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J’Accuse

At this point we might as well divulge our suspicion that the Internal Revenue Service’s illegal harassment of the president’s political foes was ordered by the president himself. Proving such a portentous claim is difficult when a key figure in the scandal is pleading the Fifth Amendment and essential documents are missing, but that only makes it all the more suspicious, and after so many presidential lies and scandals we no longer feel obliged to make a presumption of innocence.
The explanations offered for the missing e-mails that might have proved our suspicions is dubious at best. We are to believe that two years of essential correspondence were lost to a computer crash, and that the hard drive was then destroyed for recycling purposes, which is an alibi that would not past master with the IRS if any audited company of individual taxpayer were desperate enough to offer it. It seems strange, too, that the computer crash not only deprived congressional investigators of the e-mails sent by Lois Lerner, the aforementioned Fifth-Amendment-pleading key figure in the case, but six other important players, one of whom was a frequent visitor to the White House during the time the harassment was taking place. That the crash occurred just 10 days after the IRS had received a letter from a congressman who was inquiring about reports of harassed “tea party” organizations and other conservative groups seems stranger yet.
It seems very much like criminal obstruction of justice at worst and a damning confession of bureaucratic incompetence at best, and in either case it is the sort of thing no agency would do unless there was something even worse that they didn’t want known. There is now no doubt that the president’s political foes who applied for tax-exempt status were subjected to a punitive degree of scrutiny at far higher rates than their more administration-friendly counterparts, which has been acknowledged and apologized for by the agency, so all the is left to be hidden is the identity of those responsible. After initially expressing his outrage at the scandal, and claiming that he’d only become aware of it by reading media reports, the president has since referred to the matter as a “phony scandal” and insisted there wasn’t a “smidgen of corruption” involved, but if he’s reading the same media reports we are it might have also occurred to him that the only person worth protecting by such risky and impeachable means is the president. His apparent disinterest in the matter of the missing e-mails that might have put such suspicions to rest, and the disinterest of his thoroughly politicized Justice Department, also seems strange.
A patriotic respect for the office of the president leaves on uneasy harboring such grave suspicions, but the same respect requires that we hold the occupants of the office to the highest standards and give due consideration to such well-grounded suspicions. The current occupant’s long history of disregard for the law, even the ones he lobbied for and signed, along with his outspoken disdain for those who dare disagree with him, as well as a long-established style of political combat learned from Saul Alinsky’s no-holds-barred “Rules for Radicals,” make those nagging suspicions all the more plausible. Forgive our skepticism, which the president would surely deride as the “cynicism” that prevents the public from embracing his leadership, but we just wouldn’t put it past the guy to sic the IRS on those “tea party” groups and pro-Israel organizations that he so clearly reviled.
At this point in the Watergate scandal, which ended with President Richard Nixon resigning rather than face the charge that he had unsuccessfully “endeavored” to use the IRS against his political foes, much of the media were already screaming “Guilty.” We’ll hold off on that, and eagerly await the slow trickle of damning revelations that are sure to come over the summer, but we will admit to being darned suspicious. Maybe we’re wrong, but we’d interested to hear the president make the case why we are. Perhaps the exculpatory evidence was in those e-mails that went mysteriously missing, but if so a sweet irony will prevent him from the proof.

— Bud Norman

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The American Public and Other Slow Lerners

Rarely do we offer any kind words to any Democrats, but we’re obliged to acknowledge those six brave members of that damnable party who joined a House of Representatives majority in citing Lois Lerner for contempt of Congress on Wednesday. A remarkable 26 Democrats went so far as to vote for petitioning the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel to investigate Lerner, and we suppose they also deserve some credit for their half-assed acknowledgement that there’s something seriously afoul in the Internal Revenue Service scandal.
The unanimous righteous indignation of the House’s Republican caucus was sufficient to cite Lerner, who headed the department of the IRS that was targeting conservative non-profit groups for punitive scrutiny and delays, and who has since invoked her Fifth Amendment rights to avoid any questions regarding her claim in Congressional testimony that she has broken no laws, but it’s nice to have at least a few Democrats agreeing that it all sounds mighty fishy. We don’t know any of those six Democrats, described by the ladies and gentlemen of The Washington Post as a “band of moderates and others facing difficult reelection challenges,” but we’ll generously assume that they’re genuinely outraged on First Amendment principles that the IRS was used to harass the president’s political opponents. Those 26 who settled for asking for a look into the matter by the Attorney General, who has also been held in contempt of Congress for failure to answer pertinent questions about the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal, can at least be credited with a sense of political self-preservation. The vast majority of the Democrats unified behind the it’s-all-a-racist-Republican-plot position of ranking House Oversight Committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings, although former House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi had to miss the vote because of a fund-raising engagement, so even the most tepid dissent suggests a worry that the public will eventually be outraged an iron-fisted assault on the free expression of American citizens, no matter how unfashionable their notions about balanced budgets and limited government might be.
Those 26 weasel votes for a special counsel might even be enough to give a veneer of bipartisanship to the much-needed investigation. and thus assure its rightful place before the public’s attention. They bolstered a vote that puts Lerner is serious legal peril, no matter how indifferent the president’s Justice Department might be, and added to the pressure for her to avoid a potential long prison sentencing by implicating any higher-ups that were involved. Given how how very high-up Lerner was, the testimony she doesn’t want to give could be significant.

— Bud Norman

Just Because You’re Paranoid …

All the conspiracy theorists are busy trying to figure out what the heck happened to that missing Malaysian airliner, but there are some less mysterious plots afoot that also deserve attention.
The crazed suspicions of paranoid right-wing nutcases everywhere that highly-placed officials at the Internal Revenue Service were out to get them, for instance, have now been convincingly confirmed. A 141-page report from the House Committee on Oversight and Government contains ample evidence that Lois Lerner, formerly the woman in charge of the IRS division concerned with non-profit organizations, wanted special scrutiny given to any non-profit organizations espousing a conservative point of view. In e-mails obtained by the committee Lerner criticized the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and the need to “fix the problem,” personally directed that groups thought to be affiliated with the “tea party” movement be subjected to “multi-tier view,” discussed the “need to be cautious so it isn’t a per se political project,” and later signed a statement blaming the extra scrutiny on the organizations applying for tax-exempt status. The report further notes “public pressure from President Obama and other Democrats,” cites credible testimony that the White House’s explanation that any problems were caused by a few low-level employees in Cincinnati was a lie, and provides plenty of other evidence to vindicate the right wing’s paranoia.
“The majority has no interest in the facts,” responded Lerner’s attorney, adding that “the facts interfere with keeping the conspiracy theory alive through the election cycle.” Because he has advised his client to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination we won’t hear her version of the facts, alas, so the words quoted from her e-mails should indeed keep the conspiracy alive through the next election cycle and one can only hope the one beyond that. President Obama and other Democrats continue to dismiss it all as a “phony scandal,” though, and judging by the scant attention being given the report by the media obsessed with that missing Malaysian airliner it is possible that the Republicans will have to rely on continued public dissatisfaction with Obamacare and the lousy economy as a campaign strategy.
The Democrats are hoping that the numerous conspiracies of the nefarious Koch brothers and their annoying habit of promoting capitalism will provide a distraction from such problems, but it remains to be seen if anyone outside the already hepped-up progressive circles will care more about how a couple of billionaire siblings spend their money than about being forced into more expensive health care plans while struggling to get by in eternally sluggish times. Should the public get into a sufficient huff about billionaires the Democrats will have to hope that no one notices the ones funding more politically causes such as Democratic candidates, but this is not a far-fetched hope. Those who do care about the Kochs are quite passionate, at least, to the point that some high-minded progressives even protested by the opening of a new hospital wing in New York City that was paid for by David Koch. Such philanthropy seems neither nefarious nor conspiratorial to us, and even strikes us as laudable, but we are neither high-minded nor progressive. According to the oversight committee’s purloined e-mails Lerner was also concerned about the influence of the Koch brothers, and her willingness to use her position to deny their First Amendment rights does strike us as nefarious and conspiratorial, but we are paranoid right-wing nutcases.
Paranoia is so prevalent these days that even such a high-minded progressive as Sen. Dianne Feinstein is charging that the Central Intelligence Agency has been spying on her computers and intimidating witnesses from testifying about enhanced interrogation techniques. The agency has denied the allegations, which would suffice for the media if a Republican made the charges, but the indignation of such a powerful Democrat as Feinstein will likely prompt more thorough coverage. Should the facts prove embarrassing to the administration the coverage will likely diminish, and if another story supplants it on the front page the conspiracy theorists will certainly wonder why.
Perhaps another airliner will mysteriously go missing, and it will turn out that the Koch brothers had it diverted to the company headquarters here in Wichita to be fitted with improperly tax-exempt eaves-dropping technologies to find out why the CIA would want to eavesdrop on someone so boring as Sen. Feinstein. Absent that, we’ll be made as hell about Obamacare and the sluggish economy and that supposedly phony scandal at the IRS.

— Bud Norman