As Americans filed their tax returns this April it is far from comforting to hear accusations of nefarious abuses by the IRS against their perceived political opponents. The capacity of this powerful federal agency to target conservative groups in order to intimidate them into silence is very disturbing.
On Super Bowl Sunday President Obama declared there isn't a "smidgen of corruption" in the IRS's handling of tax-exempt applicants. Evidence to the contrary is mounting.
Former IRS director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner, who was elevated to her position in 2005, is facing criminal violations of federal law. It's beginning to look like the worst abuse in IRS history - far beyond what Richard Nixon's henchmen conspired to pull off.
In a letter to the Justice Department, the House Ways and Means Committee lays out evidence that Lerner actively denied due process and equal protection rights to conservative organizations while turning a blind eye to liberal groups. Organizations were clearly targeted solely on the basis of their political views.
Additionally, the committee documents that "Lerner risked exposing, and may actually have disclosed, confidential taxpayer information, in apparent violation of Internal Revenue Code section 6103 by using her personal email to conduct official business."
Washington Post reporter of Watergate fame Bob Woodward says of the Lerner IRS scandal, "there is obviously something there."
Apparently the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration agrees. In its explosive audit report dated May 14, 2013, the inspector informed Congress that, "The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention."
Nearly 500 organizations were singled out for additional scrutiny after applying to the IRS for tax-exempt status and were subjected to drawn-out delays, intrusive questioning and extreme bias.
And now there is emerging evidence of collusion between the IRS, Democrats and the Department of Justice.
Starting in 2010 the White House and Congressional Democrats ramped up attacks against the Tea Party and other conservative organizations, which emboldened the IRS to take certain actions that led to a culture of bias and intimidation. These actions were a blatant attempt at conservative voter suppression leading up to the 2012 election.
The IRS scandal has further revealed that a Democrat member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee may be implicated in wrongdoing. Evidence, in the form of emails, indicates that Ms. Lerner was directly involved with the congressional staff of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D,-Md., and he may have influenced the IRS to single out True the Vote, a Houston group that worked to uncover election fraud. Cummings had earlier denied any coordination with the IRS, but that denial has been proven to be false and he certainly faces ethics charges in the days ahead.
The prejudice towards conservative groups now touches the Department of Justice as well. Documents released on April 16 reveal that Lerner communicated with the DOJ about possible criminal prosecution of certain tax-exempt organizations that the IRS had already improperly targeted. If true, Lerner may have broken multiple federal and criminal laws and seriously damaged any remaining trust the American people may have had in this agency.
It's becoming more and more clear why Lerner refuses to testify before Congress and answer questions about the IRS scandal about the targeting and harassing conservatives. By pleading her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination she avoids accountability. Again, as Woodward said, "There is obviously something there."
Americans expect this situation to be taken seriously, and that it be investigated objectively. However, in an act of defiance Attorney General Eric Holder appointed DOJ lawyer Barbara Bosserman, who was a major donor to President Obama reelection campaign, to oversee the investigation. At the very least, Bosserman's involvement is highly inappropriate and can only result in a compromised investigation.
Voters will reach their own conclusions about these charges, but regardless, a fundamental question needs to be asked: is it any wonder that Americans have lost trust in their government and our elected officials? The IRS should stick with tax collection and leave political speech alone. If an agency as powerful as the IRS is not held to the highest standards of conduct, are any of us safe?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Luanne Van Werven of Lynden is vice chair of the Washington State Republican Party.