Commentary Magazine


Topic: Lois Lerner

Will IRS’s Strategy of Destroying Evidence Pay Off?

If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one. And that media strategy appears to have been: conceal or destroy potential (and actual) evidence, and assume that this activity will be less damaging than whatever is in the files they’ve worked to hide.

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If the latest revelations about the IRS are correct, then its officials have approached the abuse-of-power scandal with a clear strategy, pretty much from the beginning. They have been betting that, since their illegal targeting campaign against those who disagree with President Obama has had the backing of Democrats in Congress, they needed only a media strategy, not a political one. And that media strategy appears to have been: conceal or destroy potential (and actual) evidence, and assume that this activity will be less damaging than whatever is in the files they’ve worked to hide.

It’s a direct challenge to the media, in other words.

There are two aspects to the latest news. The first is that, according to Judicial Watch, the Justice Department believes Lerner’s records are backed up, but don’t want to put in the effort to find them:

Department of Justice attorneys for the Internal Revenue Service told Judicial Watch on Friday that Lois Lerner’s emails, indeed all government computer records, are backed up by the federal government in case of a government-wide catastrophe.  The Obama administration attorneys said that this back-up system would be too onerous to search.  The DOJ attorneys also acknowledged that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) is investigating this back-up system.

We obviously disagree that disclosing the emails as required would be onerous, and plan to raise this new development with Judge Sullivan.

This is a jaw-dropping revelation.  The Obama administration had been lying to the American people about Lois Lerner’s missing emails. There are no “missing” Lois Lerner emails – nor missing emails of any of the other top IRS or other government officials whose emails seem to be disappearing at increasingly alarming rate. All the focus on missing hard drives has been a diversion. The Obama administration has known all along where the email records could be – but dishonestly withheld this information. You can bet we are going to ask the court for immediate assistance in cutting through this massive obstruction of justice.

The second piece of news is pointed out by the New York Observer:

In two elusive and nebulous sworn declarations, we can glean that Ms. Lerner had two Blackberries. One was issued to her on November 12, 2009. According to a sworn declaration, this is the Blackberry that contained all the emails (both sent and received) that would have been in her “Outlook” and drafts that never were sent from her Blackberry during the relevant time.

With incredible disregard for the law and the Congressional inquiry, the IRS admits that this Blackberry “was removed or wiped clean of any sensitive or proprietary information and removed as scrap for disposal in June 2012.” This is a year after her hard drive “crash” and months after the Congressional inquiry began.

So the IRS attempted to destroy evidence of the emails after the investigation began, and those emails might still exist somewhere beyond the reach of the government officials in charge of destroying the evidence. Again, this is a direct challenge to the media: the IRS is expecting either a pass or scandal fatigue to play to their advantage. That is, they are hoping to set a precedent that the government can get away with heavyhanded abuse of its power so long as it destroys enough of the evidence once an investigation commences.

It is especially a challenge to the press if it’s true that the emails still exist but the government doesn’t want to go through the hassle of finding them. It’s actually more brazen, in some ways, than even trying to destroy them. It’s the sign of a government with nothing but pure contempt for the people. As Walter Russell Mead argues:

But if Fitton’s claim is true, then the IRS scandal really has arrived, and it is difficult not to conclude that we are dealing with a genuine constitutional crime. This wouldn’t be a matter of bribes or personal blackmail or sexual misconduct or any of the ordinary forms of corruption that are unfortunately far too common. Rather, it’s about the deliberate use of the power of the federal government to go after political opponents, and then a desperate attempt by others to cover it up. We’re still hoping that this story is exposed to a lot more light (and perhaps less heat), but the more we see, the worse and worse it looks.

Indeed, it would go beyond the sadly all-too-routinized forms of corruption, which are bad enough. The newest round of revelations describe a government agency (and its elected allies) not only thoroughly corrupted but also insistent on its entitlement to stand above accountability. The allegations warrant front-page headlines from the country’s major newspapers, surely. So where are they?

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More Stalling from the “Most Transparent Administration Ever”

The job of an inspector general is to root out fraud, waste, and abuse in the various government departments, boards, agencies, etc. It was the Treasury IG who blew the whistle on Lois Lerner and the IRS for discriminating against conservative groups.

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The job of an inspector general is to root out fraud, waste, and abuse in the various government departments, boards, agencies, etc. It was the Treasury IG who blew the whistle on Lois Lerner and the IRS for discriminating against conservative groups.

Under the Inspector General Act of 1978 IGs have a right to unimpeded access, “to all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations, or other material available.” Only another federal law explicitly limiting access can override that. And yet the Obama administration is doing its level best to impede the investigations of several inspectors general, at the Department of Justice, the EPA, and the Peace Corps.

The situation is so bad that no fewer than 47 of the 73 inspectors general in the federal government, almost two-thirds of them, have written a letter to Rep. Darrell Issa and Senator Thomas Carper, chairmen of the relevant congressional committees, to complain about the stalling tactics and refusals to provide documents for specious reasons, such as attorney-client privilege. (As the government is the client, a government attorney has no right to claim privilege when another part of the government, the IG, asks for access.) According to Rep. Issa, the letter is unprecedented. “This is the majority of all inspectors general saying not just in the examples they gave, but government wide, they see a pattern that is making them unable to do their job.”

The lawlessness of the Obama administration seems to have no bounds and yet the mainstream media has shown little interest in this story. The “paper of record” has not covered it at all. Had this happened in the Bush administration, it would have been front-page-above-the-fold news.

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One Chance to Hold the IRS Accountable?

Though the IRS and its commissioner have been on the hot seat in recent congressional hearings, there is little doubt that the agency and the Obama administration believe they can ride out the storm by stonewalling Republicans asking questions about the scandal and the missing emails that are now at the center of the controversy. But an otherwise obscure legal challenge to the tax-collecting bureaucracy may hold the key to bringing some measure of accountability to the nation’s tax collectors.

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Though the IRS and its commissioner have been on the hot seat in recent congressional hearings, there is little doubt that the agency and the Obama administration believe they can ride out the storm by stonewalling Republicans asking questions about the scandal and the missing emails that are now at the center of the controversy. But an otherwise obscure legal challenge to the tax-collecting bureaucracy may hold the key to bringing some measure of accountability to the nation’s tax collectors.

As we’ve noted numerous times here, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how and why the IRS singled out conservative groups for scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. But concern about this blatantly illegal political bias has been only compounded by the revelation that the emails of the woman at the center of the affair—department chief Lois Lerner—were lost in a mysterious computer crash. It now turns out that not only was the damaged computer hard drive recycled but that the agency also erased its own email servers. As has been pointed out repeatedly by IRS critics, taxpayers and corporations are required by law to preserve all of their communications for seven years in case they might be audited. But the IRS, a government body with nearly unlimited powers to wreck the lives of individuals that come under its scrutiny, doesn’t live by the same laws that they rigorously enforce against ordinary citizens.

But despite the suspicious nature of the missing emails and the fact that the agency cancelled the contract of the IT service provider at the same time that it lost vital information at the heart of this scandal, there seems little that critics can do about it other than to hound IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in hearings. Though his story is merely a sophisticated version of the old “dog ate my homework” excuse, Koskinen hasn’t lost his cool or cracked under the pressure. That’s due to what appears to be a thick hide and his confidence that congressional Democrats will always cover for the administration no matter how outrageous its behavior. Since Lerner has pled the Fifth Amendment in her attempt to avoid answering questions and Attorney General Eric Holder will never launch a genuine investigation of this affair or appoint a special prosecutor, it doesn’t seem like the angry Republicans can do much but to huff and puff at Koskinen or any other hapless IRS official that attempts to tell the same lame story he’s been trying to sell Congress.

But, as I noted last month, there appears to be one hope, albeit a slim one, for some measure of accountability about the IRS’s unconstitutional behavior: a lawsuit by a small pro-Israel group that was told by agency employees that its application for non-profit status was being scrutinized because of its opposition to the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

After years of stonewalling the case, the IRS was dealt a staggering legal setback last month when a federal judge ordered that the agency must answer the lawsuit. That response is due today. But the events of the last few weeks in which we have learned of the disappearance of Lerner’s emails makes it all the more interesting since as the defendant in the case, the IRS had the obligation to preserve all records relating to the alleged discrimination against Z Street. Since Lerner was the official supervising those who were dealing with Z Street during this period, that makes the missing evidence even more crucial. Moreover, as the plaintiffs pursue their case they will have the ability to compel IRS officials to testify as to their practices and produce all records. If they don’t that will only strengthen Z Street’s case.

Though Congress may not be able to do more than rail at Koskinen and the IRS, the Z Street case will not only open up a window on their behavior but, as the Wall Street Journal editorial page wrote earlier this week:

Attorney General Eric Holder won’t name a special prosecutor, but there’s still plenty of room for the judge in the Z Street case to force the IRS to explain and answer for its “willful spoliation” of email evidence.

The spectacle of a ruthless tax agency acting illegally and with seeming impunity undermines the rule of law and faith in our democratic system. And since neither Democrats nor their cheering section in the media appear willing to rise up and pressure the administration to appoint a prosecutor who will investigate these extremely suspicious coincidences and missing evidence (which would have liberals screaming for impeachment if the two sides were reversed and a Republican administration behaved in this manner), not much may happen to anyone in the scandal and the agency may escape accountability. But the Z Street suit has the potential to reveal more about this scandal than all the committees in Congress may ever be able to produce.

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Ryan to IRS Commissioner: “This is Unbelievable. … Nobody Believes You.”

In a hearing about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Representative Paul Ryan–during his exchange with IRS Commission John Koskinen–leveled a devastating criticism of Koskinen, essentially accusing him of being a liar. Mr. Ryan runs through the layers of deception, and pattern of abuse, we’re seen from the IRS so far, which now includes the fantastic claim that it has lost ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s hard drive with emails relevant to the (illegal) audits of conservative groups. Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, we’re now being told. (The Internal Revenue Service also revealed earlier this week that it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.)

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In a hearing about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Representative Paul Ryan–during his exchange with IRS Commission John Koskinen–leveled a devastating criticism of Koskinen, essentially accusing him of being a liar. Mr. Ryan runs through the layers of deception, and pattern of abuse, we’re seen from the IRS so far, which now includes the fantastic claim that it has lost ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s hard drive with emails relevant to the (illegal) audits of conservative groups. Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, we’re now being told. (The Internal Revenue Service also revealed earlier this week that it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.)

And here’s Ryan’s colleague, Kevin Brady, grilling Mr. Koskinen, saying this (h/t: HotAir.com):

Mr. Commissioner, why, at this point, why should anyone believe you? The IRS denied for two years targeting of Americans based on their political beliefs. That wasn’t the truth. They said it was a few rogue agents in Cincinnati. That wasn’t the truth. You said you were targeting liberal organizations. That wasn’t the truth. Then you assured us you would provide us all the emails in May and that wasn’t the truth. And today, you’re telling us out of thousands of IRS computers, the one that lost the emails was a person of interest in an ongoing congressional investigation. And that is not the truth either. This is the most corrupt and deceitful IRS in [American] history.

It’s fairly obvious, I think, that what has occurred is the destruction of evidence related to a congressional investigation about the abuse of power of one of the two most powerful agencies in government. Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal makes the case that “The IRS tea-party audit story isn’t Watergate; it’s worse than Watergate. The Watergate break-in was the professionals of the party in power going after the party professionals of the party out of power. The IRS scandal is the party in power going after the most average Americans imaginable.”

Whether it turns out to be worse than Watergate is impossible to know at this point. But it is bad enough. One question–not the only one, but an important one–is whether and how deep this scandal reaches into the rest of the Obama administration, including the Obama White House.

Inquiring minds want to know.

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Nothing “Reasonable” About IRS Cock-and-Bull Computer Story

Yesterday, new White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest characterized the Internal Revenue Service’s claim that all of Lois Lerner’s emails were lost as “entirely reasonable.” Adopting the same combative tone that made his predecessor Jay Carney an embarrassment to the president, Earnest declared that any questions about why it is that the IRS suddenly finds itself unable to comply with requests from Congress for this information were “not particularly believable” and sarcastically asked if anyone had ever heard of a computer crash.

Of course, as our John Steele Gordon noted on Sunday, Earnest’s declaration that the loss of the email is “a fact,” is almost certainly not true. Investigators should be able to find the emails on the agency’s server. That is a “fact” that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen actually admitted to earlier in the year when testifying before Congress when he promised to comply with requests for these communications and other information that might shed some light on what lay behind Lerner’s orders to her staff to target Tea Party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny.

Koskinen will again be on the hot seat next week when he is hauled before two House committees to explain why he thinks he can get away with a classic “dog ate my homework excuse” instead of producing the emails. But the agency’s decision to announce that a mysterious computer crash devoured all of Lerner’s work emails during a crucial two year period under investigation in a Friday afternoon news dump was more than just an effort to bury the story. The administration must understand that this development is bound to fuel continuing interest in a story they thought was largely finished. But the highly suspicious disappearance of the emails will do more than just raise Watergate comparisons. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand that the possible destruction of evidence that might link the IRS’ illegal behavior to other branches of the government leaves open the possibility that this scandal may just be getting started.

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Yesterday, new White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest characterized the Internal Revenue Service’s claim that all of Lois Lerner’s emails were lost as “entirely reasonable.” Adopting the same combative tone that made his predecessor Jay Carney an embarrassment to the president, Earnest declared that any questions about why it is that the IRS suddenly finds itself unable to comply with requests from Congress for this information were “not particularly believable” and sarcastically asked if anyone had ever heard of a computer crash.

Of course, as our John Steele Gordon noted on Sunday, Earnest’s declaration that the loss of the email is “a fact,” is almost certainly not true. Investigators should be able to find the emails on the agency’s server. That is a “fact” that IRS Commissioner John Koskinen actually admitted to earlier in the year when testifying before Congress when he promised to comply with requests for these communications and other information that might shed some light on what lay behind Lerner’s orders to her staff to target Tea Party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny.

Koskinen will again be on the hot seat next week when he is hauled before two House committees to explain why he thinks he can get away with a classic “dog ate my homework excuse” instead of producing the emails. But the agency’s decision to announce that a mysterious computer crash devoured all of Lerner’s work emails during a crucial two year period under investigation in a Friday afternoon news dump was more than just an effort to bury the story. The administration must understand that this development is bound to fuel continuing interest in a story they thought was largely finished. But the highly suspicious disappearance of the emails will do more than just raise Watergate comparisons. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to understand that the possible destruction of evidence that might link the IRS’ illegal behavior to other branches of the government leaves open the possibility that this scandal may just be getting started.

Earnest’s confidence that he could brazenly dismiss questions about Lerner’s emails stems from the administration’s belief that the IRS story has fundamentally changed in the last year. Initially, there was bipartisan outrage over the agency’s clearly outrageous and politically motivated practices. But within weeks, the media moved on and the only engine riving the story became the efforts of House Republicans like Rep. Darrell Issa, whose awkward investigatory style was easy to dismiss as partisan hackwork. The foolish confrontation between Issa and Democrat Elijah Cummings aided the efforts of the White House and its liberal media cheerleaders to claim that the entire issue was a “phony scandal” rather than a fundamental threat to the rule of law as even some liberals had agreed when the story first broke.

Comparisons to Watergate are always going to fall short and there is a vast difference between the infamous erasure of 18 minutes of White House tape recordings by Richard Nixon’s secretary and whatever it was that happened to Lois Lerner’s computer. But obstruction of justice is not a small thing especially when its impact is to effectively shut down a Congressional probe aimed at finding out why exactly Lerner choose to single out Tea Partiers and conservatives. It may be that there is nothing of interest in her emails, or at least nothing that connects anyone else in the administration to what happened at the IRS. But until we see those communications, it is hardly unreasonable for the president’s critics to wonder aloud at the amazing coincidence that led the supposedly non-partisan tax agency to give the business to Obama’s foes.

Were this really a phony scandal with, as the White House insists, nothing that connected high ranking figures to what was going on at the IRS, then it would behoove the administration to get all the information out on this question as soon as possible. Instead, the government has stalled Congress for a year only to then come up with an obviously lame and almost certainly false excuse about a single hard drive crash gobbling up all those emails.

It doesn’t take much imagination to ponder to what the response of Democrats and liberal organs like the New York Times would be if, instead of President Obama and his acolytes, it were George W. Bush’s staffers that were claiming that it was “reasonable” that information had merely vanished in a cloud of Internet smoke. We don’t need latter-day heroic Woodwards and Bernsteins to procure a new Deep Throat to come up with the answers to the obvious questions that the IRS’ cock-and-bull story raises. We just need a run-of-the-mill free press dedicated to ferreting out the truth about a government scandal and some honest Democrats prepared to join with Republicans in asking uncomfortable questions rather than covering for their party’s leaders. Any takers?

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Are Lois Lerner’s Emails Really Lost?

I wrote on Friday how the IRS, after a full year of stonewalling, sent a letter to Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saying that a vast trove of emails between Lois Lerner and government agencies outside the IRS, including the White House, had been lost thanks to a hard drive crash on her computer. Friday afternoons, of course, are when people who want something to go unnoticed make a public announcement about it.

This did not go unnoticed, however. As you can see from the TaxProfBlog, which has been covering the unfolding IRS scandal like a glove, all the major news outlets ran stories on it, even such liberal bastions as ABC News and the Huffington Post. Its similarity to the event that radically shifted public opinion about Watergate—the conveniently missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape—was just too strong. However, the New York Times, ever increasingly the public-relations arm of the Obama administration, has run nothing whatever in the print editions and, indeed, the only mention of it whatsoever was on a blog on the Times website that quotes what other op-ed pages are saying, a one-paragraph overview of the conservative Washington Examiner’s editorial. The Washington Post did not do a story of its own, settling for AP coverage about a potentially huge story taking place in its own backyard. Both of these legendary American newspapers are going to be severely embarrassed if this turns into a major scandal, as it well may.

The reason it may is because there are very good reasons to doubt the idea that these emails are irretrievably lost due to a simple crash of a personal computer’s hard drive.  For one thing, downloading an email from an email server does not cause the email to be deleted from the server itself. And a lawyer in the Department of Justice, who understandably wishes to be anonymous, reports that government email servers are automatically backed up every night. So both Lerner’s computer and the email server would have had to crash for these emails to have been lost. That would be some coincidence.

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I wrote on Friday how the IRS, after a full year of stonewalling, sent a letter to Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, saying that a vast trove of emails between Lois Lerner and government agencies outside the IRS, including the White House, had been lost thanks to a hard drive crash on her computer. Friday afternoons, of course, are when people who want something to go unnoticed make a public announcement about it.

This did not go unnoticed, however. As you can see from the TaxProfBlog, which has been covering the unfolding IRS scandal like a glove, all the major news outlets ran stories on it, even such liberal bastions as ABC News and the Huffington Post. Its similarity to the event that radically shifted public opinion about Watergate—the conveniently missing 18 1/2 minutes of tape—was just too strong. However, the New York Times, ever increasingly the public-relations arm of the Obama administration, has run nothing whatever in the print editions and, indeed, the only mention of it whatsoever was on a blog on the Times website that quotes what other op-ed pages are saying, a one-paragraph overview of the conservative Washington Examiner’s editorial. The Washington Post did not do a story of its own, settling for AP coverage about a potentially huge story taking place in its own backyard. Both of these legendary American newspapers are going to be severely embarrassed if this turns into a major scandal, as it well may.

The reason it may is because there are very good reasons to doubt the idea that these emails are irretrievably lost due to a simple crash of a personal computer’s hard drive.  For one thing, downloading an email from an email server does not cause the email to be deleted from the server itself. And a lawyer in the Department of Justice, who understandably wishes to be anonymous, reports that government email servers are automatically backed up every night. So both Lerner’s computer and the email server would have had to crash for these emails to have been lost. That would be some coincidence.

John Hinderaker at Power Line has a great deal of experience in accessing emails in the course of legal discovery. He’s blunt: “The Obama administration is lying, and lying in a remarkably transparent way.” He points out that even if the email server were erased after a period of time, the IRS has elaborate protocols for the permanent storage of all electronic communications. Hinderaker also notes that even if a hard drive crashes, the information stored on it can usually be recovered. He politely offers to help:

One more thing: if it were true that the only copies of many thousands of emails existed on Lois Lerner’s desktop computer–which is certainly not true–and that computer’s hard drive crashed in 2011, the emails would in all probability be recoverable. Even if Lerner threw her computer into a lake, which has been known to happen. One of the world’s most famous data recovery firms is located here in the Twin Cities, and I would be happy to send Barack Obama the name and phone number of a person who, in all likelihood, could recover Lerner’s “lost” emails from her supposedly crashed hard drive. Even if the computer has been lying at the bottom of a lake since 2011.

Fox and Friends this morning reported that in addition to nightly email backups and permanent storage on another medium, IRS regulations require individuals to make paper backups of anything that falls under the rubric of a “federal record.”

The administration is desperately hoping that by making this public on a summer Friday afternoon, it will all have blown over by Monday morning, especially with the onrush of other news stories, such as the gathering debacle in Iraq, and the latter-day children’s crusade on our southern border. I doubt that will happen. I think enough elements of the media smell blood. If the Obama administration is caught in a bald-faced lie here, its political support might well collapse, just as Nixon’s did in the fall of 1973. That would sell a lot of newspapers.

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Like Jimmy Carter? How About Like Richard Nixon?

Many people think that Barack Obama’s presidency, with his inept, if not disastrous foreign policy, and his ineffectual or counterproductive domestic programs can be aptly compared with Jimmy Carter’s. When Carter ran for reelection in 1980, it should be remembered, he carried fewer states than had Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Now, it seems, it’s worse. Today, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp issued a press release announcing that the IRS claims to have lost all the emails that Lois Lerner sent to or received from government agencies, including the White House, between January 2009 and April 2011.  They have only her internal emails (H/T Instapundit). How very convenient.

Camp, as you can well imagine, is not amused:

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Many people think that Barack Obama’s presidency, with his inept, if not disastrous foreign policy, and his ineffectual or counterproductive domestic programs can be aptly compared with Jimmy Carter’s. When Carter ran for reelection in 1980, it should be remembered, he carried fewer states than had Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Now, it seems, it’s worse. Today, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp issued a press release announcing that the IRS claims to have lost all the emails that Lois Lerner sent to or received from government agencies, including the White House, between January 2009 and April 2011.  They have only her internal emails (H/T Instapundit). How very convenient.

Camp, as you can well imagine, is not amused:

The fact that I am just learning about this, over a year into the investigation, is completely unacceptable and now calls into question the credibility of the IRS’s response to Congressional inquiries.  There needs to be an immediate investigation and forensic audit by Department of Justice as well as the Inspector General.

Just a short time ago, Commissioner Koskinen promised to produce all Lerner documents.  It appears now that was an empty promise.  Frankly, these are the critical years of the targeting of conservative groups that could explain who knew what when, and what, if any, coordination there was between agencies.  Instead, because of this loss of documents, we are conveniently left to believe that Lois Lerner acted alone.

So it would seem that not only does the Obama administration exhibit the worst attributes of the Carter administration, it also exhibits the worst attributes of the Nixon administration. No one believed Nixon’s explanation for the infamous missing 18 1/2 minutes of oval office tapes. I doubt many will believe that this is an accident too.

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What’s To Be Done About Lois Lerner?

The House Ways and Means Committee voted today to urge the Justice Department to consider criminal charges against former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner. There is good reason to believe Lerner violated the law by directing a discriminatory campaign by the tax agency against conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. But neither committee chairman Dave Camp nor any other member of the Republican majority in the House is under any illusions about whether Attorney General Eric Holder and his staff will act on their recommendation. Though the Justice Department has been investigating this scandal since it came to light, there is little reason to believe they will act against Lerner or anyone else involved in the mess at the IRS. Democrats believe that the only reason the House GOP caucus is still focusing on Lerner long after most of the news media got bored with the story or took the hint from the White House to move along is that they still harbor the hope that her testimony could implicate the administration in the scandal and prove the illegal behavior was not just the actions of a “rogue” agency office in Cincinnati.

But whether or not they’re right about that, Lerner remains the key figure in a scandal about which we’ve learned little since the initial flurry of coverage in 2013. Since Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called before the House Oversight Committee last year (though not before she also claimed to have done no wrong and thereby, at least in theory, waiving her Fifth Amendment rights), the question of her fate has been held hostage to an undignified spat between that committee’s Republican Chair Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings. But if Republicans — and anyone else for that matter — want to get to the bottom of this affair, they’re going to have to find a way to make Lerner talk. And though Issa is seemingly loath to give up the fight to indict her for contempt that means offering Lerner immunity.

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The House Ways and Means Committee voted today to urge the Justice Department to consider criminal charges against former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner. There is good reason to believe Lerner violated the law by directing a discriminatory campaign by the tax agency against conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. But neither committee chairman Dave Camp nor any other member of the Republican majority in the House is under any illusions about whether Attorney General Eric Holder and his staff will act on their recommendation. Though the Justice Department has been investigating this scandal since it came to light, there is little reason to believe they will act against Lerner or anyone else involved in the mess at the IRS. Democrats believe that the only reason the House GOP caucus is still focusing on Lerner long after most of the news media got bored with the story or took the hint from the White House to move along is that they still harbor the hope that her testimony could implicate the administration in the scandal and prove the illegal behavior was not just the actions of a “rogue” agency office in Cincinnati.

But whether or not they’re right about that, Lerner remains the key figure in a scandal about which we’ve learned little since the initial flurry of coverage in 2013. Since Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called before the House Oversight Committee last year (though not before she also claimed to have done no wrong and thereby, at least in theory, waiving her Fifth Amendment rights), the question of her fate has been held hostage to an undignified spat between that committee’s Republican Chair Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings. But if Republicans — and anyone else for that matter — want to get to the bottom of this affair, they’re going to have to find a way to make Lerner talk. And though Issa is seemingly loath to give up the fight to indict her for contempt that means offering Lerner immunity.

We don’t know if, as many conservatives seem to take as an article of faith, Lerner and other IRS officials were acting on orders from higher up in the food chain. Given Lerner’s own past tangles with conservatives, there is good reason to believe she was an eager participant and perhaps was responding to the open hints about targeting conservatives and Tea Partiers issued by an administration determined to demonize their opponents. But given that there is little chance that Holder will act decisively to find out the truth about the IRS, the only way Lerner can be persuaded to talk is if Issa and his colleagues find a way to get her back in the witness chair prepared to talk.

As he seems to have done successfully with the fallout from the Benghazi terror attack and the lies told by administration figures about what happened, the president is seeking to run out the clock on the IRS. A year after the initial news that provoked outrage and even an apology of sorts from Obama, the mainstream press has moved on and Democrats are dismissing the issue as a partisan talking point rather than a blatant violation of trust that ought to concern both parties. To some extent this is the fault of Issa and House Republicans who have preferred to engage in verbal fisticuffs with Democrats rather than engaging them in an investigation that the president and his party would like to terminate. But no matter who’s fault this is, unless Republicans act soon to use their leverage with Lerner to get her to tell the truth, it will soon be too late to get to the bottom of a an act of criminal misbehavior that cries out for justice.

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Like the Mississippi, the IRS Scandal Just Keeps Rolling Along

The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel, like some of her colleagues (especially Peggy Noonan) and her paper’s incomparable editorial page, continue to cover the IRS scandal and add perspective to it.

Writing in her column today, Ms. Strassel points out that congressional investigators this week released emails suggesting that staff at the Federal Election Commission inappropriately targeted conservative groups–and they relied on the help of the IRS’s Lois Lerner.

For the IRS to share information with the FEC would of course be illegal–and this is yet more evidence that another one of Barack Obama’s “phony scandals” just got worse. Like the Mississippi, the IRS scandal just keeps rolling along.

A few additional thoughts on it:

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The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel, like some of her colleagues (especially Peggy Noonan) and her paper’s incomparable editorial page, continue to cover the IRS scandal and add perspective to it.

Writing in her column today, Ms. Strassel points out that congressional investigators this week released emails suggesting that staff at the Federal Election Commission inappropriately targeted conservative groups–and they relied on the help of the IRS’s Lois Lerner.

For the IRS to share information with the FEC would of course be illegal–and this is yet more evidence that another one of Barack Obama’s “phony scandals” just got worse. Like the Mississippi, the IRS scandal just keeps rolling along.

A few additional thoughts on it:

1. The latest finding means that a scandal that originally involved simply (!) the IRS is now government-wide. And this is not just your garden-variety scandal; it involves a staggering abuse of power by one of the most powerful agencies in the entire American government.

2. The latest finding makes it clear that Lerner, who worked at the FEC for nearly a decade and demonstrated animus toward conservatives, is a key figure in untangling this story. Republicans need to put legal pressure on her and perhaps, at the right moment, offer her some level of immunity to find out what more she knows. Ms. Lerner is obviously a focal point in this whole investigation. If she begins to talk, the stone wall that has been built around this scandal may begin to crumble.

3. To their credit, Republicans are investigating this matter in a methodical and comprehensive manner. They’re not frenetic. They’ve been careful, for the most part, to keep their rhetoric restrained and tied to what we know. It’ll take time for this to story to fully unfold. Fine and well. There’s no urgency. Republicans should take their time to turn over every possible stone.

4. My guess is that when the president announced last week that Republicans were obsessed with “phony scandals,” he was revealing just how worried he is about this scandal and how explosive it might be. He has no interest in getting to the bottom of it, perhaps because he’s fearful of how widespread this whole thing is.

5. It’s worth recalling that once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, liberals and the elite media worried a lot about the abuse of power by government, especially using an agency as powerful as the IRS. Indeed, one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon included his alleged misuse of the IRS. But this story, like so many other scandals/negative stories involving the Obama administration, seems wholly uninteresting to them (with a few honorable exceptions, like Fox News and the Journal). But the nature of this scandal may eventually make it impossible even for most of the left-leaning media to ignore.

6. The events surrounding the IRS/FEC will further accelerate what has been a collapse in confidence in the federal government. It has to, since this story involves such a large, obvious, and feared governmental agency. One of the (unintended) liberal legacies of Barack Obama may well be much greater distrust of the federal government. This is an irony that shouldn’t be lost on Mr. Obama–but probably will be.  

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Re: Doesn’t Know Math But Can Count to Five

I need to add to what I wrote last night about Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner when I noted the irony of her decision to plead her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when she testified before Congress today. Lerner made good on her promise to refuse to testify today, though she prefaced that with an assertion that she “did nothing wrong” and had broken no law. It’s an interesting legal question as to whether that claim constituted a waiving of her rights to avoid incriminating herself but, like House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa suggested, we’ll leave that for the lawyers to sort out.

Issa let Lerner leave the hearing without being made to repeat her refusal to testify in a sign that he wants to avoid having the committee being criticized for partisanship or grandstanding. But it’s certain that we haven’t heard the last of Lerner, nor is it likely that she will escape further scrutiny. But I should have noted in my previous post some background about her career that was provided by our colleagues at the Weekly Standard on Monday afternoon. Mark Hemingway’s piece gives the background about Lerner’s role in the political vendetta against the Christian Coalition that was pursued by the Federal Elections Commission during her time working at that agency. This is further evidence not only of the liberal bias of many of the civil servants at the IRS and other government agencies but of a possible political motivation for the targeting of Tea Party groups.

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I need to add to what I wrote last night about Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner when I noted the irony of her decision to plead her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination when she testified before Congress today. Lerner made good on her promise to refuse to testify today, though she prefaced that with an assertion that she “did nothing wrong” and had broken no law. It’s an interesting legal question as to whether that claim constituted a waiving of her rights to avoid incriminating herself but, like House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa suggested, we’ll leave that for the lawyers to sort out.

Issa let Lerner leave the hearing without being made to repeat her refusal to testify in a sign that he wants to avoid having the committee being criticized for partisanship or grandstanding. But it’s certain that we haven’t heard the last of Lerner, nor is it likely that she will escape further scrutiny. But I should have noted in my previous post some background about her career that was provided by our colleagues at the Weekly Standard on Monday afternoon. Mark Hemingway’s piece gives the background about Lerner’s role in the political vendetta against the Christian Coalition that was pursued by the Federal Elections Commission during her time working at that agency. This is further evidence not only of the liberal bias of many of the civil servants at the IRS and other government agencies but of a possible political motivation for the targeting of Tea Party groups.

As Hemingway writes:

Lerner was appointed head of the FEC’s enforcement division in 1986 and stayed in that position until 2001. In the late 1990s, the FEC launched an onerous investigation of the Christian Coalition, ultimately costing the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in lost work. The investigation was notable because the FEC alleged that the Christian Coalition was coordinating issue advocacy expenditures with a number of candidates for office. Aside from lacking proof this was happening, it was an open question whether the FEC had the authority to bring these charges. 

In one respect, that case had frightening parallels to the Tea Party targeting:

One of the most shocking things about the current IRS scandal is the revelation that the agency asked one religious pro-life group to detail the content of their prayers and asked clearly inappropriate questions about private religious activity. But under Lerner’s watch, inappropriate religious inquiries were a hallmark of the FEC’s interrogation of the Christian Coalition.

No one reading about that case can be surprised that some of the same shenanigans Lerner and her mates pulled at the FEC were repeated at the IRS. It also makes it difficult for anyone to claim that political prejudices were not part of the motivation for what happened at the IRS. Let’s hope Congress or a special prosecutor eventually gets to the bottom of it.

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Doesn’t Know Math But Can Count to Five

Lois Lerner seemed to have gotten her proverbial 15 minutes of fame after being the first one to let slip the news that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative groups when determining the nonprofit status of organizations during a conference call with reporters May 10. Before the nation began to even fully digest the enormity of this scandal, they had a good laugh at the IRS official’s expense because in answer to a question about the percentage of groups that had been unfairly treated she responded, “I’m not good at math.” That earned her a moment of derision in what has now become a classic Jon Stewart rant on Comedy Central, as he noted that both her “apology” and her inability to do simple arithmetic undermined the credibility of the party of big government as well as that of the tax agency.

But while Lerner may not know math, she can count to five. We learned this afternoon that when she answers her subpoena to testify about the affair before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, she would invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions posed by Congress. The agency that once was best known for being used to nail criminals like Al Capone, who could not be successfully prosecuted for their violent crimes but were vulnerable because they didn’t pay enough taxes, is now going to have a top official acting like a mafia button man on the hot seat.

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Lois Lerner seemed to have gotten her proverbial 15 minutes of fame after being the first one to let slip the news that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative groups when determining the nonprofit status of organizations during a conference call with reporters May 10. Before the nation began to even fully digest the enormity of this scandal, they had a good laugh at the IRS official’s expense because in answer to a question about the percentage of groups that had been unfairly treated she responded, “I’m not good at math.” That earned her a moment of derision in what has now become a classic Jon Stewart rant on Comedy Central, as he noted that both her “apology” and her inability to do simple arithmetic undermined the credibility of the party of big government as well as that of the tax agency.

But while Lerner may not know math, she can count to five. We learned this afternoon that when she answers her subpoena to testify about the affair before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, she would invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions posed by Congress. The agency that once was best known for being used to nail criminals like Al Capone, who could not be successfully prosecuted for their violent crimes but were vulnerable because they didn’t pay enough taxes, is now going to have a top official acting like a mafia button man on the hot seat.

Let’s concede that Lerner is well within her rights in pleading the fifth since she, as much as anyone involved in this disaster, is very much in legal peril for countenancing if not abetting blatantly illegal behavior by government personnel even if we are now told that she eventually attempted to broaden the discrimination to all groups, rather than just Tea Partiers.

It should also be conceded that an outright refusal to testify is, in some ways, a lot more honest than what we’ve heard from her boss Steven Miller both last week and today, as he continued to claim that he didn’t lie to Congress last year when he told them targeting wasn’t going on. The same goes for his predecessor Douglas Shulman, who also assured Congress nothing like that was happening even though an investigation of this behavior was already going on. Their assurances that they hadn’t told anyone in the Treasury Department about any of this are also suspicious. Especially since we are also informed, as the New York Times reports, that Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal S. Wolin “learned of the inspector general’s audit into the targeting effort in the summer of 2012.” Congress will be curious about what, if anything, he did with that information that somehow remained secret during the presidential campaign.

What we hope to eventually learn is what Miller, Shulman and Lerner seem unable or unwilling to tell us: who ordered IRS personnel to do the targeting and why they did it. Up until now all we’ve gotten from the agency and its defenders are stories about overwork, understaffing and incompetence that are worse than no explanation at all.

Unless we get some straight answers to the contrary, there is no reason for anyone to avoid thinking about connecting the dots between the demonization of the Tea Party and other conservatives groups by the administration and the liberal media and the IRS actions. The spectacle of Ms. Lerner channeling the testimony of one of Jimmy Hoffa’s criminal associates while being pressed by the young Bobby Kennedy when she appears before Congress tomorrow will be a sobering moment for an administration and a liberal movement that has doubled down in recent years on its determination to expand the scope and the power of the federal government and its most intrusive agency.

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