There is much logic to calls by Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, and others for a special counsel to investigate the IRS' assault on conservative organizations. Unfortunately this tool to restore the public's trust will most likely not be used.
A brief history:
During the Watergate scandal in 1973, Attorney General Elliot Richardson appointed Archibald Cox as special prosecutor to investigate the break-in. When Nixon demanded that Cox be fired, Richardson refused and was himself fired, to be followed by his deputy William Ruckelshaus. The next in line, Robert Bork, fired Cox and appointed Leon Jaworski who continued the investigation toward Nixon's resignation under pressure of impending impeachment in August 1974.
From 1978 to 1999 there was an independent counsel statute calling for appointment by the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington DC with subpoena power and the ability to levy charges. The preeminent prosecutor under this authority was Kenneth Starr whose investigation of Whitewater, the suspicious death of Vince Foster, and eventually Monica Lewinsky led to the unsuccessful impeachment attempt of President Clinton.
The independent counsel was replaced in 1999 by the Office of Special Counsel in the Department of Justice which is charged with investigating alleged misconduct within the executive branch. (This is not to be confused with the independent Office of Special Counsel whose job it is to to ensure compliance with civil service and whistleblower statutes.) The nut of it is that the Attorney General hires and fires the investigator of the executive branch.
What we know in this unfolding scandal:
- From at least April of 2010, through the 2012 elections, and into 2013 IRS agents responsible for approving 501c(4) non-profit tax status:
(a) Operated under guidelines which deliberately targeted Tea Party and other conservative organizations for enhanced scrutiny and delayed approvals;
(b) Subjected them to outrageous questions about their donor lists, the politics of their leaders, content of speeches, their relationships with Tea Party activists, resumes of directors and employees, and outreach efforts.
- This admitted targeting of conservatives leading into the 2012 election followed criticism by the president of the Citizens United decision which lifted restrictions on contributions by corporations and labor unions to federal political campaigns as well as calls by Senators Baucus, Schumer, Franken and others to place Tea Party organizations under increased IRS scrutiny. It also paralleled aggressive investigation of wealthy Romney donors singled out by the Obama campaign.
- An IRS Commissioner and an Acting Commissioner were aware of the abuse and denied it in Congressional testimony and in letters to Congess members. The IRS deputy commissioner overseeing tax exempt organizations from 2009 to 2012 has been promoted to oversee the IRS' role in implementing Obamacare - after receiving $103,000 in bonuses. The director for tax exempt organizations has pleaded the 5th Amendment and been placed on administrative leave.
- In mid-2012 (five months before the election) the IRS General Counsel and the Deputy Treasury Secretary were aware that, as a result of Congressional inquiries, the Inspector General had begun an audit of the targeting of conservative organizations. The White House General Counsel informed the President's Chief of Staff about the impending IRS Inspector General report on April 24, 2013, but the president claimed to be unaware of the subject prior to news articles on May 10.
And a few things that we would like to know:
1. Who authorized the intrusive, burdensome, and partisan inquiries? Was there any specific direction from Washington?
2. Who was aware of the inquiries? What communication was there between the Cincinnati office, the Washington IRS office, the Treasury Department, and the White House in 2012?
3. What was the role of each person in the chain of command - Director Lerner; Deputy Commissioner Ingram; Commissioner Shulman; Interim Commissioner Miller; Deputy Treasury Secretary Wolin; White House Chief of Staff McDonough; President Obama.
4. Was there any significance to the numerous visits to the White House during this time period by Colleen Kelly, the President of the National Treasury Employees Union which actively supported President Obama and campaigned against Tea Party candidates?
There is no way that Barack Obama and Eric Holder will initiate an investigation which will lead to the White House or cast a shadow over the IRS role in implementing Obamacare. Investigations of Fast and Furious and Benghazi have demonstrated that Darrell Issa and his congressional peers can hold all the hearings they want, but that Republicans cannot govern from the House. What does remain fully viable is the power of the purse. Let's hope that it is used surgically.
This week's video is of President Obama claiming that he knew nothing about the targeting of conservatives, and if true, he would be outraged. It is good to know that he will get to the bottom of it once he gets to the bottom of the Benghazi scandal and the Associated Press scandal - both of which he also knew nothing about.