Politics & Policy

The IRS: Just One of Dozens of Uncooperative Agencies

Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz
Lots of other federal agencies are evading investigation, too, and IGs are livid.

Darrell Issa’s leading role in the IRS investigation may have come to a close — he lost his chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee to term limits — but there is plenty of work left for his successor, Jason Chaffetz of Utah. None of these criminals has been punished; the maddening fact is that Lois Lerner is enjoying a six-figure pension at the expense of the very taxpayers against whom she conducted a corrupt political jihad. And even if that happy day should come when Lerner et al. are given one-way bus tickets to Florence, Colo., or some other suitable destination, Chaffetz and his colleagues still would have a tremendous amount of work to do; if Issa’s time has taught us anything, it is that the federal agencies are in thrall to a culture of criminality, and that the most significant crime in the agencies’ repertoire is the obstruction of federal investigations.

Earlier this year, 47 inspectors general — the officials charged with fighting corruption, waste, and wrongdoing in federal agencies — sent a letter to Issa’s committee complaining that organizations ranging from the EPA to the Justice Department were impeding their investigations by withholding information — despite the fact that federal law specifically forbids withholding that information. These are not a bunch of Republican operatives trying to score a few political points: Those 47 inspectors general comprise more than half of all such officials, and many who signed the letter were appointed by President Barack Obama. Their complaint is that the federal agencies treat them more or less like they do . . . members of Congress: thwarting them, withholding documents, obstruction investigations.

Michael Horowitz, the inspector general for the Justice Department, came to the Oversight Committee practically begging them for a means by which the DOJ – the federal law-enforcement department — might be forced to follow the laws that it is supposed to be enforcing. “It is very clear to me,” he testified, “just as it is to the Inspectors General community, that the Inspector General Act of 1978 entitles inspectors general to access all documents and records within the agency’s possession. Each of us firmly believes that Congress meant what it said in Section 6(a) of the IG Act: that Inspectors General must be given complete, timely, and unfiltered access to agency records.” But under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, the DOJ did no such thing. Horowitz notes that the DOJ specifically tried to withhold information related to the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious.

The law promises IGs far-ranging investigative power, including “access to all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations, or other material.” All, it says, not that which any given bureaucrat feels it in his interest to release. And just in case there’s some question about which agencies are subject, the statute makes it clear: “any Federal, State, or local governmental agency or unit thereof.”

Horowitz, an Obama appointee, was not alone in his complaint. The inspector general of the EPA detailed how he had to drag the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigations Board (CSB) in front of the House Oversight Committee when they refused to comply with a document request. Issa gave the CSB a week to comply. The CSB did not comply. (The IG specifically said the CSB “complied . . . but not fully,” which in Washingtonian means “told us to bugger off.”)

#page#The inspector general of the Peace Corps, Kathy Buller, tells a familiar tale. Just as the IRS cites taxpayer-privacy rules to protect its own agents from investigation for their crimes (among them, violating taxpayer-privacy rules), the Peace Corps cynically uses a law intended to protect the privacy of rape victims to thwart investigations into its handling of rape cases. The Kate Puzey Act is intended to protect sexual-assault victims in the Peace Corps, whose volunteers often are dispatched to places in which the ordinary horrors of rape are compounded by local conditions. (Kate Puzey was a volunteer murdered in Benin after reporting a sexual assault.) That law, as Buller notes, specifically requires that information be released to government officials when federal law mandates it — as in the case of an IG investigation. But the Peace Corps construes the law to mean the opposite of what it actually means, a position Buller calls, with restraint, “remarkable.” “There is no ambiguity in this language,” she writes. “IGs have access to all agency documents and information, and the legislative history to the IG Act leaves no room for doubt: the language ‘all records’ is expansive and is intended to include even confidential agency memoranda.” And the Peace Corps is institutionalizing this lawlessness, Buller reports: “Over the past two years the Peace Corps has developed and implemented policies and procedures denying us access to restricted reports.”

Which brings us back to the IRS scandal, in which agents of that fearsome organization committed the cardinal sin of democratic governance: They used the power of the state to persecute citizens because of their political beliefs. Using government power as a means to greater political power is ipso facto corruption. From the shenanigans involving “lost” e-mails to former commissioner Doug Schulman’s simply lying to Congress, the IRS has done everything in its power to obstruct investigation into its crimes — not errors, not mistakes: crimes. Issa’s last report identifies by name eight IRS officials who were involved in the political targeting or who had knowledge of the practice and failed to disclose it. They include Lerner, of course; Schulman and his chief of staff, former acting commissioner Steven Miller; chief counsel William Wilkins; former acting commissioner Joseph Grant; and others. These are not minor figures.

Remember when this was all a couple of nobodies in Cincinnati?

The terrifying truth is that this is not a matter of a few bad apples. The IRS is institutionally corrupt in its dealings with everyone from Congress to the national archivist. Nobody can keep track of how many different versions of the “lost” e-mail stories the IRS’s operatives have told, though Issa has tried. Republicans tried to get a special prosecutor for the investigation, but were thwarted by the Democrats. There would be no need for a special prosecutor if the regular prosecutors — at the DOJ – were doing their jobs, but the Obama administration has no interest in pulling on any of these threads: Not when it knows that IRS agents were misusing public resources to campaign for Barack Obama. This is a criminal enterprise that goes all the way to the White House: Not because the IRS’s political persecution was coordinated by the Oval Office — it didn’t have to be — but simply because the attorney general and the president and those answerable to them empower it by their inaction, by their bad-faith toleration of lies, deceit, corruption, and the abuse of power.

Jason Chaffetz has his work cut out for him.

— Kevin D. Williamson is roving correspondent at National Review.

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