By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
One of President Obama’s statements to Bill O’Reilly in the pre-Super Bowl interview, was that when it came to the IRS controversy, that was another Fox News phony scandal, and there wasn’t even a “smidgen of corruption” in his administration. But we have shown in numerous articles how this has, in reality, been a serious abuse of power. After all, using the IRS to go after its political enemies nearly got Richard Nixon impeached, and would have if he hadn’t resigned first.
We have shown how the President’s narrative, and that of his spokesmen, has “evolved.” Originally the story went that it was rogue agents in the Cincinnati office of the IRS that had begun the persecution of conservative groups back in 2010, but that Obama had only learned about it in the media in May 2013, when everyone else heard about it.
Then it turned out that not only had Lois Lerner, the director of the tax exempt division of the IRS, known about it, but so did two White House officials a month prior to the May announcement: White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and White House Chief Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler. These two implausibly argued that they did not warn the President. But still, the controversy was contained as much as possible in the Cincinnati office—until once again we learned that Washington, D.C. staffer Holly Paz reviewed 20 to 30 applications from non-profit applicants who were caught in this quagmire. She testified before Congress that the Tea Party label was “like calling soda ‘Coke’ or, you know, tissue ‘Kleenex.’” It was “Just sort of a shorthand reference,” she said. Are you sensing a pattern yet?
Yet throughout this saga, no one was held accountable for lying to the President. Lerner pled the Fifth Amendment, was placed on administrative leave, and then retired. She collected $42,000 in bonuses since 2009. As AIM reported earlier, an American Center for Law and Justice complaint cites Lerner—and her comrades Douglas Shulman, Sarah Hall Ingram, Nikole Flax and Judith Kindell—for “repeatedly us[ing] nonofficial, unsecure, personal email accounts to conduct official IRS business, including sending tax return information and official classified documents to non-agency email addresses, and that Defendant Lerner alone accumulated more than 1,600 pages of emails and documents related to official IRS business in a nonofficial, unsecure, personal email account, including almost 30 pages of confidential taxpayer information.”
In addition, Sarah Hall Ingram “made 155 visits to the White House to meet with a top Obama White House official with whom she exchanged confidential taxpayer information over email,” according to a report in The Daily Caller. Ingram headed up the IRS office that oversaw tax-exempt organizations, between 2009 and 2012, when she left to take over the IRS office in charge of implementing Obamacare.
And Douglas Shulman, the former IRS Commissioner who stepped down in November 2012 from that position, told a Senate panel in May of 2013 that he was “dismayed” and “saddened” after learning from the IRS inspector general’s report that, according to Politico, “concluded agency employees wrongly targeted conservative groups seeking a tax exemption.” Shulman told the Senate Finance Committee that “The actions outlined in that report have justifiably led to questions about the fairness of the approach taken here.”
The narrative changed over and over, and the media, particularly Lawrence O’Donnell and others on MSNBC—the network devoted to protecting and defending President Obama and the Democratic National Committee (DNC)—said that the IRS was right in turning down or dragging out these applications for 501(c)4s, since they were really engaged in politics, and not social welfare, as the original language of the law called for. The original language of the law called for 501c(4)s to be engaged “exclusively” in social welfare, not “primarily,” O’Donnell argued. But that change was made back in 1959. It is more likely that the political targeting was influenced by the January 2010 Citizens United ruling, which preceded the IRS’s actions by just a couple months.
Could it be the President didn’t punish anyone because they didn’t lie to him, and he knew all along?
Also, Obama’s defenders argued, progressive groups were also flagged, not just conservative groups. But that was false too, because what conservative groups went through was nothing like what the liberal groups went through. Conservative groups were asked to print out and deliver every text, tweet and Facebook page, along with explanations of their political views, donor lists, and even religious beliefs. Progressive groups were sometimes flagged, but received far less comprehensive treatment. This was clearly a tactic designed to neutralize the Tea Party movement in the middle of a presidential election.
Yet, despite the evidence, the liberal media have remained unconvinced. Politico, for example, reported on February 5 that “No White House involvement or political motivation has been discovered. And Democrats have released documents suggesting progressive groups were subject to some targeting as well.”
Much of the media are unimpressed by Rep. Dave Camp’s (R-MI) recent revelations, as well. As chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, he has come into the possession of a 2012 email that reveals that Lois Lerner and four other senior IRS officials were discussing the 501(c)4 regulations in June 2012 in the run-up to the 2012 elections. They specifically refer to “potentially addressing” these organizations “off-plan” in 2013. Off-plan, Rep. Camp explained in his press release, means “not to be published on the public schedule.”
Not only did Lerner and her compatriots discuss IRS business in their off-the-books email accounts, her comrades Ruth Madrigal, Victoria A Judson, Janine Cook, and Nancy J. Marks were apparently planning regulation discussions outside the public eye as well, this email demonstrates. Yet we are supposed to believe that these attempts, along with the other missteps, were shear “boneheaded decisions,” to quote the President on O’Reilly, instead of purposeful actions.
The 2010 emails also released by Rep. Camp show that IRS officials were focusing on the “media attention” received by these cases, and factoring that into their treatment of political groups. “Cindy: Please let ‘Washington’ know about this potentially politically embarrassing case involving a ‘Tea Party’ organization,” starts one email on February 25, 2010 from Sharon L. Camarillo. “Recent media attention to this type of organization indicates to me that this is a ‘high profile case.’” So not only was Washington looped in early on, it was for political considerations—and free speech was damaged as a result. “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,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Extensive interviews and emails show that neither the initial Cincinnati interest, nor the subsequent Washington delay, was in any way driven by ‘confusion.’”
“Democrats accused Republicans of trying to get blood out of a stone by continuing to push a story line of White House involvement,” reported Politico regarding this revelation. Of course MSNBC dismissed this news; Steven Benen wrote for MSNBC that “In other words, there’s still nothing interesting to see here. …Congressional Republicans keep digging in the hopes of making the Obama administration look bad, but as the desperation becomes farcical, GOP officials are more likely to make themselves look bad than anyone else.”
How much “boneheadedness” are the American people supposed to accept?
Add to this that the President has assigned a Department of Justice official, Barbara Bosserman, to look into these issues—a woman who has given the DNC and his campaigns a combined total of $6,750, according to The Washington Post. “The Justice Department contends that there was nothing improper about naming Bosserman to lead the investigation and that taking her political leanings into account would have been inappropriate,” reported the Post. But clearly that is exactly what they did—they took her political leanings into account—just like they did with the targeted groups. How ironic. And it is paying off.
As Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) pointed out last week, none of the 41 clients represented by The American Center for Law and Justice that are suing the IRS over its actions “had been interviewed by any of the 13 Justice Department investigators during the six months of the investigation.”
If this was innocent—or just incompetent—what about the concept of avoiding at least the appearance of a conflict of interest?
Abuse of power and lying to the American people are forms of corruption. And now the President has stepped in and perhaps prejudiced an ongoing investigation—a sham investigation at that—by saying there isn’t even “a smidgen of corruption” in this case. Even if there is no controlling legal authority to prosecute and punish people for these acts, and the media refuse to call it what it is, this ongoing IRS corruption and cover-up is a serious Obama administration scandal.