When news broke that the Internal Revenue Service had, over the course of nearly two years, actively discriminated against conservative groups applying for tax exemption, subjecting them to intrusive questions and extraordinary delays in processing their applications, top officials in Washington were quick to offer an explanation. A couple of rogue agents in the IRS’s Cincinnati office, you see, had somehow managed to pull off a highly orchestrated effort to fetter tea-party groups in advance of the 2012 presidential election.
This explanation, intended to let the agency’s top brass and the Obama administration off the hook, has never passed muster. IRS officials in Washington became aware of the discrimination against conservative groups long before the Treasury Department inspector general’s report made it public. The IRS itself conducted an internal investigation that reached similar conclusions in May 2012, after which top officials failed to inform Congress of the investigation’s findings. The lawyers in the office of the agency’s chief counsel, according to the inspector general’s report, were briefed on the matter in August 2011; White House press secretary Jay Carney claims they did not inform the chief counsel himself, William Wilkins, one of two political appointees at the IRS. Somehow, while many top IRS officials knew about the targeting of conservative groups, it continued unabated until the inspector general’s report was published in mid May — at which point those very officials pointed the finger at a couple of folks in the Midwest.