News on the Obama administration’s most damaging scandal to date—the revelation that the IRS intentionally targeted conservative and Tea Party educational groups—is breaking rapidly. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve learned over the past 24 hours or so.
First, the current head of the IRS has known about all this for quite some time:
Steven Miller, now the acting IRS commissioner, found out over a year ago that the agency was singling out Tea Party and conservative groups, the IRS said Monday.
The agency said that its tax-exempt and government entities division told Miller, then deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, about the improper scrutiny on May 3, 2012.
Miller never informed Congress about his agency’s anti-Tea Party dragnet, even though Rep. Charles Boustany sent him a letter last June asking if conservative groups were being targeted. Miller was also asked about Tea Party targeting at a congressional hearing, but he again failed to disclose what he knew.
Some on the left excused the scandal by claiming it was just a few bad apples in the Cincinnati office. The Washington Post blew that apart yesterday evening:
Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, making clear that the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations, while officials in the El Monte and Laguna Niguel offices in California sent similar questionnaires to tea-party-affiliated groups, the documents show.
In particular, the IRS was interested in groups that investigated voter fraud, sending groups invasive questionnaires about their voter outreach activities.
Meanwhile the lefty news organization ProPublica revealed that the IRS improperly leaked confidential applications for conservative groups:
The same IRS office that deliberately targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status in the run-up to the 2012 election released nine pending confidential applications of conservative groups to ProPublica late last year. …
In response to a request for the applications for 67 different nonprofits last November, the Cincinnati office of the IRS sent ProPublica applications or documentation for 31 groups. Nine of those applications had not yet been approved—meaning they were not supposed to be made public.
Puzzled, ProPublica tried to figure out why it was sent the unapproved applications:
After receiving the unapproved applications, ProPublica tried to determine why they had been sent. In emails, IRS spokespeople said ProPublica shouldn’t have received them.
“It has come to our attention that you are in receipt of application materials of organizations that have not been recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt,” wrote one spokeswoman, Michelle Eldridge.
At any rate, Congress—presumably annoyed after being deceived repeatedly by the IRS—is scheduling hearings. The House Ways and Means Committee is calling top IRS officials to testify on Friday. The Senate Finance Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations are also investigating. The involvement of the latter shows how serious this is, even in the Democrat-controlled Senate; the investigations subcommittee is tasked with digging into crimes that the government may have committed. (In a related note, Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow, two days after it was revealed the Department of Justice monitored the phone calls of Associated Press reporters. Expect plenty of fireworks on the Hill this week.)
With the exception of failed celebrity Lawrence O’Donnell who defended the IRS, most commentators, even on the left, have condemned the administration’s actions. Famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein found the IRS’s conduct “outrageous,” Andrea Mitchell called them among the “most outrageous excesses I’ve ever seen,” and Jon Stewart tore into the administration in a frustrated, profane segment:
A Salon.com reporter is wondering whether that segment is Obama’s “Cronkite moment,” when the young crowd finally loses faith in the Obama administration. I think that gives Millennials way too much credit. But either way, this is a real scandal, and it’s not going away any time soon.