Commentary Magazine


Denial Flows Like a River at the IRS

The testimony of Acting Internal Revenue Service Director Steven Miller before the House Ways and Means Committee didn’t provide much in the way of answers about the scandalous targeting of conservative groups by the agency. But it did give us a window into the mindset of the bureaucrats who supervised this outrage. Republican members tried to get Miller to respond to the key question hanging over this entire affair: Who gave the order to target groups with words like “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names and that criticized the way the country was being run? They got no answers, but they did get a refusal on his part to admit that he lied to Congress last year when he claimed no such targeting was going on. He also arrogantly claimed the abuses did not constitute targeting because he asserted that it was not politically motivated.

Miller’s claim that politics didn’t play a role in what was such an obvious case of bias directed solely at conservatives is without credibility. So too is his inability to admit that he didn’t tell the whole truth to Congress in the past about this or to remember who gave the order for the targeting. The same applies to his assertion that the person who supervised this disaster is a great public servant or that the targeting was not illegal.

Add this all together and what you get is a picture of an agency that has so thoroughly absorbed the views of its political masters that it doesn’t even recognize when it has crossed the line into illegal activity. It is also one in which that bias was considered a topic that they didn’t feel impelled to change or to reveal to Congress prior to the last election. Simply putting down this blatantly illegal activity to “foolish mistakes” by a few employees or considering it “horrible customer service,” as if they were discussing the delivery of fast food, shows a mindset that reeks of contempt for the Constitution and for democratic values. With the agency about to play a major role in implementing ObamaCare, the inability of its leader to give a straight answer to questions about any of this bodes ill for the country.

The issue of ObamaCare looms large in this controversy because the person who was in charge of the department agency that committed these abuses not only has not been punished but has also been promoted:

Sarah Hall Ingram served as commissioner of the office responsible for tax-exempt organizations between 2009 and 2012. But Ingram has since left that part of the IRS and is now the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, the IRS confirmed to ABC News today.

Miller, who was scheduled to leave his post in a couple of weeks, was symbolically fired by President Obama in a meaningless gesture this week. His answers showed that he was clearly aware that he is vulnerable to charges of perjury or contempt of Congress for his past failures to honestly speak about the problems when questioned. But the problems went deeper than just a desire to avoid admitting that he and other IRS officials have deceived Congress and the country. His parsing of the word “targeting” showed that the head of the bureaucracy was still in denial about what has gone on there.

The singling out of conservative groups while liberals seeking nonprofit status were quickly approved speaks to a frame of reference about the issue that reeks of political bias. But Miller still seems to think such thinking was just a natural extension of normal procedure that might have gone a bit astray.

We need to know who gave the orders to target conservatives, and I suspect that after Congress and perhaps even Department of Justice investigators are through, we’ll learn the identity of that person or persons. We’ll also see just how far this cancer had spread throughout the culture of the organization, though we already know that the initial story that it was only the work of a few rogue employees in a Cincinnati office is also a lie.

But as the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel reminds us today, we know what inspired the whole problem irrespective of which bureaucrat gave the specific order. All the IRS was doing in the course of this scandal was listening to President Obama and his media cheerleaders who had been telling the country for years that the Tea Party and other conservatives were extremists whose illegitimate actions deserved to be placed beyond the pale. The harassment suffered by conservatives by the government’s most intrusive and powerful agency cannot be separated from the calls by the head of that government and his supporters for exactly this sort of prejudicial behavior.

Miller’s evasions and inability to face up to the enormity of this affair are bad enough. So too is the failure throughout the IRS to own up to the problem or to correct it long ago and to promote the person who appears to be among those responsible for the outrages. But the willingness of the IRS to conform its practices to the political opinions of the White House is the root cause of this scandal.  

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