A brief follow-up to Katie's report on Lois Lerner's appearance before the House Oversight Committee this morning, in which she again refused to testify, invoking her fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. "Pleading the fifth" is not necessarily an admission of guilt, but it's telling that one of the central figures of this scandal has twice declined to offer testimony that she evidently thinks could produce some very negative outcomes for her. Lerner's attorney has reportedly been busy seeking seeking immunity for her, an unresolved negotiation that may have led to conflicting accounts over whether she'd at some point agreed to testify today, before backing down. With that as a backdrop, let's revisit President Obama's summary of the IRS targeting matter, as explained to Bill O'Reilly on Super Bowl Sunday:
OBAMA: There were some -- there were some bone-headed decisions...
O'REILLY: Bone-headed decisions...
OBAMA: -- out of -- out of a local office...
O'REILLY: But no mass corruption?
OBAMA: Not even mass corruption, not even a smidgeon of corruption, I would say.
Two key assertions here from the president: First, that the agency's "bone-headed" decisions were made at a local level, presumably referring to the Cincinnati office. The notion that this scandal was limited to a local office has been debunked and refuted so many time, it's almost stunning that Obama is still clinging to this talking point. It simply isn't true. Also, the notion that these were innocent mistakes based on poor judgment calls is absurd. The IRS admitted to and apologized for its wrongful, deliberate targeting of conservatives groups, which suffered real consequences as a result of the abuse. The malfeasance wasn't mindless or accidental. It was intentional and political. Here's a Lerner email presented at today's hearing:
IRS hearing exhibit - Lerner email pic.twitter.com/gtIUABVAFV— Greta Van Susteren (@gretawire) March 5, 2014
Lerner labeled the tax treatment of Tea Party groups "very dangerous," worrying that the issue could be used to expand the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that enraged liberals. She writes that higher-ups should handle these cases, explicitly recommending that Cincinnati -- the "local office" Obama mentioned -- should not "have these cases." That email was sent in early 2011, less than a year after the president (falsely) attacked the Supreme Court's ruling during his State of the Union Address. Lerner's email also came on the heels of Democratic Senators "bitterly" pressuring the IRS to step up its scrutiny of conservative-leaning outside groups during the 2010 campaign season. The new Republican House majority was sworn in roughly one month prior to the Lerner missive embedded above. Coincidence? The second main point Obama made in the interview was that not even a trace of corruption exists at the IRS over this imbroglio. Lois Lerner has twice refused to testify as her lawyer attempts to secure immunity from prosecution. That's not definitive proof of corruption, but it certainly suggests there's more than a "smidgen" of wrongdoing lurking beneath the surface here. Obama's dismissal also ignores serious and credible allegations that someone at the IRS leaked at least one conservative group's private tax information to a rival liberal organization -- which is a felony. Democrats continue to wave away this entire matter as a "phony" scandal drummed up by Republicans. Journalist Ron Fournier isn't buying it:
Repeating: When you call a scandal phony, you're losing.— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) March 5, 2014
Yes, especially when you initially treated it as outrageous and "inexcusable" before pivoting to deriding it as "made up" and fake -- even as key figures continue to plead the fifth, and the administration lies about the timing and provenance of new IRS regulations. I'll leave you with the friendly reminder that Lois Lerner is still collecting a handsome pension, courtesy of US taxpayers.
UPDATE - Read this Weekly Standard post. Some of the questions Lerner refused to answer today are pretty devastating, especially the one about her Citizens United comments at Duke University.