The IRS-Gate Tapes

Except unlike Watergate, they’re not tapes. They’re Lois Lerner’s emails:

“Tea Party Matter very dangerous,” Ms. Lerner wrote in the 2011 email, saying that those applications could end up being the “vehicle to go to court” to get more clarity on a 2010 Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance rules.

In another email, from 2012, Ms. Lerner acknowledges that the agency’s handling of the tax-exempt applications had been bungled at the beginning, though she said steps had been taken to correct problems.

“It is what it is,” she wrote in the email, released Thursday by the Ways and Means Committee. “Although the original story isn’t as pretty as we’d like, once we learned [that we were] off track, we have done what we can to change the process, better educate our staff and move the cases. So, we will get dinged, but we took steps before the ‘dinging’ to make things better and we have written procedures.”

That email suggests that agency employees knew they had gone overboard in their scrutiny — despite top IRS officials telling Congress that there was no special scrutiny of conservative groups.

In another 2012 email, Ms. Lerner seemed to take sides in a battle between the Federal Election Commission and conservative tax-exempt groups that were engaging in politics, saying “perhaps the FEC will save the day.”

So now we know several things. The original story about “rogue agents in Cincinnati” was a lie. We also know that there is a culture at the IRS that finds this unacceptable (perhaps the most disturbing thing, because it’s a lot harder to fix than firing someone at the top). And we know at least some of the reason why she took the fifth.

32 thoughts on “The IRS-Gate Tapes

  1. Bilwick

    It is, as I type this, 4:41 PM (EST). How many minutes, I wonder, will pass before Baghdad Jim shows up with his script to give the party-line for today?

  2. Jim

    “They clearly contradict the story line put out by the White House and the IRS that this scheme originated with a couple of rogue, low-level employees in a satellite office in Ohio,” Mr. Sekulow [lawyer for tea party groups suing the IRS] said. “Secondly, it clearly shows the political motivation behind the targeting scheme — a motive that Obama administration officials continue to deny.”

    Except that the released emails (at least in the excerpts in the linked story) do no such thing!

    This keeps happening, again and again. A piece of information (report, emails, testimony) comes out. Someone on the right says that it means that the scandal reaches the White House, or the IRS Counsel, or proves a political motive, or whatever. The consumers of right wing media take this assertion at face value and become further convinced that the wrongdoing in question has been proved. Some, such as Rand, repeat the conclusions in their own words (“So now we know several things.”). And everyone on the right becomes more incensed that nothing is being done, incensed that the president has the gall to call the scandal “phony”, and incensed that the story is fizzling out in the mainstream media.

    But if you go back and actually look at the new information, it doesn’t actually prove what was alleged. Go look at the linked story and read the quotes (or, better yet, go here to read the actual emails). What in the excerpted emails disproves the contention that using “tea party” as a keyword to refer applications for further scrutiny originated with low-level IRS employees in Cincinnati? Nothing. What in the excerpted emails shows that the keyword targeting was politically motivated? Nothing. What in the emails adds to the case that this is a case of the Obama administration using the IRS for political purposes? Absolutely nothing.

    One funny thing about this dynamic is the way it retraces its steps, like Winnie the Pooh hunting a woozle. Rand writes “So now we know several things”. But they’re all things that Rand believed he knew even before the emails came out! The emails don’t actually add to knowledge, because they are only convincing to someone who already believes. But like another set of woozle tracks, they feel like fresh evidence.

    Meanwhile, federal officials are openly harassing hundreds of organizations across the country for blatantly political reasons, barraging them with intrusive questionnaires and seeking to obstruct their efforts. They’ve been effective — two of the targeted groups have given up already! And this time we can trace the effort directly to top policy makers in Washington, D.C. — they’re not even hiding their involvement! When will there be Congressional hearings about this scandal?

  3. Al

    Item 1: Proof the object is a quadrilateral.
    Item 2: Proof the item is a rhombus.
    Item 3: Proof the item is a rectangle.
        
     .

    Defense A:
    #1 doesn’t say square!!!
    and #2 doesn’t say square!!!
    and #3 doesn’t say square!!!
    .

    Defense B:
    #2 doesn’t have anything to say about the angles!
    and #3 doesn’t have anything to say about the lengths of the sides!
    .

    Defense C:
    This is all non-Euclidean!
    .
    So… we’re back to Defense A, I guess.

    1. Jim

      Nothing in the emails contradicts “the story line put out by the White House and the IRS that this scheme originated with a couple of rogue, low-level employees in a satellite office in Ohio.” Nothing in the emails proves that “The original story about “rogue agents in Cincinnati” was a lie.” Nothing in the emails establishes “the political motivation behind the targeting scheme.” Nothing.

      1. Leland

        Nothing in the emails contradicts “the story line put out by the White House and the IRS that this scheme originated with a couple of rogue, low-level employees in a satellite office in Ohio.”

        I must admit not reading the emails, but the WH story was contradicted by Lois Lerner’s workplan that stated it was her objective that year to target such groups. So that lie was easily exposed from the beginning. The emails just show her particular interest was the TEA party, which interestingly enough happens to be the most targeted organization by an exceptionally large percentage.

        I don’t expect you to ever change your tune on this Jim. You’re a liar protecting criminal activity, so you got to do what you go to do. But the facts are obvious, and you’re lies aren’t even close to interesting, much less compelling, anymore.

        1. Jim

          the WH story was contradicted by Lois Lerner’s workplan that stated it was her objective that year to target such groups

          Nothing in Lerner’s workplan proves that tea party groups were scrutinized unfairly. Of course she’s going to mention those groups in her planning — processing their applications was one of her department’s biggest challenges.

          The emails just show her particular interest was the TEA party

          Anyone in her job would have had the tea party as a particular interest. That doesn’t mean she handled the tea party groups unfairly or illegally.

          The only clearcut wrongdoing that’s been exposed was the use of “tea party” and “patriot” keywords (and no left-leaning keywords) in the original screening in Cincinnati. The workplan and emails show Lerner dealing with the fallout from that, and with a genuinely difficult bureaucratic challenge: how do you determine whether hundreds of tea party groups are primarily social welfare groups, or primarily political? She, and the rest of the IRS, seems to have handled it the way most bureaucracies would: by generating lots of paperwork, shuttling the question between different offices, and kicking the can down the road. That isn’t anything to cheer about, but it’s no crime and no scandal.

          You’re a liar protecting criminal activity

          What lie? What criminal activity? Resorting to ad hominem weakens your argument.

          1. Leland

            What lie?

            Your various assertions that nothing abnormal happened here.

            What criminal activity?

            Lois tried to claim the fifth for some reason. Her knowledge of IRS tax code certainly exceeds yours. I still remember your lie that employers could simply listen to Obama about delaying employer mandate, and I had to provide the link showing the date written by Congress into the tax code. So you really shouldn’t be even pretending to be knowledgeable about law and the IRS.

            Resorting to ad hominem weakens your argument.

            I wasn’t aware pointing out facts is ad hominem. You are a liar.

            First you claimed that TEA parties could have avoided everything by self-declaring, but I then linked to Lois Lerner’s own workplan that said she was intentionally targeting self-declarers.

            You then claimed that TEA parties were not eligible for 501c4 status, but several of us pointed out that various other Democrat associated groups have received 501c4 status, including Obama’s own OFA.

            You suggested that TEA party was really targeted, yet the ration is nearly 50:1 between TEA party and any other organization.

            Now this BS:
            She, and the rest of the IRS, seems to have handled it the way most bureaucracies would: by generating lots of paperwork, shuttling the question between different offices, and kicking the can down the road.

            Lois didn’t kick the can down the road for OFA.

            Jim, when you lie this often expect to be identified for by your actions.

          2. Jim

            Your various assertions that nothing abnormal happened here

            I’ve consistently held that something abnormal (use of “tea party” as a keyword) did happen. But there’s a long way from that to a political scandal.

            Lois tried to claim the fifth for some reason

            Maybe it’s criminal activity, maybe it isn’t — we don’t know. I’m not aware of any criminal activity, and I’m not protecting any criminal activity.

            First you claimed that TEA parties could have avoided everything by self-declaring

            AFAIK that’s true.

            but I then linked to Lois Lerner’s own workplan that said she was intentionally targeting self-declarers

            There’s no evidence that self-declarers have been unfairly scrutinized. There is evidence that filers were.

            You then claimed that TEA parties were not eligible for 501c4 status

            They aren’t eligible if they are primarily political. Tea Party groups give the impression of being primarily political, but I am not a lawyer.

            several of us pointed out that various other Democrat associated groups have received 501c4 status, including Obama’s own OFA

            Note: there is no such thing as a “Democrat associated group”.

            OFA strikes me as primarily political, as do Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA. I wouldn’t give any of them 501c4 status.

            You suggested that TEA party was really targeted, yet the ration is nearly 50:1 between TEA party and any other organization

            I don’t understand this sentence. I have consistently maintained that tea party groups were inappropriately flagged.

            Lois didn’t kick the can down the road for OFA

            Nor did she for Crossroads GPS.

            You are a liar.

            You have lots of examples of me saying things you disagree with. You have no examples of me saying things I know to be untrue. Your use of the label “liar” isn’t about facts, it’s ad hominem name-calling.

      2. John Cunningham

        there is some lying occurring here, but by Comrade Jim. a career guy in DC testified that he was ordered to not resolve tea party applications, as he had routinely done for 30+ years, but to pass them on higher where they sat for months. note also that the Cincinnati employees testifed that they were under rigid orders, with no discretion.

        1. Jim

          testified that he was ordered to not resolve tea party applications, as he had routinely done for 30+ years, but to pass them on higher where they sat for months

          Which proves that the IRS was very slow in dealing with politically sensitive applications. That isn’t proof of wrongdoing, it isn’t even surprising.

          the Cincinnati employees testifed that they were under rigid orders

          They came up with the keyword searches by themselves. The orders you refer to have to do with how applications were handled after being flagged for extra scrutiny. Not the same thing.

    2. Al

      So …

      Activities in 2012 will be blamed on employees in 2009 even though Lois Lerner knew it was a significant problem in 2010. Just confirming.

      Race conditions much be quite difficult for you to debug.

  4. Karl Hallowell

    Meanwhile, federal officials are openly harassing hundreds of organizations across the country for blatantly political reasons, barraging them with intrusive questionnaires and seeking to obstruct their efforts.

    One group in Ohio was blocked by the state of Ohio because they have a conflict of interest. They deal with medical insurers and would simultaneously be advising people how to get medical insurance. I’m aware that you are ignorant of conflicts of interest, but they aren’t good things to ignore. The other group in West Virginia gave no reason. And it’s interesting that only two groups of around a hundred are known to be affected.

    Meanwhile, if we look at conflicts of interest among both the IRS and the “federal officials” referenced above, we see that the IRS violated its codes of conduct and engaged in activity that appears to be illegal (given the appeals to the Fifth Amendment). OTOH, it’s the job of those federal officials to serve their constituents. If they see obstructing Obamacare as a means to do so, then they are doing their job and no conflict of interest exists.

    1. Jim

      it’s interesting that only two groups of around a hundred are known to be affected.

      They were all affected in the way that tea party groups were affected by IRS scrutiny — they had to take time to answer questions. You can’t argue that the tea party groups were horribly victimized while the Obamacare groups weren’t affected — they both had to deal with the same sort of thing.

      the IRS violated its codes of conduct

      Yes, and those violations were found and reported by IRS officials.

      engaged in activity that appears to be illegal (given the appeals to the Fifth Amendment)

      Exercise of the Fifth Amendment is not evidence of illegal acts.

      it’s the job of those federal officials to serve their constituents

      And it’s the job of IRS officials to scrutinize 501c4 applications to make sure that status is not granted to groups that are ineligible, such as groups that are primarily political.

      If they see obstructing Obamacare as a means to do so, then they are doing their job

      Obstructing the implementation of duly passed laws is not their job.

      1. Karl Hallowell

        You can’t argue that the tea party groups were horribly victimized while the Obamacare groups weren’t affected — they both had to deal with the same sort of thing.

        No, they didn’t. The tea party groups had to deal with being denied tax preferential status via endless bureaucratic machinations.

        Yes, and those violations were found and reported by IRS officials.

        Years later via a contrived question at a press conference and only after they couldn’t continue to suppress their actions.

        Exercise of the Fifth Amendment is not evidence of illegal acts.

        Not in court, but it is evidence of illegal acts in the real world since one doesn’t try that plea arbitrarily.

        And it’s the job of IRS officials to scrutinize 501c4 applications to make sure that status is not granted to groups that are ineligible, such as groups that are primarily political.

        And who here has complained about that? You’re being deceptive here since the complaint is that the IRS is playing favorites by suppressing groups hostile to President Obama and the Democrat Party while not doing so for groups which support the same.

        Obstructing the implementation of duly passed laws is not their job.

        Wrong. Members of the legislature don’t have to support or treat with respect laws and regulations that have been passed. It is frequent for such laws to be neutered by not funding them or by crippling the penalties for breaking the law. And the ACA is a good law to cripple. It’s unconstitutional, fundamentally broken, and actually makes the problems that were alleged to be fixed worse.

        1. Jim

          The tea party groups had to deal with being denied tax preferential status via endless bureaucratic machinations

          501c4s are not tax-exempt, so the groups with applications in limbo lost no tax advantages. “Endless bureaucratic machinations” is exactly what Obamacare groups are dealing with, but you have no problem with that sort of political harassment.

          And who here has complained about that?

          You have — see your comment about “bureaucratic machinations”, above. How exactly is the IRS supposed to tell whether a tea party group is or isn’t primarily political, without asking lots of intrusive questions?

          the complaint is that the IRS is playing favorites by suppressing groups hostile to President Obama and the Democrat Party while not doing so for groups which support the same

          [Note: there is no such thing as the Democrat party]

          Except that the IRS has scrutinized Obama-supporting groups, and turned down their 501c4 applications. Nobody has been “suppressed” — they’ve had to deal with lots of paperwork. This complaint does not jibe with the facts.

          1. Gregg

            “Except that the IRS has scrutinized Obama-supporting groups, and turned down their 501c4 applications. ”

            it’s truly amazing how large the scotoma is in your brain….the percentages as so VASTLY different that it makes your statement extremely silly. This has been reported by all outlets endlessly yet it never escapes your blind spot.

  5. Call Me Ishmael

    . . . there is a culture at the IRS that finds this unacceptable (perhaps the most disturbing thing . . .

    Huh? I think you meant “acceptable”.

  6. Jim

    A Scandal 101 refresher course. A political scandal needs three elements:

    Wrongdoing (preferably criminal) (1) committed for political or venial gain (2), by or directed by the political leader in question or top aides (3).

    So with Watergate you had dozens of illegal acts ranging from petty vandalism to obstruction of a federal investigation (1), committed to protect Nixon and/or harm his political enemies (2), by top White House aides, and in some cases at the direct instruction of the president.

    With the IRS scandal you only have (1): for a time IRS employees were selecting 501c4 applications for extra scrutiny using key words that only flagged groups on the right. But we don’t have (2), any evidence that they did so for political reasons. And we don’t have (3), any connection between the White House and the decision to select applications that way.

    1. Curt Thomson

      But we don’t have (2), any evidence that they did so for political reasons.

      What exactly would you accept as evidence of “political reasons”? Clearly “IRS employees were selecting 501c4 applications for extra scrutiny using key words that only flagged groups on the right.” isn’t acceptable for some reason. And no I really don’t want to hear why; I’m not entirely convinced the fever swamp that resides between your ears isn’t contagious. Remember “bad customer service” was tried and didn’t go over very well.

      You appear to be playing a game here: The IRS is in the business of collecting taxes, so it’s not “political” to harass groups and individuals who are vocally in favor of reducing government spending. If you don’t see the idiocy of that position there probably isn’t much anyone can do to help you. Of course you do see it quite plainly, but the mothership has issued it’s directive: Keep repeating it, it’s all we’ve got. Good luck with that Jim.

      1. Al

        The IRS is in the business of collecting taxes, so it’s not “political” to harass groups and individuals who are vocally in favor of reducing government spending.

        The part that’s amusing is: If you buy the argument that that isn’t political, it means they’re doing it as a specific and direct conflict of interest. Which is worse.

        And there’s also the conflation of “political” meaning ‘orders from the upper-political levels’ and “political” meaning “obviously intended to tilt the scale”.

        It doesn’t require someone like Karl Rove or Bush to write me a letter to know that performing extensive, intrusive colonoscopies on these keywords would br dramatically assymetric:
        People’s, Worker’s, Peace, Social, Planned, Fund, Women’s, Black, Baptist.

        Can you ever prove it was directed from above (aka a political level)? No. (Hell, I’m sitting under a spycam, you can probably prove is -wasn’t-.)
        Can you ever prove it was intended to have a political effect? How?

        But neither of those is the point. Being directed from above, andor intending the effect are both “confounding factors” – that is, they just make it worse. But simply doing this in the first place is already a firing offense. “Gosh, we just didn’t think” is likewise not a defense, but a confession of guilt.

        1. Jim

          there’s also the conflation of “political” meaning ‘orders from the upper-political levels’ and “political” meaning “obviously intended to tilt the scale”

          I don’t conflate those two, they are (3) and (2).

          But simply doing this in the first place is already a firing offense

          That seems like overkill. But even if it is a firing offense, it isn’t a national political scandal.

          1. Karl Hallowell

            That seems like overkill.

            Why Jim? This is not some low responsibility job and some minor misbehavior where you could just discuss it with the worker and move on. Lois Lerner refused to do her job and answer questions put to her by Congress. Failure to do the most important parts of your job, especially such things as hiding stuff from supervisors (which is the role that Congress has here), is a firing offense in my book.

            But even if it is a firing offense, it isn’t a national political scandal.

            Why is Obama keeping her around? Why is she being rewarded for hiding information from Congress? This has deliberate support from Obama. That makes it a national scandal.

      2. Jim

        What exactly would you accept as evidence of “political reasons”?

        Some testimony or documentation of IRS decision makers stating that they are treating tea party group applications in a certain way in order to hurt the tea party politically and/or help Obama and Democrats. Motivation matters, and can’t just be inferred. Remember that one of the IRS employees who decided to search for “tea party” is a life-long conservative Republican. He wasn’t out to hurt the GOP, he was trying to do his job, albeit in a misguided way. Same with the IRS employees who decided to flag groups based on progressive terms — they weren’t trying to hurt Obama, they were trying to find groups who don’t qualify for 501c4 status.

        The main reason this story has disappeared from view is that as more evidence came out it became clear that the IRS handling of 501c4 applications was all over the place — it doesn’t fit any simple narrative of political motivation.

        so it’s not “political” to harass groups and individuals who are vocally in favor of reducing government spending

        It’s necessary and proper to scrutinize them if they appear to be primarily political, regardless of the slant of their politics. The wrongdoing wasn’t searching for “tea party”, it was searching for “tea party” in isolation, when that’s only one of many terms that indicate an interest in politics.

    2. wodun

      Despite your denial, those consitions are met. 1. Illegal persecution took place and continues to take place. 2. The actions were for political gain. 3. Were initiated by top aides if not the President himself.

      The fact that Obama knows about what is still happening and has done not only nothing to stop it but rewared Lerner show he is complicit in the ongoing criminal acts against political dissidents. And at the same time TP and other conservative groups are facing persecution, the DOJ is helping Democrat activist groups skirt the law on political activity. This and actions from other government organizations show an administration wide effort to illegally use government agencies to attack political opponents and help groups friendly to Obama and the Democrats.

      The Joe the Plumber episode exemplifies the nature of the Obama presidency. A man asked a question and Obama’s answer laid bare the depths of his soul, which upon being beared had to be covered up. Obama and the Democrats then used government agencies to destroy Joe the Plumber. Confidential information, held in government hands, was used to destroy a man who’s question brought Obama’s ethos into the light. Every day since then we have seen the same abuse of power used to destroy innocent American citizens.

      Hope and Change indeed…

      1. Jim

        The actions were for political gain

        You can’t prove it, and there’s plenty of evidence against that theory, such as the involvement of a conservative Republican, and the use of similar key word searches that flagged groups on the left.

        Were initiated by top aides if not the President himself.

        There is absolutely no evidence of that.

        not only nothing to stop it but rewared Lerner show

        No, it doesn’t show anything like that. Obama’s fired an IRS head (even though it doesn’t seem like he had anything to do with the problem) and told the new one to clean things up. Lerner’s been put on leave.

        This and actions from other government organizations show an administration wide effort to illegally use government agencies to attack political opponents and help groups friendly to Obama and the Democrats

        And yet the House GOP, with dozens of committees conducting investigations, can’t seem to find one shred of evidence of this government-wide effort! You’ve been badly misinformed. You might want to ask yourself why, and by whom.

        Obama and the Democrats then used government agencies to destroy Joe the Plumber

        Somebody in Ohio state government looked at Wurzelbacher’s records, and was subsequently forced to resign. Wurzelbacher wasn’t destroyed — he was later drafted to run for Congress. Obama had nothing to do with it.

        It was recently reported that NSA employees have used NSA databases to snoop on boy/girlfriends. Believe it or not, there are misdeeds committed by government employees that aren’t the fault of Barack Obama or the Democratic party.

        1. Karl Hallowell

          You can’t prove it

          That’s basically all your argument boils down to. In my book, when people do things that have obvious benefit for themselves, then I don’t bother to give them the benefit of the doubt.

        2. wodun

          “No, it doesn’t show anything like that.”

          Actually, when laws are broken and no one responsible is punished and the people involved get promotions and vacations it does point to culpability by the man in charge.

          Not only that but the bad behavior by the IRS supposedly stopped years ago but continues on to this very day. That the behavior is continuing shows that Obama is responsible. Even if he had nothing to do with the initial actions, he has everything to do with them after they were made public.

          Lets not forget this wasn’t just TP persecution. There are many individuals that were targeted for persecution as well. And we are not just talking about the IRS but DOJ, EPA, and other organizations that have gone out of their way to attack the Presidents political opposition and hand out favors to the President’s friends.

          “Somebody in Ohio state government looked at Wurzelbacher’s records, and was subsequently forced to resign”

          Some Democrat did that. We don’t know who ordered them to do it or if they did it on their own.

          “there are misdeeds committed by government employees that aren’t the fault of Barack Obama or the Democratic party.”

          Sure, but there are actions that are the fault of the Democrat party and Obama, especially the Democrat party.

  7. Gregg

    May 10, 2013:

    IRS official apologizes
    Lerner apologizes to Tea Party groups for subjecting them to greater scrutiny, the first public acknowledgement that the IRS had done so.

    “That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association.

    “The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added.

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