On Tuesday evening, The Washington Post’s “fact checker” Glenn Kessler accused a GOP lawmaker of a three-Pinocchio lie for his claim that a 2011 letter from a powerful House Republican could’ve spurred former IRS official Lois Lerner to destroy incriminating emails.
But not only does Kessler use strangely over-exacting logic to declare Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam dishonest — he also simply misrepresents the facts.
During a June 20 House hearing, Roskam referenced a letter sent by Republican Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp just 10 days before Lerner’s computer crashed:
“The IRS is not a victim today. And here is the fundamental problem. Chairman Camp sent a letter on this whole issue. And then 10 days later — so think about the duration of 10 days. Ten days is the ability to panic at the IRS, reflect, plan, talk and execute. And there was a crash — 10 days after the chairman’s letter.”
While Kessler won’t fact-check the IRS’ computer excuse — “we do not see a way to prove, to our satisfaction, that the hard drive could have been saved or recovered” — the Post employee found it crucial to explain how Roskam’s suspicions are utterly unfounded.
“The timing may seem suspicious, and perhaps Roskam has every right to jump to conclusions,” he wrote. “But in claiming that Camp ‘sent a letter on this whole issue,’ he went too far in describing the contents of the letter.”
Sent on June 3, 2011, Camp’s letter was spurred by complaints from five taxpayers who donated to 501(c)4 nonprofits and later received IRS warnings that the donations may not actually be tax-free.
It was a departure from the tax agency’s longtime leniency towards such donations. And — as the Ways and Means Committee later confirmed — all five of the affected taxpayers donated to conservative groups.
“The sudden, unexplained enforcement of the gift tax in these circumstances raises a number of questions regarding IRS actions,” Camp wrote the IRS, demanding they answer a series of congressional inquiries.
Kessler believes there’s just no way the IRS could’ve seen that letter as a warning Congress was preparing to investigate what the agency later admitted was improper targeting of conservative and tea party nonprofits.
Why? Because he claims the letter was about individual taxpayers — not the groups they donated to.
“Recall that the issue involving Lois Lerner was the targeting of conservative advocacy groups applying for 501(c)(4) status,” Kessler condescends. “But this letter concerned something different — the IRS’s decision to send letters to the donors of such organizations that their contributions might be subject to gift taxes.”
“In claiming that Camp ‘sent a letter on this whole issue,’ he went too far in describing the contents of the letter,” Kessler later concludes.
One could be forgiven for assuming that a series of congressional inquiries into the IRS’ new and unexpected crackdown on 501(c)4 donors could lead to an investigation into how the IRS is treating the organizations themselves. It’s not really much of a stretch.
But leave aside the “fact checker’s” nitpicky reasoning for a moment, because the Post employee also misrepresents the facts surrounding Camp’s letter himself.
The “fact checker” argues that the letter never mentions conservative 501(c)4 nonprofits like the ones the IRS targeted. That’s a blatant distortion, since two specific questions asked by Camp inevitably draw serious scrutiny to how the IRS treated these groups.
“How are tax-exempt organizations generally selected for audit?” read the fourth question in Camp’s letter. We now know that — in addition to the IRS screening 100 percent of 501(c)4 applicants with terms like “tea party” and “patriot” in their names — 100 percent of nonprofit audits in the same time period also targeted conservative groups.
“How many 501(c)4 audits are usually conducted every tax year?” read Camp’s fifth question, stipulating the IRS “identify the tax issues involved.” Such an examination would’ve also shown how existing conservative groups were singled out for scrutiny, and almost certainly would’ve sparked inquiry into how the IRS handled 501(c)4 applications.
Both questions are cause enough for a tax agency deliberately targeting conservatives groups in both applications and with audits to believe Congress may soon be cracking down — and possibly to “panic, reflect, plan, talk and execute” the destruction of evidence.
Kessler also claims Lerner wasn’t aware the IRS was targeting tea party applications until June 29, 2011, weeks after Camp’s letter was sent. That’s also at best misleading, since an email from February 2011 reveals she was discussing how to separately handle “dangerous” tea party cases — individuals, groups or otherwise — months before Camp’s letter.
The “fact checker” admitted in January that he made a mistake giving The Daily Caller four Pinocchios for a story on Obamacare enrollments, instead giving himself three Pinocchios for parroting the administration’s false numbers.
With what looks like an attempt to bury legitimate GOP suspicions over the timing of the IRS’ convenient hard drive crashes, perhaps it’s time for Kessler to take another look in the mirror.