Putting the Lie to the IRS' "Foolish Mistakes" Narrative

Carol Platt Liebau

5/17/2013 11:26:12 AM - Carol Platt Liebau

Testifying before Congress this morning, outgoing IRS Acting Commissioner Steven Miller sought to convince everyone that the targeting of conservative groups in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election was nothing more than a "foolish mistake."

There are many reasons this narrative is profoundly unconvincing -- in addition to the fact that it's being peddled by Miller, who previously withheld information from Congress about the targeting despite inquiries on it.  The main reason, however, has to do with activity by the Determinations Unit's "team of specialists."

Check out the bottom of page 7 of the IG report.  It notes that in June 2011, the Director of Exempt Organizations directed that the targeting criteria be changed and the next month, they were indeed changed to, as the IG report puts it, "focus on the potential 'political, lobbying, or [general] advocacy' activities of the organizations," rather than using "organization names and policy positions."

But then, "the team of specialists subsequently changed the criteria in January 2012 without executive approval . . . the January 2012 criteria again focused on the policy positions of organizations instead of tax-exempt laws and Treasury Regulations." (emphasis added).

That admission alone highlights how absolutely unbelievable the "foolish mistake" excuse is.  Had it simply been a matter of clueless IRS employees -- and who can believe anyone in good faith believes it's OK to practice viewpoint discrimination in administering the tax law?! -- there wouldn't have been a concerted effort to refocus on policy positions after the criteria had been changed to focus on applicants' activities, rather than their beliefs.

Miller's insistence on propagating an obviously misleading narrative for what happened and why points out just how much independent investigation is required.