As Lerner Is Held in Contempt, the IRS Scandal Grows
New information comes to light making the scandal worse than we thought.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted along party lines Thursday to hold Lois Lerner, the former director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations office, in contempt of Congress for her refusal to testify about the agency’s improper targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. This follows Wednesday’s party-line vote by the Ways and Means Committee requesting the Justice Department to consider criminal charges against Lerner.
Evidence has come to light that Lerner not only deliberately singled out conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status for intrusive audits, stalled applications by such groups and misled investigators from the Treasury Inspector General’s office, but that she actively corresponded with leftist campaign groups while conducting her official duties. Correspondence between Lerner and officials with Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center show that she had received requests by these groups to investigate conservative organizations such as Crossroads GPS, Americans for Responsible Leadership, and several others. If that weren’t enough, it was also revealed that Lerner was talking about a job offer with Barack Obama’s campaign arm, Organizing for Action, while she was still in charge of the tax-exempt office.
Lerner attempted to duck Committee questioning by invoking the Fifth Amendment, but she did so only after making a statement to the committee denying any wrongdoing. By making that statement, she arguably waived her rights. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said he “counted 17 separate factual assertions” that Lerner made before sealing her own lips. He observed, “That is a lot of talking for somebody who wants to remain silent.” Naturally, Democrats don’t see it that way. Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) accused Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) of ginning up a controversy to stir the Republican base for the midterms.
It turns out that Cummings has a few questions to answer himself. IRS emails obtained by the Oversight Committee show that Cummings’ staff requested and received information from Lerner’s office in January 2014 about True the Vote, one of the conservative groups under scrutiny. During a February 2014 hearing, Cummings denied obtaining any such documents. Issa has publicly asked Cummings to come clean as to why he requested the documents and why they were not shared with the majority members of the committee.
As far as we’re concerned, there can be no other reason for the IRS targeting of conservative groups than to suppress Republican voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election. A recent report by the Treasury Inspector General’s office indicates that there were virtually no audits of leftist groups during this time period. We’ll probably never know if the IRS’s actions directly led to Obama’s re-election, but there can be no denying that the agency is corrupt and deeply flawed. Lerner likely didn’t come up with this scheme all on her own, but how high does this scandal go? Will we ever find out?
Commentator Charles Krauthammer argues that unless Lerner is granted immunity in exchange for honest and open testimony, the prosecution against her “will die.” This is sad but probably true. Democrats have consistently proven themselves more concerned with power than Rule of Law, so there is no reason to expect anyone to break ranks and tell the truth. And the Leftmedia has proven to be just another extension of the West Wing, completely uninterested in reporting any bad news unless it has the word “Republican” in it. We certainly can’t be confident that the Obama Justice Department will actually pursue charges against Lerner. The House can exercise “inherent contempt” authority, which allows the chamber to detain Lerner until the next Congress in 2015, or until she talks, whichever comes first. But the corruption appears to go very deep, making it all the more difficult to root out.
Indeed, the larger issue isn’t even who ordered who to do what. Democrats have been calling for a crackdown of the Tea Party from every microphone they encounter since the Tea Party began to worry them electorally. Far worse than an order from the White House would be for the IRS to pick up on this and agree ideologically. If the agency responsible for the taxation of the people has become a political thugocracy, as it appears, we really are in trouble. Sending Lerner to jail may be just, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.