Perhaps it's just as well for the President's peace of mind that he and his family are on another taxpayer-subsidized international jaunt (the President attended the G-8 while his wife and daughters visited Ireland; they're then off to Germany where he will make a speech, before heading on a three-nation tour of Africa).
The news at home for Obama isn't pretty.According to a new CNN poll, almost half of Americans think the IRS targeting of conservatives was ordered by senior White House officials. And while last month, only 36% of independents thought the White House was behind the targeting, now more than half do. And it's hard for Democrats/MSM to blame this result on Republicans; no Republican has charged that the operation was directed from The White House.
Moral of the story? Once credibility erodes (as it has through the cascade of scandals that have surfaced over the last couple months), it's hard to "control the narrative" or convince even people as good and trusting as Americans to give you the benefit of the doubt.
It's ironic that Obama's approval ratings are now below those of the president he came to power demonizing. Perhaps there's some poetic justice in the fact that, whatever his political opponents (or other Americans) thought of George W. Bush, they never suspected his administration of ordering the targeting of law-abiding fellow Americans out of The White House.
According to the Associated Press, Holly Paz has told congressional investigators that all these pesky charges about IRS targeting are, well, just the result of some unfortunate misunderstandings:
Paz described an agency in which IRS supervisors in Washington worked closely with agents in the field but didn't fully understand what those agents were doing. Paz said agents in Cincinnati openly talked about handling "tea party" cases, but she thought the term was merely shorthand for all applications from groups that were politically active -- conservative and liberal.
. . .
Paz said an IRS supervisor in Cincinnati had commonly referred to the applications as "tea party" cases. But, Paz said, she thought that was simply shorthand for any application that included political activity.
"Since the first case that came up to Washington happened to have that name, it appeared to me that's why they were calling it that as a shorthand," Paz told congressional investigators.
Paz said she didn't think the agents in Cincinnati were politically motivated.
"My impression, based on, you know, this instance and other instances in the office is that, because they are so apolitical, they are not as sensitive as we would like them to be as to how things might appear," Paz said.
Yeeeah, that's the ticket!
Seriously, this excuse-making is just cringeworthy. If Ms. Paz expects anyone to take her seriously, she really needs to account for unfortunate facts like some of those laid out in USA Today this morning, which effectively rebut her claims:
Elizabeth Hofacre, the agency's emerging issues coordinator in Cincinnati when the targeting began, has told investigators that she kicked out any progressive groups that other agents tried to put in with the Tea Party cases. She said she understood the term to mean conservative or Republican groups. "I was tasked to do Tea Parties, and I wasn't — I wasn't equipped or set up to do anything else."
A USA TODAY analysis of IRS data shows that dozens of liberal groups received tax-exempt approval in the 27 months that Tea Party groups sat in limbo, even though the liberal groups were engaging in similar kids of activity. Groups applying for the exemption are supposed to be primarily focusing on social welfare, not political activity.
If "Tea Party" was just shorthand for "politically sensitive," (1)Why was Elizabeth Hofacre tasked with just "Tea Party" cases, rather than "politically sensitive" ones? and (2) If confusion about how to process politically sensitive cases was genuine, how did it happen that the "apolitical" workers were somehow able to process only lefty applications, and (3) how was it that Democrats couldn't find a single liberal group that had been harassed like conservatives had?
In a word: Cringeworthy. Who can take anything these people say seriously?
Here is footage from a hearing today, in which FBI Director Robert Mueller seemed to lack basic information about the FBI's investigation into IRS abuses -- including even the ame of the lead investigator and why the FBI was contacting people like True the Vote's Catherine Engelbrecht at the same time they were being targeted by the IRS.
As a general matter, I'm not a big fan of the haranguing style of questioning; it tends to make the questioner seem like a bully and a showboating style distracts from the substance of the questions and the (lack of) answers. But given the magnitude and extent of the IRS abuses -- and the possible involvement of some in the FBI in some aspects of the harassment -- it does seem that Director Mueller should have more answers.
Recall that as head of the Enforcement Office at the FEC, it seems that Lois Lerner spearheaded the harassment of conservative groups, specifically the Christian Coalition.
Well, according to George Will, Lois Lerner had her finger in at least one other pie, specifically the US Senate race between Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Al Salvi:
In the fall of 1996, at the campaign's climax, Democrats filed with the Federal Elections Commission charges alleging campaign finance violations by Salvi's campaign. These charges dominated the campaign's closing days. Salvi spoke by phone with the head of the FEC's Enforcement Division, who he remembers saying: "Promise me you will never run for office again, and we'll drop this case." He was speaking to Lois Lerner.
After losing to Durbin, Salvi spent four years and $100,000 fighting the FEC, on whose behalf FBI agents visited his elderly mother demanding to know, concerning her $2,000 contribution to her son's campaign, where she got "that kind of money." When the second of two federal courts held that the charges against Salvi were spurious, the lawyer arguing for the FEC was Lois Lerner.
If, indeed, Holly Paz has been fired, why is Lois Lerner still on (taxpayer-paid) administrative leave?
The Government Oversight and Reform Committee should call in the Christian Coalition, Al Salvi, and anyone else who has been victimized by Lerner, hear their stories, and then call her back to respond. Would she take the Fifth (again)?!
As more attention focuses on the IRS, there is ever more evidence that it is an agency with serious and ongoing problems that mere "reforms" may not be able sufficiently to address.
Another recent audit of the IRS -- finished shortly before the targeting scandal came to public attention and released about two weeks ago -- reports on (1) agency abuse of official travel charge cards for personal expenses; (2) failure appropriately to penalize those who misused their government charge cards, even on a repeated basis; and (3) evidence that even some officials with to-secret security clearances had had their charge accounts suspended for failing to pay outstanding balances (which suggests they are, in themselves, a risk in an agency privy to so much confidential financial information.
The inspector general report even seemed to call the IRS out on the hypocrisy of its handling of "irregularities":
[The] IRS ask[s] taxpayers to voluntarily pay taxes owed in a timely manner and yet was more tolerant when its employees became delinquent and defaulted on outstanding payments, violated the terms of the Citibank contract, abused a Government-provided resource (travel funding), and compromised the integrity of the IRS.
Notwithstanding all that, though, the Inspector General concluded that overall, the IRS was "effective" in controlling the use of the credit cards! Perhaps that's because there were "only" 1,000 employees misusing the cards over a two-year period, with "only" 325 bad checks written -- despite more than 51,000 IRS employees carrying IRS travel credit cards. Good enough for government work, one supposes . . .
Of course, from the recent targeting revelations, we have seen how deeply corrupt certain segments of the agency are -- and now, in the wake of that scandal, there is a startling lack of transparency. Exhibit A: We all know that Holly Pazhad been replaced, but just about an hour ago, Eliana Johnson offered some convcing proofs that Paz may have been fired . . . but we just don't know. For a bunch of folks who are so eager to stick their noses in Americans' businesses, the taxpayers who pay their salaries sure don't know much about what's going on there.
In this WaPo story about the "incest" between Obama administration officials and the news media, there are two unintentionally amusing paragraphs:
["Media types"] take exception to the notion that complicated judgments about the news — often made by others within an organization — have anything to do with personal favoritism or familial relationships. The critics, they say, can’t point to any direct evidence that such relationships have affected the amount or tone of their news coverage.
“There is zero evidence, zero, that [ABC President Ben Sherwood’s relationship to sister Elizabeth Sherwood, an Obama national security official] has had any impact on our coverage,” says Jeffrey Schneider, ABC News’s chief spokesman.
Ah, indeed -- in much the same way that there is at present "zero evidence, zero" that NSA programs have improperly intruded on Americans' privacy. In other words, maybe so, maybe not -- the lack of "direct evidence" doesn't necessarily mean that no evidence exists; rather, no one can make allegations with specificity because there is a decided lack of transparency about the operations and judgments of the way both outfits work.
When it comes to national security, there's a justification for the secrecy. For the media, not so much. And if you look at the "disparate impact" between the way Democrat scandals and Republican scandals are covered, that alone would be enough to infer that there is some signficant bias somewhere in the media process.
Of course, no adult male plans to get an eleven-year-old girl pregnant, but if he does, he now has "Plan B" -- courtesy of the Obama administration. In other words, the Obama administration has halted any effort to prevent over-the-counter sales of potentially life-ending drugs to girls of all ages.
Those of us who are pro-life find abortifacients morally troublesome (although less so in cases of rape or incest, of course). But how can anyone -- anyone -- defend a policy that facilitates sexual predators covering up their exploitation of young girls by simply having them purchase and take the drug? Well, over to Planned Parenthood head and Obama ally Cecile Richards:
"The FDA’s decision will make emergency contraception available on store shelves, just like condoms, and women of all ages will be able to get it quickly in order to prevent unintended pregnancy.”
Her obtuseness (and depravity!) is breathtaking. Plan B is not "just like condoms"; condoms prevent a pregnancy from occurring, while Plan B terminates a potential pregnancy. It is the difference between contraception and abortion.
Moreover, in a world where girls have to be 16 to drive a car, 18 to vote, and 21 to drink, how does it possibly make sense to facilitate access to a life-ending drug, with effects they may not understand, and without any opportunity for a doctor or other concerned adult to become aware of possible sexual abuse or statutory rape?
We all understand that President Obama doesn't want any young girl to be "punished with a baby" -- but if he doesn't want his daughters taking Plan B without his or his wife's knowledge, why is his administration making it easier for everyone else's daughters to do so?
On the tape above, IRS employee Sherry Wan asserts that a pro-life ministry will not be eligible for 501(c)(3) status if it "forces" its religious beliefs on others:
“You cannot force your religion or force your beliefs on somebody else . . .
“You convince them. But when you take a lot of action, [unintelligible] other people. For example, when you, you know, go to, you know, the abortion clinic, and you found them [unintelligible], we don’t want, you know, to come against them."
“You can’t take all kinds of confrontation activities and also put something on a website and ask people to take action against the abortion clinic. That’s not, that’s not really educational” . . .
You have to know your boundaries. You have to know your limits. You have to respect other people’s beliefs.”
Of course, this misinformation is despicably reminiscent of other outrageous and intrusive scrutiny imposed by the IRS on pro-life groups. Recall that Coalition for Life was asked to promise not to protest outside Planned Parenthood as a condition of receiving tax-exempt status, and a Texas pro-life group was asked whether it provides education "on both sides of the issues" and whether its members try to speak with anyone entering medical clinics.
Note that Planned Parenthood -- America's largest abortion provider, which receives almost half its budget from our tax dollars -- is a 501(c)(3), and apparently the IRS has no qualms about its activities or its educational value.
Holly Paz has been replaced as the IRS' Director of Rulings and Agreements in Washington, DC. She is, of course, most famous as the Obama donor who sat in on the interviews that the Inspector General conducted with members of the Cincinnati IRS office in the course of investigating the targeting of conservatives. SIgnificantly, she was a top manager in Cincinnati when the targeting occurred and when an initial investigation was conducted.
It's not clear whether she has been placed on (paid!) administrative leave like her erstwhile boss, Lois Lerner, or whether she has resigned, as acting commissioner Steven Miller did -- and like Joseph Grant, the commissioner for the tax exempt and government entities division of the IRS.
Without specialized knowledge, it's genuinely hard to know what to think about PRISM.
On the one hand, it's deeply unsettling to know that an administration that has shown a decided tendency to harass and abuse its critics could even potentially have access to personal information about Americans. It's hard to have any sympathy for President Obama as torrents of criticism from across the political spectrum rain down on him, given his hypocrisy and exploitation of similar issues in his political campaigns.
On the other hand, none of us wants another day like 9/11/01, ever again. It's hard for any of us without special security clearances to know exactly the information to which the government has access -- whether it's metadata or actual data. And it would be tragic if conservatives' legitimate concerns about privacy and government power were simply exploited by those on the left who have long been opposed to using any meaningful methods to combat the threat of Islamofascist terrorism.
Perhaps the crowning irony would be -- as Micky Kaus posited before the emergence of the leaker -- if this were a scandal that ended up helping the President by distracting attention from entirely obvious abuses of power and wrongdoing, like the IRS scandal and Benghazi.
Some caution in evaluating the claims and counterclaims are in order. Let's make sure our quest for security doesn't end up undermining our liberty in profound and irretrievable ways -- but let's also make sure our (absolutely justified) mistrust of the President doesn't lead us to embrace policies that will ultimately result in the needless deaths of innocent Americans.
Katrina vanden Heuvel: "MS, WI, TX, ND, AR, Have Become States of Misogyny of Bigotry" | Greg Hengler