Congress needs to get to the bottom of Obama-era harassment of non-profit groups.
In the bubble of Washington, pols strain at the gnat and swallow the camel. They chase after media-driven pseudo-scandals while letting real scandals linger.
Take the scandal of the IRS’s harassment of non-profit groups during the Obama administration. Getting to the bottom of that scandal is far more important than any of the election-related wild goose chases under discussion in the press. Americans don’t toss and turn at night over fears of a hazy network of Russian hackers. But they do fear letters from the IRS.
To their credit, a few conservative Republicans in the House still draw attention to the unresolved scandal at the IRS. “Frankly in my view the most corrupt IRS commissioner that I’ve ever dealt with continues in my view to mislead Congress,” according to Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means. “And until he’s removed I don’t think the IRS will ever regain its credibility.” Brady is referring to the still-unsacked John Koskinen, the Obama-appointed IRS commissioner who stonewalled Republicans during the Lois Lerner investigation. Even the circumspect Mitch McConnell calls Koskinen a “disaster.” A letter sent by the House Republican Study Committee to President Trump explains why:
The IRS, through its targeting of citizens for their political beliefs, has forfeited the trust of a free people. The IRS has admitted to improperly targeting conservative groups, delaying applications for tax-exempt status from 2010-2012, with at least 75 groups selected for extra scrutiny. Moreover, in August 2016, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the IRS had yet to demonstrate that officials have definitively ceased targeting conservative groups. The ruling came at the heels of evidence that two targeted conservative groups continued to have delayed applications for tax-exempt status pending at the IRS.
Congressional investigations, hearings, and actions have shown that Commissioner Koskinen misled Congress, obstructed investigations into the IRS, and failed to comply with Congressional subpoenas. Commissioner Koskinen’s willful deception and obstructionism has only further eroded any remaining confidence.
Pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 7803, you have the authority to remove Commissioner Koskinen. We encourage you to dismiss him in the most expedient manner practicable. Such an action would restore the credibility of our Federal tax authority and the faith the American people have in their Constitutional rights to free speech and association.
Obama left office claiming that his administration had been “scandal-free,” a whopper blatantly refuted by the politicization of the IRS on his watch. If Congress fails to ventilate the IRS scandal sufficiently, Obama’s embeds at the IRS will continue to harass conservative groups. A lazy and biased media has pushed the propagandistic line that the scandal was overblown and is now ancient news. It isn’t.
As Pepperdine Law School professor Paul Caron notes, the “IRS scandal never ended, because the behavior never stopped.” Expect more harassment, he says: “the structural forces that nurtured it — piqued politicians demanding agencies ‘do something’ in accord with political objectives, and like-minded, eager-to-please career employees manning those agencies — means a repeat is not just predictable, it’s inevitable.”
According to Caron, “no IRS official ever suffered for the blatantly unconstitutional and unethical actions.” Even Lois Lerner, the nemesis of the Tea Party, escaped largely unscathed, with an enormous bonus and pension to boot. “She could receive almost $4 million over her lifetime,” he says.
The Obama administration openly bragged about how it would use government power to bankrupt and delegitimize its opponents. “I was in a meeting once and I gave an analogy to my staff about my philosophy of enforcement, and I think it was probably a little crude and maybe not appropriate for the meeting, but I’ll go ahead and tell you what I said,” recalled Obama EPA administrator Al Armendariz in 2010. “It was kind of like how the Romans used to, you know, conquer villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go in to a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they’d crucify them. Then, you know, that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.”
Obama’s embeds at the IRS harbor the same mindset. They thought that they could make an example out of Tea Party groups and strike fear in all conservative non-profits. When these officials got nabbed, they explained it away as “horrible customer service.” But the memorable cri de coeur of Becky Gerritson from Alabama’s Wetumpka Tea Party in 2013 — which foreshadowed the rise of Trumpian nationalism — got to the real issue, the left-wing tyranny that masquerades as “good government”:
In Wetumpka, we are patriotic Americans; we peacefully assemble; we petition our government; we exercise our right to free speech. We don’t understand why the government tried to stop us. I’m not here as a serf or a vassal. I’m not begging my lord for mercy. I’m a born-free American woman, wife, mother, and citizen, and I’m telling my government that you’ve forgotten your place.
Under the framework of the founders, the people are masters, not servants, and the IRS holds no bondage on their freedoms. Congress must at long last investigate fully the IRS’s out-of-control investigators. Instead of wasting time on the fashions of the moment, Congress should deliver to the forgotten the protection that the Constitution promises them.