Guest Editorial


Obama's IRS scandal (finally) breaking through Washington's noise

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nathan mehrensHear that sound?  It's your daily deluge of high-pitched hyperbole coming out of Washington, D.C.  People's attention spans have become so short — and their patience for government so thin — politicians have become convinced they must elevate the decibel level of increasingly shrill, shock value pronouncements in order to be heard above the din of our increasingly hectic lives.

They may be right.

The end result is a self-perpetuating clamor that requires harsher cries and bolder claims — no matter the significance of the issue at hand.  Before long we find ourselves enveloped by white noise — with serious scandals struggling to attract even fleeting interest.

Last week U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stepped into this cacophony, taking to the well of the world's greatest deliberative body to demand that the administration of President Obama appoint a special prosecutor to probe the mushrooming scandal at his Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

"If Attorney General Eric Holder continues to refuse to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the abuse of power by the IRS against the American people, he should be impeached," Cruz told his Senate colleagues.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) — whose IRS inquiry has been repeatedly stonewalled by the Obama administration — seconded Cruz's call for a special prosecutor.  Issa's government oversight committee also issued a fresh round of subpoenas seeking nearly thirty years of IRS records.

"Abuse of power."  "Special Prosecutor."  "Subpoenas."  "Impeachment."  Even in our attention deficit disordered culture, such terms have a way of cutting through the clutter — especially when it becomes clear someone's got something to hide.

Obama's IRS scandal is ramping up — escalating to the point where it could conceivably mute much of Washington's daily wailing and convene a steady drumbeat leading to impeachment of the responsible officials.

Think that's hyperbole?  Let's recap what we know so far about this scandal: In a highly orchestrated leak last May, IRS official Lois Lerner apologized for her agency flagging groups with the words "Tea Party," "Patriot" or "Constitution." This of course resulted in the effective withholding of tax-exempt status for many of these groups in the years leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

Lerner initially claimed this "error in judgment" was limited in scope - and confined to select low-level employees in one office.  Both of those claims turned out to be completely false.  Not only was this persecution of limited government groups established agency policy, but the IRS applied its discriminatory tactics to other entities — including those hoping to address "government spending, government debt, taxes, education of the public via advocacy/ lobbying to 'make America a better place to live;' and statements … (critical of) how the country is being run."

In short, the IRS engaged in widespread suppression of the President's critics — something agency leaders knew about as early as mid-2011 (and something Obama's administration knew about in June 2012, a full six months before the election).  Nothing was done, though.  In fact in July 2012, then-Deputy IRS commissioner Steven Miller testified before Congress that the IRS was not discriminating against these groups.

In response to the initial public furor surrounding the IRS scandal, an "angry" President vowed to work "hand-in-hand" with Congress to uncover the truth — and ordered Holder to conduct a criminal probe.  It was tough talk - but that's all it was.

"The administration has stonewalled any meaningful investigation, no one has been indicted and it has been reported that the FBI does not plan to file criminal charges," Cruz said recently. "Even a top IRS official directly involved in the targeting has been able to avoid testifying before Congress, temporarily received paid leave and eventually quietly retired."

All of that was before this month's bombshell regarding the agency's destruction of evidence — namely its claim to have followed "standard protocol" in destroying Lerner's computer hard drive, which contained her emails during the period she oversaw the IRS's targeting of conservatives.

"E-mails of a prominent official don't just disappear without a trace unless that was the intention," Issa said.

Indeed they don't.  In fact the deliberate destruction of this critical evidence is the best proof yet of a massive and ongoing conspiracy originating at the highest levels of government.

In the early 1970s, President Nixon attempted to use the IRS to target his political enemies, but was blocked by courageous officials like Johnnie Walters — who refused to bow to the administration's threats and intimidation.  Walters died last week at the age of 94, but his example lives on for those of us still willing to follow it.

President Obama's administration has done far worse than Nixon — and its leaders deserve to be held accountable for their actions.  The only question is whether enough people will stand up and be heard above the din.  That's the only way this scandal will break through Washington's noise and reach the resolution the American people deserve.

Nathan Mehrens is the President of Americans for Limited Government.