It's rigorous work keeping pace with all of these scandals, as House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer discovered earlier this week, but we're doing our best nonetheless. On the IRS targeting issue, we covered a lot of ground yesterday and earlier, but the "fun" never ceases. It will come as a surprise to no one that IRS employees lean heavily Democratic. Their livelihoods depend on the existence of big, complicated government, so of course they'd vote blue. In the 2012 cycle, during which their agency's abusive methods were in place, IRS employees donated to Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by more than a 2-to-1 margin. What did the political contribution break-down look like in Cincinnati -- where the tax exemption office is based? Cough:
The Cincinnati office where the political targeting took place is much more partisan, judging by FEC filings. More than 75 percent of the campaign contributions from that office in the past three elections went to Democrats. In 2012, every donation traceable to employees at that office went to either President Obama or liberal Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
One. Hundred. Percent. The office's director is an Obama donor, too. The undue logistical hoops through which conservative groups were forced to leap are being document left and right; this one's especially egregious. Even as the president expresses (feigns?) outrage over the IRS' victimization of groups he's demonized throughout his presidency, and even after the IRS admitted wrongdoing, some liberals are still trying to justify the agency's actions. Some say the Tea Party deserved it because they're racist terrorists; others say their brought it on themselves through their "persecution complex" and attempts to abide by the law, or something. Meanwhile, Fox 19 in Cincinnati explored the significant local angle to this story and mined this juicy quote, which further eviscerates the IRS' "it was basically just two local guys" fable:
These four IRS workers claim "they simply did what their bosses ordered". Keep in mind, as FOX19 reported on Tuesday, the report by the Office of Inspector General states that senior IRS officials knew agents were targeting Tea Party groups as early as 2011.
One more piece of the hierarchy puzzle, via the Wall Street Journal: "The IRS is many things, but 'independent' isn't one of them. It is formally part of the Treasury Department and is headed by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, who is appointed by the President. The Commissioner is accountable to the President reporting through the Treasury Secretary." So much for all that "totally independent" pablum we've been spoon-fed in recent days.
The Internal Revenue Service has identified two "rogue" employees in the agency's Cincinnati office as being principally responsible for "overly aggressive" handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status, a congressional source told CNN. In a meeting on Capitol Hill, acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller described the employees as being "off the reservation," according to the source. It was not clear precisely what the alleged behavior involved. Miller said the staffers have already been disciplined, according to another source familiar with Miller's discussions with congressional investigators.
Even before then, in mid-March 2010, 10 Tea Party cases appear to have been brought to the attention of another senior I.R.S. official in Washington, just two weeks after the Cincinnati effort began, according to the inspector general’s audit. And Steven Miller, now the acting I.R.S. commissioner, was aware of the matter in March 2012, a month before he told Republican senators there was no special treatment for conservative applicants for tax exemption.
When September 2012 arrived with still no word from the IRS, Ryun determined that Media Trackers would likely never obtain standalone non-profit status, and he tried a new approach: Starting over. He applied for permanent non-profit status for a separate group called Greenhouse Solutions, a pre-existing organization that was reaching the end of its determination period. The IRS approved Greenhouse Solutions' request for non-profit status in three weeks. When news broke last week that the IRS had applied heavier scrutiny to conservative groups seeking non-profit status from 2010-2012, Ryun said he became convinced that his second application was approved quickly because he applied under the Greenhouse Solutions title, which he called a "liberal-sounding name."
VanderSloot, who was also national co-chair of the Romney campaign’s finance committee, was described in an April 2012 Obama campaign Web posting as one of eight “wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records.” Shortly after the post appeared, VanderSloot was subjected to two Internal Revenue Service audits — one focusing on his personal finances, the other related to his business interests — and a Labor Department audit of one of his businesses. When asked about whether any of the other seven donors who appeared on the list were audited as well, VanderSloot spoke cautiously, but did say he “wasn’t the only one.”
“In one case, the IRS withheld approval of an application for tax exempt status for Coalition for Life of Iowa. In a phone call to Coalition for Life of Iowa leaders on June 6, 2009, the IRS agent ‘Ms. Richards’ told the group to send a letter to the IRS with the entire board’s signatures stating that, under perjury of the law, they do not picket/protest or organize groups to picket or protest outside of Planned Parenthood,” the Thomas More Society announced today. “Once the IRS received this letter, their application would be approved.”
"Don't think we're not keeping score, brother." - President Obama, late March 2009. blueoregon.com/2009/04/obama-…— jimgeraghty (@jimgeraghty) May 15, 2013
The way she tells it, the law is already lowering costs -- and is "largely responsible" for lowering the deficit. Hoo boy. Obamacare is not lowering healthcare costs; not for families, not for small businesses, and not for the federal government. And while it's true that this year's projected deficit has been shaved down to merely quadruple the last fully Republican-controlled budget shortfall, Obamacare has nothing to do with it. In fact, the nonpartisan GAO estimates that the law will add $6.2 trillion to deficits over time. Don't forget, Harry Reid is complaining that the law is under-funded. (And, by the way, our long-term debt problem remains as acute as ever -- particularly because of our unsustainable entitlement obligations). Pelosi has also claimed that Obamacare is a big job creator, a statement that even the White House's favorite economists can't swallow, to say nothing of CBO estimates....or assessments from Democrats who voted for the law. So how's the Obamacare jobs boom going in Missouri?
"This all stems from the Affordable Care Act."
The director of the Internal Revenue Service division under fire for singling out conservative groups sent a 2012 letter under her name to one such group, POLITICO has learned. The March 2012 letter was sent to the Ohio-based American Patriots Against Government Excess (American PAGE) under the name of Lois Lerner, the director of the Exempt Organizations Division...at the time of the letter, the group was in the midst of the application process for tax-exempt nonprofit status — a process that would stretch for nearly three years and involve queries for detailed information on its social media activity, its organizational set-up, bylaws, membership and interactions with political officials. The letter threatened to close American PAGE’s case file unless additional information was received within 60 days.
In February 2010, the Champaign Tea Party in Illinois received approval of its tax-exempt status from the IRS in 90 days, no questions asked. That was the month before the Internal Revenue Service started singling out Tea Party groups for special treatment. There wouldn't be another Tea Party application approved for 27 months. In that time, the IRS approved perhaps dozens of applications from similar liberal and progressive groups, a USA TODAY review of IRS data shows. As applications from conservative groups sat in limbo, groups with liberal-sounding names had their applications approved in as little as nine months. With names including words like "Progress" or "Progressive," the liberal groups applied for the same tax status and were engaged in the same kinds of activities as the conservative groups.
Lerner also reportedly fast-tracked an approval for a foundation operated by President Obama's half brother, taking the extraordinary step of granting it retroactive tax-free status.
"Seventy-five organizations effected" - That number almost immediately swelled to 300. Now it's closer to 500:
The IRS targeting of conservative groups is far broader than first reported, with nearly 500 organizations singled out for additional scrutiny, according to two lawmakers briefed by the agency. IRS officials claimed on Friday that roughly 300 groups received additional scrutiny. Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that the number has actually risen to 471. Further, they said it is "unclear" whether Tea Party and other conservative groups are being targeted to this day.
from #IRS briefing to Hill: no employees involved in inappropriate scrutiny of conservative groups disciplined, one was promoted.— John King (@JohnKingCNN) May 14, 2013
An "unhealthy love" for Obama is a diagnosis that applies to some people well beyond the White House walls. Think, for instance, of the famously tingly man who hosts the show on which Alter appeared. The good news in all of this is that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid see these allegations of Statist bullying as a prime opportunity to...turn back the clock on stifling political speech and pass pet legislation that would hamper conservative organizations while shielding Democrats' union cronies. Good luck with that, guys. Conservatives have far better messaging opportunities here: If the IRS is at best grossly incompetent, and at worst maliciously politicized, how can they be trusted to enforce Obamacare starting next year? And don't citizens have more cause than ever to be leery of ideas like national gun registries? Parting quotation: "What we are witnessing is nothing less than a dramatic reversal of the nation’s political narrative."
Later, NBC's Chuck Todd slammed Obama's doubletalk on a press shield law, which could have prevented the DOJ from secretly monitoring dozens of journalists' work and personal phone records for months. Obama said one thing as a Senator and a candidate, then reversed himself as president. Jay Carney tried to pin this on the Bush administration, natch (video available at the link):
Todd: You keep talking about then Sen .Obama supported a certain piece of legislation that, in fact, as president he killed that piece of legislation in October of 2009 — and made it so that the protections he supported, having judicial review … there was an opportunity to have this bill passed…and he said the White House had problems with it and he killed it.
Carney: First of all, you’re talking about separate pieces of legislation and a legislative history that bears a little more looking into. The president’s position on this is what it was as a senator. But the fact is I cannot then appropriately apply his support for that measure..
Todd: If he supported that piece of legislation, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today because he supported a judicial review that seemed to settle this –
Carney: And what happened to it in 2007?
Todd: I’m asking you what happen in 2009 when he was president of the United States.
Carney's marching orders today were to convey two primary messages: First, that Benghazi is a "circus" and "sideshow" motivated by partisanship. (One wonders what Patricia Smith and loyal Democrat Greg Hicks might have to say about that sneering accusation. Amb. Chris Stevens couldn't be reached for comment). Translation: Benghazi is the bogus "scandal," reporters, so let's clear the decks on that one. Never mind the new evidence of political manipulation, the administration's shifting story, and whistle-blowers' impactful sworn testimony. No, the whole controversy is just "a deliberate attempt to politicize a tragedy," Carney said, scolding those Americans who care about the truth. What a disgusting evasion. By the way, Carney went on to aver that the president is committed to "finding out who did it, finding out why, and taking the steps necessary" to ensure that it doesn't happen again. Doesn't Carney remember his own dismissive formulation that Benghazi "happened a long time ago"? The White House has been patting us on the head by talking about gathering all the facts and holding people accountable for eight months. During that time, there have been no arrests made, and no one has been fired. Can you imagine if eight months had passed after the Boston bombings without a single arrest? That attack was perpetrated by two men who killed three people; Benghazi was perpetrated by dozens of terrorists who killed four people, including our ambassador. The administration's official line on Benghazi ("we're blameless, you're crazy or partisan") is overtly political, callous, and insulting.
Second, as for the "real" scandals at the IRS and DOJ, the president didn't know anything, and it would be "wholly inappropriate" for him to comment further until all the facts are known. The best spin they have at their disposal is to argue that the President of the United States has to turn on the nightly news to find out what's happening the government he runs.
During today's contentious press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney categorically denied that anyone inside the White House knew about the IRS' policy of applying heightened scrutiny to conservative organizations prior to late April of this year. Minutes later, he was forced to walk back his own assertion, instead claiming that he personally was "not aware" of anyone at the White House having knowledge of that IRS practice:
This was a significant and telling mistake. The only straight answer of the afternoon was hastily revised under antagonistic questioning from a skeptical press corps. This looks sloppy and slippery at best, suspicious at worst. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer explains how and why Carney made a serious misstep:
How can Jay say w certainty no one at WH, or on political staff, spoke w IRS?Has he interviewed everyone? Who did he ask?— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) May 14, 2013
I tried to warn Jay (in an earlier tweet). " Did anyone know" is an impossible question. Jay fell into the trap.— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) May 14, 2013
"It's outrageous. It's totally inexcusable...the object of it is to intimidate people who talk to reporters. There's no excuse for it whatsoever."
Mitchell and Scarborough both marvel at how that the White House doesn't seem to grasp how damaging these metastasizing scandals really are just yet. National Journal's Ron Fournier, who's been a beacon of clarity on these stories from the get-go, intones that unless things turn around quickly, the IRS revelation in particular threatens to consume the remainder of Obama's presidency. I'll leave you with a quote from an anonymous Democrat strategist, who is severely alarmed by the swirling mess the administration has created for itself:
They have a small window- I'd say 2-5 days- to try and turn this around and hold on to a plausible veneer of not being a group of shadowy thugs. But given how tone def they've been in the past, my money is on this being the lens through which their next 3.5 years are viewed.
"Shadowy thugs"? That's the Chicago Way.
Z Street filed a lawsuit against the IRS in 2010 alleging that one of its attorneys were told its application for tax exemption was delayed and sent to a “special unit…to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the Administration’s public policies.”
The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility’ because ‘consulate’ was inaccurate.”
"These Were CIA Points. They Were CIA Edited. They Were CIA Finalized."
This is profound dishonesty. The CIA presented finalized talking points to the administration, which proceeded to revise and scrub them a dozen different times, with many of the most politically-calculated edits triggered by State Department bigwigs. The original assessment represented the best intel. The finished product was unrecognizable. Pinning that on the CIA is a shameless and risky proposition. And the president is playing with fire with false claims about his own forthrightness; he was just awarded Four Pinocchios by the Washington Post for Benghazi-related statement he made at yesterday's press conference.
(3) The Obama Justice Department Secretly Monitored Dozens of Journalists' Phone Records for Months - With the mainstream media warming to the task of covering the previous two scandals, Monday evening's compounding bombshell couldn't have dropped at a worse time for the White House. Because it's a jarring affront to press freedom, journalists are likely to take it personally. Indeed, many in the Washington press corps are friendly with the reporters and editors whose work and personal phone records were quietly culled by the federal government. Gasoline, meet fire. It appears the DOJ's aim here was to identify and plug an administration leak, which they sought to accomplish by resorting to a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into the business of a very wide swath of journalists -- who by definition aren't the ones doing the leaking. The Associated Press' write-up explains why the Justice Department's heavy-handed and surreptitious action in this case was exceptional:
The Justice Department lays out strict rules for efforts to get phone records from news organizations. A subpoena can be considered only after "all reasonable attempts" have been made to get the same information from other sources, the rules say. It was unclear what other steps, in total, the Justice Department might have taken to get information in the case. A subpoena to the media must be "as narrowly drawn as possible" and "should be directed at relevant information regarding a limited subject matter and should cover a reasonably limited time period," according to the rules. The reason for these constraints, the department says, is to avoid actions that "might impair the news gathering function" because the government recognizes that "freedom of the press can be no broader than the freedom of reporters to investigate and report the news." News organizations normally are notified in advance that the government wants phone records and then they enter into negotiations over the desired information. In this case, however, the government, in its letter to the AP, cited an exemption to those rules that holds that prior notification can be waived if such notice, in the exemption's wording, might "pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation."
"Punish our enemies." How interesting.
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news. The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
The Associated Press is understandably livid:
In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies. "There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," Pruitt said.
Was the DOJ snooping for leakers and potential whistle-blowers? That's my initial gut reaction. Stay tuned for details. If you're keeping score at home, here's what we've discovered since last Friday:
(1) The Obama administration changed its Benghazi talking points 12 times, scrubbing politically unhelpful elements, and radically changing the best analysis of the intelligence community. The White House had previously denied presiding over anything but minor, cosmetic changes to the talking points.
(2) The IRS targeted conservative groups for extra harassment from 2010 to 2012, and top officials knew about it since at least 2011. No disciplinary action has been taken so far.
(3) The Obama Department of Health and Human Services is requesting "voluntary" donations from the healthcare companies over which it wields enormous power in order to help fund Obamacare's implementation, perhaps in violation of the law.
(4) The Obama Justice Department secretly monitored dozens of Associated Press journalists' work and personal phone records for purposes that remain unclear. This lasted for at least two months.
I'd toss in some "what if Bush had done it?" snark, but that hardly seems necessary. This is quite simply astonishing. And to think, Ron Fournier's piece about President Obama's credibility crisis was written before this latest bomb dropped. Last week, Obama told Ohio State graduates to "reject" those "cynical" voices who warn of government abuse and tyranny. Then the IRS and AP stories broke. Listen up, grads. And all other citizens.
UPDATE - Here's the DOJ's deeply Orwellian statement:
We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations. Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media. We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws.
UPDATE II - What's our president up to tonight?
Obama schmoozing w Justin Timberlake &Jessica Biel at NYC fundraiser, while his DoJ snoops on reporters & his IRS targets tea party orgs.— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) May 13, 2013
Why are we in patented Obama indefinite "wait-and-see," "fact-gathering" phase for IRS story when they've admitted their wrongdoing?— Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) May 13, 2013
"There's no there there." Wow. Doubles down on shifting stories.— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) May 13, 2013
CIA Dir Petraeus called the #Benghazi talking points useless disappointed WH was using them. And Obama says they were consistent w/PDBs?— Stephen Hayes (@stephenfhayes) May 13, 2013
So why did Obama repeatedly talk about the video at UN two weeks after attacks?— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) May 13, 2013