As you read this story, bear in mind that this special counsel report exposes conduct that isn't directly related to the IRS targeting scandal. No, these are other bad actors within the agency violating the Hatch Act by abusing their official positions for partisan ends. Add this new information into the Lois Lerner mix (much more on her below), and a very ugly picture of IRS culture emerges. Via the Washington Post:
Internal Revenue Service employees urged callers to vote for President Obama, disparaged Republicans in conversations with taxpayers and wore pro-Obama swag at work during the 2012 election cycle, according to a federal ethics watchdog. The Office of Special Counsel, which reviews whistleblower allegations, highlighted the three cases in an announcement on Wednesday. Federal law, specifically the Hatch Act, prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan campaign activities...OSC said in its announcement that it filed a complaint with the Merit Systems Protection Board against an IRS customer-service worker who allegedly encouraged taxpayers to reelect Obama by “repeatedly reciting a chant based on the spelling of [the president's] last name.” “Given the seriousness of the allegations and the employee’s Hatch Act knowledge, OSC is seeking significant disciplinary action,” the watchdog agency said. OSC said an IRS tax-advisory specialist in a separate case will serve a 14-day suspension for promoting partisan political views while assisting a taxpayer during the 2012 election season. The worker admitted to Hatch Act violations after a recorded conversation revealed she had shared anti-Republican opinions with a customer.
So we have one documented case of an IRS worker exhorting customers to re-elect Obama, with another employee dumping on Republicans. It's as if this person were reading off of DNC talking points:
OSC quoted the employee saying: “Republicans already [sic] trying to cap my pension and … they’re trying to take women back 40 years.” The employee added that her mother had always told her voting Republican would hurt the poor and make the rich more wealthy, saying she found the advice to be true, according to OSC. In a third case, the watchdog agency issued “cautionary guidance” to an IRS taxpayer-assistance center in Dallas following allegations that workers wore pro-Obama stickers, buttons and clothing at their jobs and displayed similar screensavers on agency computers. OSC said the items were “commonplace around the office.” Federal employees are not supposed to wear or display partisan items in the workplace, according to OSC.
As unacceptable as the former two examples are, the "commonplace" Obama swag at a major IRS center in Texas is the most indicative of the prevailing atmosphere at the agency. It's no surprise that IRS bureaucrats lean left, but these people have an obligation to serve as apolitical public employees, dispassionately conducting the people's business. What we see instead is a group of vindictive partisans -- from low-level call center operators all the way to the highest echelons of the IRS. Which brings us back to Lois Lerner and crew. Katie wrote extensively about the new email trail strongly suggesting that IRS officials and House Oversight Committee Democrats may have colluded on efforts to harass conservative organization True the Vote in 2012 and 2013. It's unclear whether any private tax information was exchanged, which would be a felony. Such a revelation wouldn't be too far-fetched, though, given that someone at the IRS did precisely that in yet another tentacle of this saga involving a different conservative group. What isn't ambiguous in the emails, however, is that Cummings' strong denials of any contact between his staff and the IRS regarding True the Vote were false. The set of questions Cummings eventually fired off to True the Vote were also strikingly similar to those asked by the IRS. In a devastating and pointed letter to Cummings, Issa wonders if Oversight Committee Democrats' heretofore secret role in the targeting scandal may explain Cummings' relentless obstructionism and pronouncements that the entire episode should be considered over and resolved. Finally, a tranche of emails disclosed by the House Ways and Means Committee shows that shortly after denying conservative outfit Crossroads GPS its tax-exempt status and ordering that it be audited, Lois Lerner seemed interested in OFA, the "independent" group spun out of Barack Obama's presidential campaign. She wasn't interested in targeting OFA, though; she floated the idea of joining them:
I think there's a decent chance that she was joking about her (apparently well-known) Obama fandom, but her close colleagues clearly weren't sure -- hence the "retirement talk?" follow-up. Lerner could perhaps clear this all up if she weren't refusing to testify by invoking her right against self-incrimination. Recall that she initially denied any involvement in the targeting of conservative groups, which was a lie. She also lied about orchestrating the planted question that made the entire outrage public in order to head off the Inspector General's forthcoming report, among other things. I'll leave you with two thoughts: (1) Since it's likely to get dredged up again, remember that Democrats' talking point that left-leaning groups were also targeted by the IRS just isn't true, no matter how they try to spin these numbers. (2) Just a few months ago, President Obama once again blamed all of this on a few "bone-headed" employees at a local IRS branch, assuring Americans that there isn't even a "smidgen" of corruption at the agency. And so, it comes to this:
Congress votes Lerner in contempt of Congress, refers prosecution to Attorney General who Congress voted in contempt of Congress— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) April 9, 2014
Friendly reminder: Congressional Democrats are again urging the IRS to crack down on conservative outside groups.