister David Cameron called a meeting of the Government's Cobra crisis committee, describing the incident as "truly shocking".
Cobra meetings are crisis response committees set up to coordinate the actions of different agencies, including the security services, police and local authorities.
The BBC reported sources had told them the men were shouting "Allahu Akbar" as they carried out the attack and had filmed carrying it out.
One witness, called James, told LBC radio: "We saw clearly two knives, meat cleavers, they were big kitchen knives like you would use in a butcher's, they were hacking at this poor guy, we thought they were trying to remove organs from him."
Regular police officers in England are not allowed to carry guns and have to wait for armed response teams to show up in serous situations. It took the armed response team 20 minutes to get to the scene. The suspects had big knives and a illegal gun to carry out their crime.
"Then two black guys got out of the car dragging a white guy across the road towards the wall.
"One of the guys had a knife that looked about a foot long and a machete and the other bloke had a gun.
"They started slashing him up with the knife and hitting him in the stomach with the machete.
"It must've taken about 20 minutes for the police to arrive, I think it must've been because they were waiting for armed police.
The man was heard saying: "We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you," he said.
(Photo: ITV News)
This incident is alarming for obvious reasons, but the most important thing to point out is that this happened in a big city in the middle of the day. This did not happen on a battle field in the Middle East, but in Woolrich, England.
Today's IRS hearing featured a newsworthy flurry of activity at the very beginning, then promptly devolved into the now-familiar soup of "to the best of my recollection" evasions from former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman. Two significant facts did emerge, however -- no thanks to Shulman, who remembers nothing of note and takes responsibility for nothing, including his decision not to correct his inaccurate testimony to Congress about targeting last year. First, we discovered that the IRS' in-house review of the abusive targeting ended in the spring of 2012, months before the presidential election. Neither the public nor Congress were made aware of this probe's existence, let alone its findings:
Rep. Darrel Issa, the committee's chairman, said that the committee learned just yesterday that the IRS completed its own investigation a year before a Treasury Department Inspector General report was completed. But despite the IRS recognizing in May 2012 that its employees were treating right-wing groups differently from other organizations, Issa said, IRS personnel withheld those conclusions from legislators. 'Just yesterday the committee interviewed Holly Paz, the director of exempt organizations, rulings and agreements, division of the IRS,' Issa said. 'While a tremendous amount of attention is centered about the Inspector General's report, or investigation, the committee has learned from Ms. Paz that she in fact participated in an IRS internal investigation that concluded in May of 2012 - May 3 of 2012 - and found essentially the same thing that Mr. George found more than a year later.' 'Think about it,' he continued: 'For more than a year, the IRS knew that it had inappropriately targeted groups of Americans based on their political beliefs, and without mentioning it, and in fact without honestly answering questions that were the result of this internal investigation.'
Democratic operatives have little to do but desperately flog the "Republican overreach!" talking point, which several recent polls have debunked. An example from one DSCC shill:
Looks like NRSC isn't heeding warnings from Cook, Rothenberg, & many GOP operatives not to overreach on IRS scandal #like1998— Matt Canter (@mattcanter) May 22, 2013
UPDATE - Good questions: "Why was George, the IG, reluctant to release 'incremental information'
when the IRS itself had concluded in May 2012 that its anti-conservative
criteria for tax-exempt orgs were FUBAR? Didn’t his office specifically
say they’d keep the committee updated?" The Inspector General was bound to keep Congress up to date on his investigation. He did not, according to Issa. Why not? I say again, hmm.
According to Republican Rep. Jim Jordan and White House visitor logs, former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House 118 times in 2010 and 2011. This is the same time period when Tea Party groups were inappropriately targeted and intimidated by the IRS.
Testifying in front of lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Shulman admitted that many of the meetings with the White House were to discuss how to implement ObamaCare.
"The IRS has a major roll in the money flow," Shulman said.
Shulman denied ever discussing 501c(4) groups with White House officials and failed to name who he met with during his visits. At the time Shulman met with the White House throughout 2010 and 2011, Tea Party and Patriot groups were expressing opposition to ObamaCare.
Inspector General Russell George said during testimony that he did not speak with anybody in the White House about targeting of Tea Party groups during his audit and did not ask IRS officials if they communicated with the White House about the targeting.
"We did not question anybody about whether they talked to the White House," George said.
Independent watchdog organization Freedom House released their annual report this month that highlights a growing trend of countries becoming less democratic. In Freedom in the World 2013, researchers argue that though the number of free countries increased by three over the past year, 27 countries experienced significant declines in freedom, while only 16 managed gains.
Every country is ranked on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 receiving the label of “Free”. The study analyzes numerous factors, including open political competition, respect for civil liberties, independent media, and a lack of religious and ethnic strife.
This year’s report gave Libya a boost in rating from “Not Free” to “Partly Free”—the greatest gain the country has seen in forty years. Other Middle Eastern countries were upgraded to “Partly Free” in response to the string of protests that have occurred during the Arab Spring. Despite the upgrades, the majority of countries have faced declines, continuing a seven year spiral downward plagued by a backlash of dictatorial responses.
West Africa’s freedom scores continued to plummet as multiple military coups and religious/ethnic tensions robbed citizens of civil liberties. Among the worst countries, only nine managed to receive the worst possible score, most notably North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Somalia, and Tibet. Freedom House’s findings were also particularly critical of Eurasian countries, including Russia:
“Russia took a decided turn for the worse after Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency. Having already marginalized the formal political opposition, he enacted a series of laws meant to squelch a burgeoning societal opposition. The measures imposed severe new penalties on unauthorized demonstrations, restricted the ability of civic groups to raise funds and conduct their work, and placed new controls on the internet.”
The freedom organization advised the United States and other Western nations to promote the value of civil liberties in other countries. The report included a suggestion going forward for democracies to create a global civil society to pledge assistance to any country attempting to overthrow their totalitarian regime. Freedom House criticized the Obama administration’s failed, conflicting foreign policy—and urged Obama to take a stance on freedom abroad:
“President Obama needs to declare their determination to support people who aspire to democracy anywhere in the world. The administration has built an uneven record on support for freedom to date. There have been some positive initiatives, but there have also been occasions when the United States stood by while those who put their lives on the line for political change were crushed, as with Iran in 2009.”
This report should serve as a wake-up call to the Western world. The U.S. can no longer afford to ignore countries that fight to obtain democracy. Failure to support these movements leads to more dictators seizing control and transforming the government into not only an enemy of America, but an enemy of freedom.
Seems like a nice lady...