February 6 2014

The IRS Hearings: An Email That Is More Than A Smidgen?

Charlotte Hays

During the Watergate scandal, Washingon was the most electric place on earth.

For journalists, it was heaven to be alive, and the people who testified during the hearings became instantly famous--or infamous. 

By contrast, unless you are a conservative, you probably aren't following the hearings on the IRS targeting of conservatives, taking place now on Capitol Hill.

One of the key accusations against Richard Nixon was that he had abused his power by using the IRS for political purposes. The media, rightly, was incensed.

But the mainstream media seems to have little appetite for getting to the bottom of this current IRS scandal, which also revolves around the alleged abuse of power for political purposes. Too bad--the hearings are riveting and I bet some of the watchers and readers who are leaving the MSN would like to know what is happening on the Hill.   

A high point was House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp’s unveiling of a June 14, 2012 email from high-ranking IRS lawyer Ruth Madrigal to other IRS officials (including Lois Lerner of Fifth Amendment fame).

The Wall Street Journal characterized it this way:

The email cites a blog post about the political activity of tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups and reads: "Don't know who in your organizations [sic] is keeping tabs on c4s, but since we mentioned potentially addressing them (off-plan) in 2013, I've got my radar up and this seemed interesting."

Interesting for sure. The IRS typically puts out a public schedule of coming regulations, and Mr. Camp noted that in this case "off-plan" appears to mean "hidden from the public." He added that committee interviews with IRS officials have found that the new 2013 rules were in the works as early as 2011, meaning the Administration has "fabricated the rationale" for this new regulation.

Mr. Camp added that everything his committee has discovered contradicts the White House argument that the IRS scandal was caused by legal "confusion." The current rules governing 501(c)(4)s have existed, unchanged, since 1959. Prior to 2010 the IRS processed and approved tax-exempt applications in fewer than three months with no apparent befuddlement.

The IRS hyper-scrutiny of conservative groups only began in 2010 amid the Obama Administration's larger political attack on political donors like the Koch brothers, and emails show that IRS officials were acutely aware of this political environment. In February 2010, for example, an IRS screener in Cincinnati flagged an application to his superiors noting: "Recent media attention to this type of organization indicates to me that this is a 'high profile' case."

From then on applications were routed through the offices of Mrs. Lerner and Obama-appointed IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, and long approval delays ensued. Extensive interviews and emails show that neither the initial Cincinnati interest, nor the subsequent Washington delay, was in any way driven by "confusion."

As lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who is representing organizations that say they were targeted by the IRS, observed today in the hearing, the IRS took a process that had taken a few months and “converted” it into a lengthy process of three or four years. Mitchell has said that the targeting of conservative groups is continuing and that none of her clients have been contacted as witnesses in what the administration claims is an ongoing Department of Justice investigation of the IRS.

President Obama told Bill O’Reilly in the famous Super Bowl interview that there is “not even a smidgen of corruption” in the IRS targeting of conservative organizations. He blamed the whole thing on "bone-headed" IRS officials who were confused by the complexity of the law regarding non-profits. This doesn't look like confusion, however. It looks like a singularly-clear eyed group of people in action.

That the new IRS rules for evaluating nonprofits would likely accomplish the same purpose (muzzling dissidents) as the targeting might also contributes to the idea that clear-mindedness, not confusion, was at play.

President Obama was undoubtedly right, however, in telling O’Reilly that, without Fox News, the IRS and Benghazi scandals would have been forgotten.

Watergate made the Washington Post the most prestigious newspaper in the nation for decades.

If the Benghazi and IRS scandals do break wide open—as is still quite possible, despite MSM indifference—perhaps there will be a similar realignment of the media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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