On The IRS Abuse ...

... Obama Must Answer Questions

Posted: May 14, 2013

As the heat continues to rise on the Obama administration regarding the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, another political fire threatens to turn into a raging inferno. This one stems from charges of discrimination by one of the most prominent government agencies — the AP.

On Friday, as The Associated Press reported, the IRS apologized “for what it acknowledged was ‘inappropriate’ targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.” The shocking admission included the assurance that this behavior was solely the action of “low-level employees” of the IRS.

Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups, told the AP that “the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias.” This statement, coming at the end of a week in which the actions of Obama officials regarding the Benghazi attacks in the final weeks leading up the election were exposed in hearings on Capitol Hill, clearly did not ring true for many.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell quickly called for a “transparent, government-wide review” of the matter, and even White House spokesman Jay Carney “declared it was indeed inappropriate for the IRS to target tea party groups.” Yet he “brushed aside questions about whether the White House itself would investigate.”

So much for the Friday bad-news dump fading quietly into the sunset by the close of Mother’s Day. Reaction to the issue ballooned and was at a fever pitch by the time the Sunday talk shows hit the air.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported on the results of an audit conducted by the inspector general of the IRS: “At various points over the past two years, Internal Revenue Service officials singled out for scrutiny not only groups with ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their names but also nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution.”

Post reporter Julie Eilperin wrote that documents “show that the IRS field office in charge of evaluating applications for tax-exempt status decided to focus on groups making statements that ‘criticize how the country is being run.’” This work, it turns out, was assigned to the Cincinnati field office of the IRS, a practice that has been in effect for about a decade.

As Ms. Eilpern noted, “staffers in the Cincinnati field office were making high-level decisions on how to evaluate the groups because a decade ago the IRS assigned all applications to that unit” and the agency “eliminated an automatic after-the-fact review process Washington used to conduct such determinations.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, took to the airwaves, saying on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “the president needs to make crystal clear that this is totally unacceptable in America.”

By Monday, the White House must have realized the issue would not go quietly into the night, and so President Obama denounced the targeting during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The president, it seems, only “learned about the issue Friday from news reports,” according to the Post. But he issued a strong statement condemning the practice, saying, “If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous, and there’s no place for it.”

Mr. Obama promised to hold those responsible “fully accountable.” Strong words, indeed. But we question whether the rhetoric will have the needed follow up, given the track record of this administration. We predict, however, that much to the chagrin of Mr. Carney and those who spin full-time for the president, the questions about both Benghazi and the IRS are far from over.