Commentary Magazine


Topic: Elijah Cummings

IG Confirms: IRS Didn’t Target Progressives

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:

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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.

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Congress Should Leave the NFL Alone

You may have thought the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has its hands full right now investigating the Internal Revenue Service scandal as well as a host of other pressing issues. But never underestimate the craving of politicians on both sides of the aisle to grandstand on television. Republicans and Democrats may disagree about what to think about the IRS or how closely to press the administration about questions of official misconduct. Yet they are united when it comes to their desire to divert scarce time and energy from their actual responsibilities in order to hold hearings at which they can drag officials of the National Football League and perhaps even some famous players in front of the cameras where members of Congress can lecture them about their need to set a good example for America’s youth.

That’s right. The same Congress that can’t pass a budget, deal with the debt, cope with an impending entitlements crisis or even be counted on to investigate government scandals impartially is preparing to focus like a laser beam on the question of whether professional football players are being tested for every possible performance enhancing drug. As Politico reports, Oversight Committee chair Republican Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings—last seen sparring over how to frame the issue of the IRS scandal—are working together to use the threat of a hearing on Human Growth Hormone testing to force the NFL to alter its policies. Whatever one may think of the use of HGH, the league’s testing policies or even of football, this bipartisan decision to involve Congress in what is a non-government business negotiation between the NFL and the NFL player’s union is an unconscionable interference in private commerce. For Issa and Cummings to waste a moment of the federal government’s time on this issue is yet another example of how a naked lust for publicity drives congressional action more than principle, let alone the urgent needs of citizens.

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You may have thought the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has its hands full right now investigating the Internal Revenue Service scandal as well as a host of other pressing issues. But never underestimate the craving of politicians on both sides of the aisle to grandstand on television. Republicans and Democrats may disagree about what to think about the IRS or how closely to press the administration about questions of official misconduct. Yet they are united when it comes to their desire to divert scarce time and energy from their actual responsibilities in order to hold hearings at which they can drag officials of the National Football League and perhaps even some famous players in front of the cameras where members of Congress can lecture them about their need to set a good example for America’s youth.

That’s right. The same Congress that can’t pass a budget, deal with the debt, cope with an impending entitlements crisis or even be counted on to investigate government scandals impartially is preparing to focus like a laser beam on the question of whether professional football players are being tested for every possible performance enhancing drug. As Politico reports, Oversight Committee chair Republican Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings—last seen sparring over how to frame the issue of the IRS scandal—are working together to use the threat of a hearing on Human Growth Hormone testing to force the NFL to alter its policies. Whatever one may think of the use of HGH, the league’s testing policies or even of football, this bipartisan decision to involve Congress in what is a non-government business negotiation between the NFL and the NFL player’s union is an unconscionable interference in private commerce. For Issa and Cummings to waste a moment of the federal government’s time on this issue is yet another example of how a naked lust for publicity drives congressional action more than principle, let alone the urgent needs of citizens.

Let’s concede that the use of PEDs is not a good thing and that all sports are better off when the participants aren’t cheating or potentially endangering their health to gain an edge on their opponents.

But the question that neither Issa nor Cummings can honestly answer is how any of this is remotely the business of Congress. Like its previous excursion into the issue of the use of steroids by baseball players, any congressional pressure or hearings are strictly a matter of House members seeking some extra moments in the limelight. While they will spout off about fair play and their wish to prevent kids from emulating the dirty practices of their heroes, what will really be going on is an effort to cash in on the celebrity of players and league officials while posing as the guardians of what is now the country’s most popular—at least in terms of television ratings—sport, even though none of this is any of the government’s business.

Defenders of the committee will say that without their grandstanding on baseball, the sport might not have instituted tough new rules to prevent steroid use. That may be so. But just because something is desirable or the public is interested in it doesn’t make it a congressional responsibility. Lots of private matters might be cleaned up if they were subjected to the bright lights of congressional scrutiny. But the only reason Congress involved itself in baseball or seeks to do so in football has to do with camera time for the members, not an intrinsic government interest.

As for the other excuse for this travesty—the need to protect kids from steroids or HGH—it is a thin reed to support such an endeavor. On the list of dangers to American teenagers, the threat from steroid use on the part of young athletes is so remote that it barely registers in statistics. There are scores of other, more pressing problems for kids that might be worth the Congress’ time. But few other issues bring the alluring prospect of allowing Issa, Cummings and the rest of their publicity-hungry colleagues to talk down to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or any players the committee might be able to drag into a hearing room.

There are serious issues around the question of HGH use, especially since it is legal to use it in many instances. This particular drug highlights an issue that is largely overlooked amid all the preaching about steroids. HGH shows just how thin the line is between legal and proper medical care that can enable athletes to recover more quickly or completely from injury and substances that are considered beyond the pale.

But its doubtful that such nuanced arguments would be discussed in such a hearing since the whole point of it will be to force the league to enact more stringent testing in order to avoid being shamed by Congress on national television.

The basic purpose of government is to protect our freedom and to provide for the common defense as well as the common good. It is not to ensure that either the National Football League, Major League Baseball or any other sport conform to specific ideas of fairness or what drugs may be used and which must be banned. No matter what happens as a result of these threats to the NFL and the hearings that may ensue, the entire endeavor is an illegitimate use of congressional power.

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