Now that the Syrian crisis has faded into an inevitably dissatisfactory diplomatic solution, and the ongoing economic crisis has become too commonplace to comment on, this seems a good time to revisit one of the scandals that were allowed to fade away in all the commotion. The mainstream press has happily moved on from the sorry saga of the Internal Revenue Service harassing the president’s political opponents, but there are two recent developments in the story worth noting.
One is an e-mail recently released by the House Ways and Means Committee, which has been diligently digging into the matter despite the despite lack of attention paid by the media and general public, that shows Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations office, personally and quite specifically directed her minions to crack down on any group associated with the “Tea Party” movement of conservative activists. Lerner, who has claimed the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination and relieved of her duties while continuing to receive a full salary, reportedly cited her objections to the Citizens United ruling in the Supreme Court which reaffirmed the right of business to free speech and called the Tea Party “dangerous” in her directive.
Many of the media outlets that moved on from the story did so with assurances that the harassment of conservative groups was the work of a few rogue agents far down on the chain of command, but the newly revealed e-mail is further proof that the scandal went much further up into the agency and possibly even past Lerner and her carefully zipped lips. There was also some talk that the IRS had been harassing applicants for tax-exempt status with a bi-partisan and non-ideological bullying, but the e-mail adds to the proof of the Inspector General’s investigations that the groups on the right were far more likely to be targeted those on the left.
Any doubts about that matter are further set to rest by the recent revelation that predominately African-American churches and other Democratic-affiliated organizations were given special instructions by not only the IRS but also the Attorney General’s office on how to engage in political activism without inviting governmental scrutiny. The Attorney General himself reportedly sat in on the meetings, offering advice on the fine points of the law and how to skirt them, and it was all in town for the massive get-out-the-vote effort prior to the president’s re-election campaign. Perhaps the Attorney General was just as generous in his counsel to more conservative churches, but thus far we have not heard the evidence.
Such disparate treatment by the government’s most feared agencies is an outrage, of course, but somehow the country doesn’t seem very outraged. Some lingering sense of the scandal might contribute at least slightly to a growing sense of disappointment with the current administration, but we feel obliged to roil the anger. At least one congressman is insisting on criminal charges against Lerner, and we’d like to see even more payback than that.
— Bud Norman