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IRS Officials Talk of D.C. Micromanagement

Among the lousiest attempted explanations for the IRS’s organized political targeting of conservatives is that it wasn’t really organized, political, or targeted. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod repeated this yesterday on Meet the Press. It could not have been politically orchestrated, Axelrod argued, because it was a stupid thing to do. Behold, the unalloyed wisdom of Axelrod in his own words:

If there was somebody political involved in this, it never would have happened because it was the stupidest thing you could imagine. I don’t think that it was necessary and I don’t think it was smart.

If this sounds awfully familiar, it should. Three weeks earlier, Mickey Kaus took a walk down memory lane to point out the IRS scandals during the Clinton administration, during which Clinton’s critics coincidentally found themselves all getting audited by the IRS. Kaus noted Clinton press man Mike McCurry’s response when asked about the Clinton White House’s involvement: “We may do some dumb things from time to time but we are not certifiably insane.”

Of course, one key difference between McCurry then and Axelrod now is that McCurry was working for the White House when he offered the sneering spin. Axelrod merrily offered it on his own volition, so completely has he internalized the Obama propaganda he has spent years spreading across America. In any case, the “how stupid do you think we are” defense can and should be ignored in favor of the facts of the case–which continue to stack up against the proclaimed wisdom of the Obama administration. (Axelrod also pushed the conclusively debunked notion of overworked bureaucrats responding to a flood of nonprofit applications.)

The latest hit to the White House’s credibility on this was House Oversight chair Darrell Issa’s appearance on CNN yesterday, in which he discussed some of the investigation’s latest findings. Issa’s committee has been interviewing IRS employees in the Cincinnati office initially blamed by Democrats for the targeting of conservatives. There were a couple rogue agents who acted on their own, we were told by Obama’s defenders. Issa has released transcripts of some of the interviews with those staffers, and quite a different picture emerges.

Here is one part of the interviews released by Issa’s office:

Q: So what do you think about this, that allegation has been made, I think as you have seen in lots of press reports, that there were two rogue agents in Cincinnati that are sort of responsible for all of the issues that we have been talking about today.  What do you think about those allegations?
A:  It’s impossible.  As an agent we are controlled by many, many people.  We have to submit many, many reports.  So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen.
Q: And you’ve heard, I’m sure, news reports about individuals here in Washington saying this is a problem that was originated in and contained in the Cincinnati office, and that it was the Cincinnati office that was at fault.  What is your reaction to those types of stories?
A: Well, it’s hard to answer the question because in my mind I still hear people saying we were low‑level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C.  So, take it for what it is.  They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.
Q: So is it your perspective that ultimately the responsible parties for the decisions that were reported by the IG are not in the Cincinnati office?
A: I don’t know how to answer that question.  I mean, from an agent standpoint, we didn’t do anything wrong.  We followed directions based on other people telling us what to do.
Q: And you ultimately followed directions from Washington; is that correct?
A: If direction had come down from Washington, yes.
Q: But with respect to the particular scrutiny that was given to Tea Party applications, those directions emanated from Washington; is that right?
A: I believe so.

He also quotes a “more senior” official at the IRS office complaining about “micromanagement” from Washington, specifically on the issue of targeting conservative groups. Now, common sense always told us that the “rogue official” excuse was silly, as was the idea that this campaign was motivated by laziness and not partisanship.

But the lower-level bureaucrats who were pressured by higher-ups to act unethically and then thrown under the bus are understandably perturbed by the rank cynicism and dishonesty of the government they work for. And it’s insulting to the intelligence of Americans to have David Axelrod tell them they shouldn’t believe what has been quite obvious to them all along. They might turn Axelrod’s objection back on him: how stupid does he think they are?

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