Opinion

The IRS stonewall

Tom Fitton President, Judicial Watch

Judicial Watch recently sued the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to force it to hand over “any and all” records related to the agency’s now-notorious witch hunt against conservative 501c4 nonprofit organizations in the nearly two years leading up to the 2012 presidential election. While the records are likely to provide some stunning revelations, the fact is that the IRS’ refusal to willingly hand over the records as required by law is equally revealing. As the late 60 Minutes producer George Crile sagely observed, “It’s not just the crime, it’s the cover-up that gets you in trouble.”

In the case of the current IRS cover-up, the stonewalling began nearly six months ago when Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request on the heels of an explosive May 14 Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report revealing that the IRS had singled out groups with such conservative-sounding terms as “patriot” and “Tea Party” in their titles for special scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status. The TIGTA probe determined: “Early in Calendar Year 2010, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status to (e.g., lists of past and future donors).” According to the report, the illegal IRS reviews continued for more than 18 months and “delayed processing of targeted groups’ applications” preparing for the 2012 presidential election.

This cold and calculating campaign to harass and hamstring conservative groups was overseen by Lois Lerner, who ran the IRS division that handles applications for tax-exempt status.

But don’t think for one moment that Lerner acted alone of her own volition. It may, in fact, have been orchestrated by the White House itself. Hence the desperate stonewalling of the Judicial Watch FOIA by the Obama’s current IRS underlings.

The now-notorious Lois Lerner’s boss throughout the entire episode was Steven Miller, who conspired with Lerner to blame “rogue employees in Cincinnati” for the IRS witch hunt. In July 2012, Miller evidently lied to Congress about his knowledge of the IRS targeting of conservative groups. In May 2013, Miller continued to mislead Congress by blithely blaming the entire situation on faulty customer service: “We provided horrible customer service here. I will admit that. Horrible customer service.”

George Shulman, the IRS Commissioner at the time, also stonewalled Congress about his subordinates’ activities. On March 22, 2012, – during his testimony before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight – Shulman asserted there was “absolutely no targeting” of conservative groups applying for tax exempt status by the IRS. (Though Shulman had been initially appointed by George W. Bush, he was a contributor to Democratic National Committee.)

There’s more. According to a July 17, 2013, article in the Washington Post“The chief counsel’s office for the Internal Revenue Service, headed by a political appointee of President Obama, helped develop the agency’s problematic guidelines for reviewing ‘tea party’ cases, according to a top IRS attorney. In interviews with congressional investigators, IRS lawyer Carter Hull said his superiors told him that the chief counsel’s office, led by William Wilkins, former chief counsel for the Democratic staff of the Senate Finance Committee, would need to review some of the first applications the agency screened for additional scrutiny because of potential political activity.”

Significantly, Wilkins may be the link that leads all the way back to the Oval Office. As the Daily Caller reported on July 22, 2013, IRS chief counsel William Wilkins … met with Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 23, 2012, … On April 25, 2012, Wilkins’ office sent the exempt organizations determinations unit ‘additional comments on the draft guidance’ for approving or denying tea party tax-exempt applications, according to the IRS inspector general’s report.”

Simply put, in the case of the Obama administration cover-up of the IRS inquisition of conservative groups, there is not just a smoking gun; there is a booming cannon. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men” at the IRS played an active role in subverting our political system. Now they are stonewalling attempts to get to the truth and to place the blame where it rightly belongs. Perhaps that’s because they know full well that once the truth is told about both the outrageous crime and the scandalous cover-up, possibly no one will be able to put the Obama administration back together again.

Tom Fitton is President of Judicial Watch, author of the NY Times best-seller “The Corruption Chronicles” and executive producer of the documentary “District of Corruption.”