Ms. Lerner says that this is nothing more than a string of unfortunate bureaucratic events.
But Ms. Lerner is not always clear on what it is she wants to say. Asked directly whether any IRS employee had faced disciplinary action as a result of this incident, she replied, emphatically, “No.” A short while later she said she wishes to retract that, saying instead, “I’m not talking about that.”
Ms. Lerner also says that she did not inform her superiors about the problem, which must be a question of key interest to IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, who during testimony before Congress last year denied that tea-party groups or other conservative organizations were being targeted by the IRS. That had been the IRS’s last word on the subject until today.
Why now? “Somebody asked me a question,” Ms. Lerner said. Apparently, if you want answers from our public officials, go to the American Bar Association’s tax conference, not a congressional hearing.
Other groups were included in this additional review, but while the office handles applications from all sorts of organizations, a full 25 percent of those targeted for additional review were “Tea Party” or “Patriot” groups.
“Obviously, you don’t get dozens of inquiries asking unconstitutional questions, with zero corresponding inquiries into liberal groups, unless there is something going on,” says David French, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing 27 groups from 18 states in the IRS matter. “It’s not just the numbers, it’s the questions themselves. They were designed to dissect the operations of the organizations.” Mr. French believes that the IRS’s actions were intended as political intimidation.
He also is skeptical that the problem is limited to the Cincinnati office: “We dealt with offices from California to D.C. on this,” he says. With regard to the congressional testimony denying such targeting, he concludes: “Either they lied or they didn’t do the most basic due diligence.”
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, said he expects Congress to look into the IRS’s “thuggery.” “In the same breath they say they specifically targeted conservative groups, they say there was no political bias,” he says. “Those two statements cannot both be true. As Cookie Monster says, one of these things is not like the other.”
The misuse of government resources is subject to civil, misdemeanor, and felony charges under federal and Ohio law. The abuse of IRS resources, including the collection of “confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and [causing], in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner,” were cited in the second article of impeachment against Richard Nixon.
— Kevin D. Williamson is a roving correspondent for National Review. His newest book, The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome, was recently published.