There was a moment this week when it appeared that the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups was really part of a broader sweep aimed at liberal groups too. That moment turned out to be fleeting. On Monday, acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel told reporters that groups with certain liberal terms in their names were subjected to increased scrutiny as well. The press bought the story hook, line and sinker.
Werfel’s claims could not withstand scrutiny. As Eliana Johnson pointed out at National Review Online, Werfel’s account was misleading, conflated different categories of nonprofit groups, and contradicted the reality of the approval process and the involvement and oversight of higher-ups in Washington. But now the Treasury Department’s inspector general has cleared up any confusion: no, “progressive” groups were not targeted:
“Our audit did not find evidence that the IRS used the ‘progressives’ identifier as selection criteria for potential political cases between May 2010 and May 2012,” George wrote in the letter obtained by The Hill.
The inspector general also stressed that 100 percent of the groups with “Tea Party,” “patriots” and “9/12” in their name were flagged for extra attention.
“While we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of Tea Party and other related criteria we described in our report, including employee interviews, e-mails and other documents, we found no indication in any of these other materials that ‘progressives’ was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention,” George wrote to Levin, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
Levin was flummoxed, but he wasn’t the only Democrat to try unsuccessfully to undermine conservatives’ claims with regard to the IRS. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, attempted earlier this month to simply will the story away. “Based upon everything I’ve seen the case is solved,” Cummings said. “And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on, to be frank with you.” Not only was the case clearly not “solved,” but another of the claims has since been debunked.
Cummings tried to use the testimony of one IRS staffer to imply that one group within the IRS was reviewing the Tea Party-related cases. But according to a lawsuit challenging the IRS’s abuse of power, twelve different IRS groups had participated in the targeting, as the Daily Caller notes:
Group 7821, Group 7822, Group 7823, Group 7824, Group 7827, Group 7828, Group 7829, Group 7830, Group 7838, EOG-7887, and EOG-7888, and the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division in Washington, D.C. all targeted conservative groups between 2010 and 2012, according to documentation compiled by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which has filed a class-action suit against the IRS.
Cummings has been a man on a mission throughout this scandal. Though the IRS doesn’t have many defenders, and its actions in this case are indefensible anyway, Cummings has tried his best to run the investigation into the IRS off the rails. It’s unclear exactly why Cummings fears where the investigation will lead, but that actually underlines why Cummings is wrong in the first place to claim the investigation has run its course. We still don’t know which officials in Washington directed the targeting, or how exactly the campaign came together.
Additionally, the White House misled reporters on this time and again, revising its story each time it was contradicted by the record. The Obama administration’s behavior is not one of a disinterested party who was kept in the dark and now shares the public’s outrage at the IRS’s actions. The administration behaves as if it has something to hide, and has already been shown to present false statements about who in the White House knew about the targeting and when. That doesn’t mean the president himself was giving orders, but neither can the Oversight Committee ignore the wealth of unanswered questions that remain about the case.
Cummings has called the investigation a witch hunt and a conspiracy theory, but he seems to be the one who has the most doubts as to how high this case goes. If the administration’s congressional allies really believed that no one beyond some low-level staffers could be implicated by the investigation, they’d welcome it. After all, it would exonerate the administration and the directors in Washington.
Cummings’s decision to release a full transcript of one of the Oversight Committee’s interviews with an IRS staffer, over the objection of committee head Darrell Issa, is also telling. Issa wants to prevent the interview subjects from being able to coordinate their stories, and thus not release the bulk of the questions and answers from the interviews. Cummings was only too happy to take a step that helps the perpetrators of this corrupt scheme at the expense of the victims. For all the left’s criticism of Issa’s investigative zeal, Cummings seems to have the most profound doubts about his own party’s innocence.