report released by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) completely refutes Democratic Party talking points that the IRS scandal involved unwarranted targeting of both liberal and conservative groups. “Time and again, (Democrats) have claimed that the IRS targeted liberal- and progressive-oriented groups as well—and that, therefore, there was no political animus to the IRS’s actions” the report states. “These Democratic claims are flat-out wrong and have no basis in any thorough examination of the fact. Yet the Administration’s chief defenders continue to make these assertions in a concerted effort to deflate and distract from the truth about the IRS’s targeting of tax-exempt applicants.”
The report reveals far more about the early stages of Tea Party targeting conducted by the tax collection agency, identifying the initial three cases sent to Washington, D.C. for additional scrutiny in 2010. Two of the three abandoned their applications rather than face additional IRS questioning. The third group is still waiting for its case to be resolved.
Several other key findings of the report are equally troubling. Perhaps the most troubling of all was that the IRS itself “selectively prioritized and produced” documents for the Committee to support the narrative that their targeting had been bipartisan. It noted that on June 24, 2013, Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel asserted during a press conference that the agency misconduct was “broader” that conservative applicants, even as he refused to discuss the criteria that led him to that conclusion. Nonetheless, the IRS subsequently produced “hundreds of pages of self-selected documents that supported his assertion,” even as they had only provided the Committee with less than 2000 total pages of IRS material. “Congressional Democrats had no qualms in putting these self-selected documents to use,” the report states.
Those Democrats included Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) , and Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), all of whom made “misleading statements that the IRS targeted liberal groups based on the selectively produced documents.“
Furthermore, the IRS “was not an unwilling participant” in promoting this charade. When it came time to produce these selective documents, they “suddenly reversed” their previous interpretation of a law that had prevented them from releasing confidential taxpayer information to the American public. The reinterpretation allowed the IRS to release info on three leftist groups, ACORN, Successors and Emerge.
Yet IRS agents who testified before the Committee noted that these groups were scrutinized because the IRS believed they were old organizations attempting to apply as new ones. The report itself notes that unlike the Tea Party, such groups were not subjected to a “case sensitive report” or reviewed by the IRS’s Chief Council. And while IRS documents showed that some liberal groups were being scrutinized, “only Tea Party applicants received systematic scrutiny because of their political beliefs,” and “public and nonpublic analyses of IRS data show that the IRS routinely approved liberal applications while holding and scrutinizing conservative applications.”
The report further states that the IRS’s efforts to make their subsequent scrutiny more neutral amounted to little more than “cosmetic changes,” while the focus on conservative organizations continued. “Only seven applications in the IRS backlog contained the word ‘progressive,’ all of which were then approved by the IRS, while Tea Party groups received unprecedented review and experienced years-long delays,” it states.
This reality aligns with testimony given by IRS officials Elizabeth Hofacre and her successor, Ron Bell. Both explicitly stated that only Tea Party groups had been targeted through the summer of 2011. They were equally explicit in rejecting the notion that progressive groups were held to anything remotely resembling the same standard. Hofacre revealed that she was on the project until October of 2011 and was “only instructed to work “Tea Party/‘Patriot’/9/12 organizations.” Bell echoed that assertion, further noting that he inherited 50-100 cases from Hofacre, all of which were Tea Party cases.
Even when the BOLO (be on the lookout for) criteria were changed by Lois Lerner, and term the “Tea Party” became “advocacy organizations,” the IRS “still intended to identify and single out Tea Party applications for scrutiny.” In further testimony, Bell noted that the change amounted to nothing significant as non-Tea Party cases were either moved to closure or further development, while Tea Party cases remained on hold—for an entire year–pending guidance from Washington.
What about offsetting testimony? “Unlike Tea Party cases, the Oversight Committee’s review has received no testimony from IRS employees that any progressive groups were scrutinized because of their organization’s expressed political beliefs,” the report states.
One of the more devastating takedowns of Democratic contentions concerns Lerner’s initial revelation about the IRS’s nefarious efforts. The report resorts to pure logic, noting that when Lerner “publicly apologized for the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party applicants, she offered no such apology for its targeting of any liberal groups. When asked if the IRS had treated liberal groups inappropriately, Lerner responded: ‘I don’t have any information on that.‘ This admission severely undercuts Democratic ex post allegations of bipartisan targeting.”
A series of emails between IRS officials are included in the report, with one especially damning one penned by Lois Lerner. “Tea Party matter very dangerous,” it states. “this could be the vehicle to go to court on the issue of whether Citizen’s United overturning the ban on corporate spending applies to tax exempt rules.” In addition to the obvious bias directed towards the Tea Party, this email suggests that Lerner was sympathetic, if not outright supportive, of the Americans left’s determination to undermine the Supreme Court’s decision disallowing government restrictions on political advocacy spending by corporations, associations and unions.
Lerner made her position clearer during a speech at Duke University in October of 2010, when she insisted that Citizens United “dealt a huge blow, overturning a 100-year-old precedent that basically corporations couldn’t give directly to political campaigns.” Lerner went on to reveal the pressure under which the IRS was operating as a result. “The FEC can’t do anything about it. They want the IRS to fix the problem,” she said. “Everybody is screaming at us right now: ‘Fix it now before the election. Can’t you see how much these people are spending?’”
Who “they” are remains a mystery. Lerner has appeared before the Committee on two occasions. Both times she asserted her Fifth Amendment right, protecting her from self-incrimination.
What happens next remains to be seen. Last Thursday, the House Oversight Committee indicated they would be holding a vote this week on whether to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress. During a June hearing, a party-line vote by the Committee panel determined that Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment rights when she made an opening statement during her first appearance last May. When she reiterated that right during her second appearance, she left herself vulnerable to a charge of obstruction. The process moves to the House, where John Boehner (R-OH) has indicated he will allow a vote on the contempt of Congress charge. If Lerner is found guilty, the matter is directed to a grand jury, where she could receive a prison sentence between a month and a year or a fine between $100 and $1,000.
The report makes it clear why Lerner’s testimony is critical. “The committee will never be able to fully understand the IRS’s actions,” it states. “Lerner has unique, firsthand knowledge of how and why” the IRS targeted conservative organizations for unwarranted scrutiny.
In the meantime, the political fault lines have been clearly illuminated. “For months, the Administration and congressional Democrats have attempted to downplay the IRS’s misconduct,” the report states in final paragraph of its executive summary. “First, the Administration sought to minimize the fallout by preemptively acknowledging the misconduct in response to a planted question at an obscure Friday morning tax-law conference. When that strategy failed, the Administration shifted to blaming ‘rogue agents’ and ‘line-level’ employees for the targeting. When those assertions proved false, congressional Democrats baselessly attacked the character and integrity of the inspector general. Their attempt to allege bipartisan targeting is just another effort to distract from the fact that the Obama IRS systematically targeted and delayed conservative tax-exempt applicants.”
The Prescott Arizona Tea Party is the poster child for those delays. Despite being one of the first three groups targeted, they have yet to be notified about the status of their application—more than 51 months later. “I don’t see much equality under the law there,” said spokesman Rick Harbaugh. That’s because there is none.
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