By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
You would have thought that the Obama administration would have learned from the growing Benghazi scandal that the best way to handle such controversies is to get out in front of them, and put it all out there, rather than let it drip, drip, drip, as is now happening with the recent IRS blowup.
According to The Washington Post, based on documents it obtained from a congressional aide, the Internal Revenue Service has targeted and singled out for added scrutiny, groups applying for tax-exempt status which have made statements that “criticize how the country is being run” and that were involved in educating Americans “on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
If so, this IRS scandal could well be an abuse of power by the executive branch, reflecting one of the issues that was an article of impeachment drawn up for then-President Richard Nixon, before he resigned.
“Lois G. Lerner, the IRS official who oversees tax-exempt groups, said the ‘absolutely inappropriate’ actions by ‘front-line people’ were not driven by partisan motives,” reports The Washington Post.
“Does anyone actually believe this?” asks Joe Klein of Time Magazine. “But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon,” writes Klein. “In this specific case, he now is.”
In 1998, when liberal journalists such as Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, and Lars-Erik Nelson of The New York Daily News said that President Clinton should resign in the wake of revelations about lying to the country about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, it foreshadowed the impeachment that would occur several months later. And though 50 U.S. senators voted to remove him from office, the requirement was for two-thirds of the Senate, and Clinton remained in office to complete his second term.
When a liberal Obama enthusiast like Joe Klein starts comparing Obama to Richard Nixon, that spells trouble.
President Obama announced on Monday at his joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron that he had not heard of the scandal until it made major news last Friday, following Lerner’s public statement, which seemed inadvertent. The Washington Post said that “it appeared to have happened by chance when Lerner, appearing Friday at a conference held by the American Bar Association, responded to a question about the allegations by conservative groups.” When asked later why she announced it, she said that she “heard it was going to be leaked on Friday.”
So what exactly happened with the IRS, and when? The New York Times has published a timeline which covers from March 2010 to May 2012, and outlines the changing criteria that the IRS Determinations Unit employees used to refer applications for extra scrutiny.
In March and April 2010 the unit “began searching for requests for tax exemption involving the Tea Party, Patriots, 9/12” and “political sounding names” such as “We the People” or “Take Back the Country,” according to The New York Times. In July 2011, after concerns were raised, the definition was made more generic and the politicization was removed.
But in January 2012, these criteria were again highly politicized to target “Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, social economic reform/movement” (emphasis added). The criteria were supposedly corrected to be less political starting in May 2012.
May 2012 is also when, as ABC News reported, the current acting IRS commissioner, who was then deputy commissioner, was aware of these actions by the agency. ABC called it a “controversy” on their evening news on Monday, while both NBC and CBS led the news with the story and called it a “scandal.”
In all, about 300 applications were referred for special scrutiny. Of these 300 organizations, 85 were flagged for having the words “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their name, while 11 more had “9/12” in their name. “So far, none of those applications have been rejected, although some have been withdrawn,” reports ABC News (emphasis added). According to the Post, 130 out of the 300 organizations have had their tax-exempt status approved, while 25 have withdrawn their applications.
Ms. Lerner, who is “three rungs down” from the commissioner, argues that this inappropriate targeting of conservative groups was conducted by low-level officials at the Cincinnati office. However, it isn’t just rogue agents or officials, which the news media accounts might have superficially left readers to believe. According to the Associated Press, “Lerner said the number of groups filing for this tax-exempt status more than doubled from 2010 to 2012, to more than 3,400.”
“To handle the influx, the IRS centralized its review of these applications in an office in Cincinnati.” In other words, it was the central office that was mishandling tax exemption applications.
Left-leaning news organizations such as ABC News and The New York Times would like this scandal to go away for the Administration. Thus, they have generally cast their reporting as if there is no scandal—as if this is all Republican or conservative bluster. “Conservative groups have rejected an Internal Revenue Service apology for unjustifiably scrutinizing tax-exempt conservative groups during the 2012 election cycle,” reports Abby Phillip for ABC News. “The IRS apology has seemingly validated conservatives’ fears of politically motivated regulation.” The bias, in fact, seems pretty clear.
During the press conference last Friday, Ms. Lerner stated that there was no political bias, but was unable to name any liberal groups or associated words that were targeted. She also wouldn’t say at first whether anyone was being disciplined, then “appeared to say there was no disciplinary action, then went back to saying she wouldn’t comment.” And as to how she found out about the wrongdoing, “Lerner said the investigation stemmed from media reports about conservative groups claiming that they were targeted, not from any internal review.”
That same day, White House spokesman Jay Carney called the actions “inappropriate.” The IRS has officially apologized, and House Republicans will be holding Congressional hearings regarding the matter later this week. The Post has reported that the IRS lied repeatedly about it when asked by members of Congress. And even some Democrats are voicing their disapproval: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said, “The actions of the IRS are unacceptable and un-American.” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said there is “No excuse for ideological discrimination in our system.” Outgoing Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) called it an “Outrageous abuse of power and breach of the public’s trust.”
But, for Abby Phillip, “The rare apology in some ways vindicates conservative groups that have been hounded by allegations that their activities were not completely legal.” Such reporting is meant to turn the head on conservative groups and insinuate that they deserved to be targeted.
The New York Times is also pushing the idea that this is about Republicans bashing the Administration, rather than a real story. “Since last year’s elections, Republicans in Congress have struggled for traction on their legislative efforts, torn between conservatives who drove the agenda after their 2010 landslide and new voices counseling a shift in course to reflect President Obama’s re-election and the loss of Republican seats in the House and the Senate,” write Jonathan Weisman and Matthew L. Wald in a New York Times article entitled “I.R.S. Focus on Conservatives Gives G.O.P. an Issue to Seize On.” You see, it’s the Republicans who are playing politics here, not the Administration.
“But the accusations of I.R.S. abuse are sure to fuel an effort that appears to be uniting dispirited Republicans and their conservative political base: investigating Mr. Obama and his administration,” continue Weisman and Wald. Such reporting insinuates that the Administration does not deserve to be investigated for targeting its political opponents with the government apparatus.
As it is, the IRS scandal may not just be limited to Tea Partiers or patriotic organizations. It may also include pro-Israel organizations, as well. “The IRS required that Jewish organization [Z Street] to state ‘whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel,’ and also demanded the organization ‘[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel,’” according to Lori Lowenthal Marcus with the Jewish Press. Lowenthal Marcus is the founder of Z Street, which is currently suing the IRS.
This scandal isn’t about to go away.
Investor’s Business Daily recalled “a chilling memo from Nixon White House counsel John Dean in 1971 describing how ‘we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.’ Dean emphasized that ‘a low visibility of the project is imperative.’ The Watergate break-in seemed low level, but relentless reporting found it led to the top. Within 27 months a presidency was toppled.
“We know the Obama administration is capable of misusing the IRS. In 2010, an attorney for donors Charles and David Koch told the Weekly Standard of a senior Obama aide telling reporters that the Kochs ‘do not pay corporate income tax’ through their firm. He wondered how the White House got his clients’ private information from the IRS.”
National Review editorialized that “This episode is not the only reason we have had to question the rectitude of the IRS’s conduct in recent years. Somehow, Mitt Romney’s tax returns managed to be leaked, as did documents from American Crossroads, the organization associated with Republican strategist Karl Rove.”
They added, “The misuse of confidential IRS documents is a crime, and a serious one. To target individuals and organizations because of their political and religious beliefs is a serious offense to our constitutional order. To use federal employees, offices, and records to do so is the misappropriation of government funds and other resources.”
President Obama claimed he didn’t know about this until last Friday. At his press conference on Monday, he said, “I first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this. I think it was on Friday.” As Joe Klein asked, “Does anyone actually believe this?”
Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and can be contacted at [email protected].