In Summary

Embedded in a column full of invective and excess verbiage, Michael Gerson provides a pretty fair description of the IRS scandal:

To review: After President Obama blamed “two Dilberts in Cincinnati,” an inspector general’s report found that high-level IRS officials in Washington were involved in directing additional scrutiny toward tea party groups seeking tax exemptions. Lerner admitted as much, before taking the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying before the House oversight committee. The House of Representatives held her in contempt. And now the evidence of possible communications between Lerner and other agencies (including the White House) has gone missing under suspicious circumstances. It could be a regrettable series of rogue operations, IRS management failures and technical glitches. Or they could be taking us for fools.

It seems to me that there are at least four competing reactions to the problem:

  1. The White House is behind all of this and should be investigated hammer and tongs until Barack Obama is out of office.
  2. There’s an actual scandal here that’s worthy of better investigation than the House is likely to do.
  3. Nothing to see here, move along.
  4. What difference at this point does it make?

I think that #1 is unlikely but it seems to be the tack that partisan Republicans are taking. #2 is my position. #3 seems to be the tack that partisan Democrats are clinging to, a task that becomes more difficult with the passage of time. #4 could be attached to just about every story that comes out of Washington these days.

71 comments… add one
  • CStanley

    I’m wondering when we got to the point that house oversight hearings became completely partisan. There’s not even a pretense of separation of powers, as the party that doesn’t control the executive branch serves as the prosecution and the Congressional members who are of the President’s party act as the defense. It’s pretty obvious that an investigation can’t be run that way,

    The GOP who have made these things into circuses are accountable for that but the behavior of the Dems is just as bad. I watched a little last night and couldn’t believe how each and every Dem Congressperson who “questioned” the Commissioner did nothing except praise his patriotic service and apologize to him for having to be in the position of being questioned. It was disgraceful.

  • ...

    #2 is where we’re at, but the behavior of the Administration hints that #1 is at least a plausible destination. #3 is simply not credible, and anyone claiming such is either brain damaged or a scoundrel. #4 is a Hillary! for President trademark, and you may have to pay her to use that.

  • PD Shaw

    #1.5 A member of Congress is behind this, and either the institutional IRS or the political IRS had to bury the ties.

  • There’s actually a bit of evidence supporting that, PD.

  • jan

    There have been various links to democratic congressmen, such as Carl Levin and Chuck Schumer, who supposedly pressured the IRS to exert more scrutiny of the tax code as it applied to “social welfare” groups. Ironically, those groups happened to be conservative in nature. And, this focus only begin in 2010, at the height of the tea party organizing itself into an oppositional big government movement.

    I personally don’t think any of these hearings, though, are attempting to push the president out of office. I do believe, like in the days of Nixon, they are trying to stem an abuse of power being exerted, with political bias attached, by a department that is supposed to act in a neutral and apolitical manner. So, IMO #2 is more in line with what is going on in these IRS hearings.

  • Modulo Myself

    There’s been no evidence, nothing at all, that points to anything having happened that was political. It’s been a year. Nothing.

    You have years of emails, and what’s come out except that someone’s computer crashed? Didn’t the IG report basically conclude that the IRS improperly screened out groups with ‘Tea Party’ in their names? This is either persecution or logical corner-cutting. What if the scandal is that the IRS thought the Tea Party to be in it for the purpose of not electing Obama? All the scandal would be then is a really poor translation of common sense into bureaucracy.

    It’s interesting that people keep up bringing up Nixon, because there were government employees who were willing to speak to reporters. A year into Watergate and the path led directly to the Oval Office.

    There’s a million conservative outlets for news. Why aren’t they trying to figure out how this whole scandal occurred? Or what the intentions of those behind it were? To harass the Tea Party with questions every so often? And then to clear the groups? Instead, it’s just endless speculation, as if every day is day zero, and the plot is continuous in its thickening, and soon, if not sooner, only the most extreme partisans will be left in defense. It’s almost as if nobody wants to get to the bottom of this, because it’s easier to smear and cast suspicion than to admit you’re wrong and easily led.

  • ...

    Well, Modulo, it would be a lot easier to get to the bottom of things if the Administration wasn’t stonewalling and destroying evidence.

    It’s really hard to claim there’s nothing political going on when the government is admitting that groups were targeted improperly for obvious POLITICAL REASONS, and that one of the key players has already committed perjury and is admitting that she committed further crimes.

    And the destroyed hard drives story makes no sense whatsoever, unless the IRS IT systems were intentionally designed to destroy all records. And then it becomes awfully convenient that all the right hard drives were destroyed just after Congress started snooping around.

  • Modulo Myself

    So basically you don’t have any answers either. Stonewalling is hardly original. The IRS has 90,000 employees. In 2012, 100 gave to Obama, 25 to Romney. It sounds like a place in which neutrality at least is given lip-service to. The GOP also has years worth of emails. Surely if there was a plot there are people who will either cut a deal or explain what troubled them. This is not rocket science.

    Given the news about Scott Walker’s cavalier ideas regarding campaign finance laws, I have to wonder if somewhere there was a crossed-wire in the GOP media operation, and they intended A, but somehow they ended up with B, and so they’re stuck investigating the IRS while hoping that they don’t turn up emails or evidence explaining why the IRS might have been suspicious.

  • jan

    Modulo, can’t help but see you as being a dishonest partisan, in that if Nixon had been able to erase his tapes he probably would not have had to resign. As for the IRS, the “missing” emails are the ones going to the WH and the DOJ. All the rest were not touched. Is that a selective miracle or what!

    As noted in another post, even some of the liberal media is saying that if the same happened in a republican administration the zeal of the MSM would be a “national obsession.” The fact that it’s happening on the watch of a democrat, and the MSM is simply sitting back and saying so little is a dismal reaction in what should be a press pressing for the truth, no matter the party affiliation.

  • I can say that I was lucky to get into the personal computer phase way back in ’84. I had the beautiful 248,000 KB AT&T (in the Modern in NY) not long after. But basically people have been running these things since about 1995.

    It’s entirely possible that Lerner could be that far away from the technology. My father-in-law wouldn’t touch one, even if he would pop in two-three times a day for up-to-date information.

    But I don’t much care at this point. If the IRS and the administration are being snotwads, let ’em have it. My health demands that my patience runs out. I kinda miss it, patience, but time an’ all.

  • Off topic: Mr. Schuler, or any of your readers, can you remember the last time you heard or read the word “kapok?” I just read it in The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill. I was some staggered. It’s been decades for me.

  • It’s not used as much today as it once was because of its flammability and younger people might not have encountered it or known what it was if they had.

    To whatever extent its substitutes are derived from oil, I suspect we’ll see a return of kapok as the prices of its substitutes increase.

  • Modulo Myself

    Jan,
    If Nixon had not been forced to resign, there would still have been the fact that all of his closest aides as well as the Attorney General had resigned, due to their control over a million-dollar slush fund used for paying ex-CIA operatives to perform black ops on the opposition. So, yeah, it would have been Nixon and Al Haig, together in the Oval Office, living it up, believing that they were exonerated.

    Your comparison just highlights how so far there has been absolutely nothing discovered that is incriminating, or even interesting.

  • Zachriel

    The emails were lost two years before the scandal broke, and it appears that the fault is with the system they had in place, which should be upgraded. As for using keywords, that leads to apparent bias, so should be abandoned, but there’s no evidence at this point that there was a conscious effort at undermining the political opposition, or that such an effort was led by the White House.

    Dave Schuler: 2. There’s an actual scandal here that’s worthy of better investigation than the House is likely to do.

    There’s are problems that need to be addressed, but the oversight is overwrought based on what is known at this point.

    jan: if Nixon had been able to erase his tapes he probably would not have had to resign.

    You don’t know Dick.

  • Andy

    “can you remember the last time you heard or read the word “kapok?”

    I guess it’s been about 15 years. Personal life preservers are called “Kapoks” in the Navy, or at least they were 15 years ago.

  • Personal life preservers are called “Kapoks” in the Navy

    That’s because they used to be stuffed with kapok.

  • CStanley

    @zachriel: the computer crash occurred two years before the scandal became known to the public. It occurred ten days after the following letter was received by Lerner:

    http://waysandmeans.house.gov/uploadedfiles/non_6103_ltr_final.pdf

    Camp at that time didn’t know about the issue with the 501(c)4 approval process, but he was asking questions about related appearance of bias. And he was specifically requesting to see all emails, which would likely have included Lerner’s, from that time period when the problematic targeting was being discussed.

  • jan

    Another odd facet of this well-timed computer crash is that the IRS is required to immediately report any unauthorized losses of information to the US Archivist, as stated under the Federal Records Act. However, according to the US Archivist testimony, the other day, such a crash was not disclosed 2 years ago, but instead was not known about until last Monday!

    Couple this lack of disclosure with the sudden cancellation of a 6-year contract with Sonasoft, a Silicon Valley company doing the IRS’s automatic back-up, immediately following some preliminary Congressional investigations into targeting allegations against the IRS — it all seems too coincidental to not have the hand of a cover-up involved. Oh yes, did I mention that players in the Sonasoft Board of Directors also have direct links to democratic party politics.

    It’s such a cozy partisan set-up, along with the back drop of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents the IRS, giving 94 percent of its political donations during the 2012 election cycle to Democratic candidates — many of which were running against tea party candidates or ones supported by them.

    Do you see a story line developing here?

  • TastyBits

    @jan

    Sonasoft was not providing archival services for the legal department. They were providing an off-site backup. The purpose was for a server hardware failure.

    The place to begin would be the IRS document retention procedures and the actual practices. It is hard to believe that there were no procedures in place for long term (10+ years) document storage. If these practices were followed, there would be multiple copies. (Each full backup would contain the entire record.)

    There is no need to get caught in a lot of useless minutia. In less than two hours, we could know where the problem is.

  • jan

    Here’s the NY Post wryly positing about the possibility of an IRS cover-up.

    The thing about dogs eating homework is, it could actually happen. This can’t.

    This is “The dog ate my hard drive, broke into another building, ate the backup of the hard drive, then broke into six other top officials’ offices and ate their hard drives also.”

    Hmmmmm……

  • jan

    There is no need to get caught in a lot of useless minutia.

    But, isn’t that what big government is all about — “minutia?” There are so many trap doors, escape hatches, false panels all inherent in bureaucracies making it all but impossible to ferret out the truth, let alone fire anybody for malfeasance or incompetence. IOW, bad government can continue on forever by the very shields that are built around it — including the protection of powerful public sector unions.

  • ...

    What difference at this point does it make? I mean, last winter just keeps getting colder and colder, lol.

  • CStanley

    There are obviously unanswered questions about the record storage rules that were in place, and about what transpired after Lerner’s hard drive crash. This exchange was particularly absurd…they didn’t get at least the six month backup because the backup tape is very “complicated to extract from”, so it was “not the policy at the time” to restore lost emails from the backup that they were paying a contractor to make? What the hell was the backup supposed to be for?

    Chaffetz wanted to know, ‘Why didn’t they just go to that six-month tape?’
    Koskinen replied that it is ‘a disaster recovery tape that has all of the emails on it, and is a very complicated tape to actually extract emails [from], but I have not seen any emails to explain why they didn’t do it. So I – It would be difficult, but I don’t know why they didn’t do it.’
    ‘But you said that the IRS was going to extraordinary lengths to give it to the recovery team, correct?’ Chaffetz quizzed.
    ‘That’s correct,’ said Koskinen.
    ‘But it’s backed up – on tape?’
    ‘For six months, yes.’
    ‘So,’ Chaffetz asked, ‘why didn’t you get them off the backup?’
    ‘All I know about that is that the backup tapes are disaster recovery tapes that put everything in one lump,’ Koskinen replied, ‘and extracting individual emails out of that is very costly and difficult, and it was not the policy at the time.’
    ‘Did anybody try?’ Chaffetz asked the IRS commissioner.
    ‘I have no idea or indication that they did,’ came his answer.

  • Andy

    Dave,

    Yep, there are a whole ton of words like that in the Navy – one of the cool things about Navy traditions.

  • jan

    Here’s a little background on Koskinen.

  • ...

    Since the endof last winter, last winter got 2.8% colder. That’s a pretty neat trick.

  • TastyBits

    @jan

    Winning the battles over the minutia is where you will lose the war. Assail the logic whenever possible. If the logic is faulty, the argument will collapse.

    If there were procedures in place to archive emails, were these procedures being followed? If not, why? If so, where are the documents? If only these, wtf?

    No Fox News, No Tea Party, No Republican witch hunt. Just the facts, ma’am.

    If it is as bad as it seems, each thread will generate two more threads. “You can’t fool all the people all the time.” Tick-tock. Tick-tick.

  • Zachriel

    CStanley: the computer crash occurred two years before the scandal became known to the public. It occurred ten days after the following letter was received by Lerner

    Sure, and for over a year, Congress had been demanding reining in abuses while cutting the IRS budget.

    jan: the IRS is required to immediately report any unauthorized losses of information to the US Archivist, as stated under the Federal Records Act.

    Day-to-day correspondence may not be considered a record by the Federal Records Act.

    TastyBits: There is no need to get caught in a lot of useless minutia. In less than two hours, we could know where the problem is.

    Sure. They didn’t keep emails after six months, and the tape backup was too difficult to access.

    They should just give Lerner immunity to find out what happened, assuming it’s that important.

  • steve

    We should go back to first principles. The Tea Party was in full rage. They were forming political groups to influence elections left and right. There were a flood of applications coming in. No one with half a brain believes that these were social welfare groups. They should have been giving these groups extra scrutiny.

    All that said, in our system it is illegal to do that. It seems most likely that they committed a bureaucratic Kinsey gaffe. It would not be surprising if Lerner actually thought she was doing her job, and later realized what she did was wrong and tried to cover it up. Grant her immunity and find out. Wont happen of course as this is really about having a campaign issue and Dave should make it #5 or 2b.

    Steve

  • ...

    So, the first principles here are to assume that Lois Lerner not only had no idea how to do her job, but was too careless, lazy or stupid to look up the relevant statutes. And that once she was in the wrong she decided to shift blame, perjure herself, and destroy evidence. That last of which would have required the help of other people, as at least seven magic hard drives all crashed at the the same time. And that the new IRS Commissioner that came onto the scene several years later decided to just obfuscate and stonewall just because.

    Yeah, no problems here at all.

    Got it.

    Also got the implication that you believe the President SHOULD, in fact, use the IRS to go after his political enemies. After all, any President in power is likely to have new groups spring up in opposition.

    Very nice.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel(s)

    Sure. They didn’t keep emails after six months, and the tape backup was too difficult to access.

    I am just going to cut through the usual nonsense. I realize that you are young, but are you that fucking stupid?

    You restore the backup set to a test server. As to the IRS record retention policy, parroting some crap from another idiot ain’t gonna cut it either.

  • ...

    Excuse me, I wasn’t thinking.

    First principles would require that Lois Lerner had no idea how to do her job, but was too careless, lazy or stupid to look up the relevant statutes – AND that none of her subordinates knew either, and were also all of them too careless, lazy or stupid to look up the relevant statutes.

    From today’s revelations that Lerner tried to audit a sitting GOP Senator after ‘mistakenly’ having received an invitation meant for the Senator (??) we get this from a statement by the IRS:

    “As a general matter, the IRS has checks and balances in place to ensure the fairness and integrity of the audit process,” the IRS statement said. “Audits cannot be initiated solely by personal requests or suggestions by any one individual inside the IRS.”

    So, this and the exchange between Lerner and another member of the IRS shows that she couldn’t have just done this on her own – there HAD to be others involved. The idea that none of them knew the relevant statutes is AND didn’t bother to look them up? Any EA that did something that incompetent would be facing fines and a revocation of license. And if they destroyed evidence along the way they’d be facing jail time. (As well they should.)

    By the way, that’s brass balls by this woman, trying to go after HER enemies after she already knows she’s being investigated for wrongdoings, in which she knows she has likely committed crimes.

    Where was the fucking supervision?

  • Zachriel

    jan: So, the first principles here are to assume that Lois Lerner not only had no idea how to do her job, but was too careless, lazy or stupid to look up the relevant statutes.

    As we said, day-to-day correspondence may not be considered a ‘record’ by the Federal Records Act.

    jan: Also got the implication that you believe the President SHOULD, in fact, use the IRS to go after his political enemies. After all, any President in power is likely to have new groups spring up in opposition.

    No. Everyone should be treated equally before the law, and the IRS has already admitted that using keywords was an inappropriate shortcut, even though it’s pretty obvious the purpose of groups with Tea Party in the name were probably political.

    TastyBits: You restore the backup set to a test server.

    Sure you can, but it may not be worth it for day-to-day correspondence. Permanent tax records were printed and put in the individual files.

    TastyBits: As to the IRS record retention policy, parroting some crap from another idiot ain’t gonna cut it either.

    Do you have evidence that they didn’t recycle backup tapes, or are you just parroting some crap from another idiot?

    In any case, if it is a matter of national importance, then she should be compelled to testify under immunity.

  • TastyBits

    @Icepick

    If things are as rotten as they seem, it is going to begin unraveling at some point, but what will be questioned is the system.

    These large institutions were supposed to be above reproach. They were supposed to work towards the common good. The IRS, the VA, the Stock Market, the Fed, etc. are all internally rotten. The mindset that the little guy needs to rely on these institutions for salvation is cracking.

    This is why the left must defend Lerner at all costs. The system they worship is being threatened, and they can feel it.

  • ...

    First off, those quotes weren’t from jan.

    Secondly, steve implied that he believes that those organizations should have been scrutinized. (“They should have been giving these groups extra scrutiny.”)

    Third, can I tell the IRS if I get audited that I deleted all the pertinent records? The US Archivest (whatever his title is) has already stated that the IRS was not following the law in how they handled preserving electronic documentation. So, at best they were systematically violating the law concerning documentation while systematically violating the law while going after the President’s enemies, and since then they’ve lied about it and stonewalled Congress. This is totally SO not a scandal….

  • ...

    In any case, if it is a matter of national importance, then she should be compelled to testify under immunity.

    The lesson to be learned in that case is take the Fifth until Congress grants you blanket immunity, and in the meantime destroy all evidence of crimes.

    Yeah, there couldn’t possibly be any negative consequences to that, especially since the official in question is being asked to testify about her day to day job as a federal government employee.

    Burn the tapes! Fry the harddrive!

  • ...

    I’ll note that if the IRS followed the law in terms of how to preserve electronic communications, AND if they simply complied with the requests/subpoenas from Congress, Lerner’s testimony would most likely be irrelevant. The fact that they’re working this hard to hide evidence indicates that something more was at work than Lerner going rouge.

    What was that phrase that kept coming up earlier in the week? I swear I kept hearing “foliation of evidence” but surely they meant “spoilation of evidence”. Anyway, seems relevant.

  • ...

    TB, you keep assuming that things will turn around. There may be a small positive swing at some point, I would expect that, but the long term trends all seem negative. Demographics, culture in all its many aspects, finances, the economy all look negative in the long term. Once the Western Roman Empire fell, that was it. We look to be stuck in the times of Commodus.

  • Zachriel

    : steve implied that he believes that those organizations should have been scrutinized. (“They should have been giving these groups extra scrutiny.”)

    A Tea Party group claiming that it’s primary purpose is non-political. Hmm.

    : can I tell the IRS if I get audited that I deleted all the pertinent records?

    Not pertinent records, but your day-to-day correspondence is probably not a pertinent record. If they are, you need to save them.

    : The US Archivest (whatever his title is) has already stated that the IRS was not following the law in how they handled preserving electronic documentation.

    He may or may not be right about that. Records are printed and kept with the individual files. Day-to-day correspondence may not have been considered a ‘record’ under the Act. That will probably be clarified in the future.

    : The lesson to be learned in that case is take the Fifth until Congress grants you blanket immunity, and in the meantime destroy all evidence of crimes.

    That’s fine. So if your only concern is Lerner, then prosecute her. If your concern is a conspiracy at a higher level, then giving immunity makes more sense.

    : The fact that they’re working this hard to hide evidence indicates that something more was at work than Lerner going rouge.

    Perhaps they are, but this looks just like all the other so-called scandals promoted by the right.

    : Demographics, culture in all its many aspects, finances, the economy all look negative in the long term.

    Rust never sleeps.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel(s)

    Get an internship with an IT shop, and then give me a call. You do not know your ass from a hole in the ground.

    Then, get a job with the US government, and give me a call. Again, you do not know your ass from a hole in the ground.

    Anybody who has worked anywhere close to the government knows that there are procedures for procedures. You do not fart without the proper procedure. This is why it is a bureaucracy.

    As to compelling her to testify, you start with the little fish and work up. This is police work 101.

  • Guarneri

    C’mon, folks. #2 is the obvious answer. The reason it won’t fly is that it will be cast as #1, and therefore be deflated and supposedly rejected as such in the media, and #3 is the default position of media and the steve’s and Reynold’s of the world who can’t stand to see their guy as he is – because they just love him.

    How ’bout that GDP number? Eh??

  • ...

    How ’bout that GDP number? Eh??

    Last winter keeps getting colder, which is a pretty neat trick.

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: Get an internship with an IT shop, and then give me a call… Then, get a job with the US government, and give me a call.

    Sorry, not even the beginnings of an argument.

    Half of everything in a large bureaucracy is wasted—if it is well-run.

    TastyBits: As to compelling her to testify, you start with the little fish and work up. This is police work 101.

    Thought the White House was where the big fish were swimming. If Lerner is the head of the conspiracy, she’s already been pushed out, and new procedures put in place. Doesn’t seem like an issue of national importance. If the conspiracy runs higher, then immunity makes sense. Of course, that assumes you want to find out what happened.

  • ...

    A Tea Party group claiming that it’s primary purpose is non-political. Hmm.

    So, then, you are contradicting yourself and you DO believe that the law should be enforced unequally. Anyone that has a name that you disagree with should be subjected to scrutiny.

    I’m Emmanuel Goldstein!

  • TastyBits

    @Icepick

    Before the Roman Empire could fall, there was a Roman Republic. I would suggest we not get ahead of ourselves. Where do the white hispanics fall in the demographics?

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel(s)

    You need to understand the subject matter before you attempt to school me.

    Lois Lerner is meaningless to me, and President Obama is a sideshow. He is doing more damage to progressivism than anybody on the right. The right is doing more damage to conservatism than anybody on the left.

  • PD Shaw

    “Day-to-day correspondence may not be considered a record by the Federal Records Act.”

    Is this position being taken officially, or being urged by someone citing to the law? Because it sounds ludicrous on its face. If true, Illinois has better procedural safeguards against corruption than the feds, which is really never the case.

  • CStanley

    Icepick: that term was spoliation, the willful destruction of evidence.

    I’m not sure if this is correct or not:
    http://online.wsj.com/articles/irs-lost-email-jeopardy-1403653430

    But if so, it’s not important to know what records the IRS was required to keep under ordinary circumstances. They would have been compelled to preserve all of this evidence because of an ongoing legal challenge about viewpoint discrimination.

  • CStanley

    “procedural safeguards against corruption”

    Regarding this point- how stupid would we have to be to believe that a policy of allowing each employee to decide which documents to preserve and which to destroy, would be acceptable practice?

  • jan

    Why can’t people just drop the party affiliation and simply assess all these controversies in an honest, non-partisan manner. For instance, the IRS demands from citizens that it keep accurate records — any and all correspondence, checks, receipts relating to deductions taken etc. Now, why is it that the IRS is somehow exempt from it’s own demands from others? I remember that they couldn’t even produce the proper receipts as evidence of some of their own out-of-this-world expenditures. In my own case, however, we had to go back years to dig out some charitable donations before they let us off their “you owe us money” hook! This was a few years before they didn’t apply the most recent over-payment credit they tried to forget about.

    Furthermore, these lost emails are a crock! The stonewalling that various agencies and bureaucracies have done, over the years, are insulting. The incompetent and expensive roll-out of the PPACA is mind-boggling, especially when the WH then whines about wasting taxpayer money on needless independent investigations of government wrongdoing. What do you think the WH has done with the tons of taxpayer money that has slipped through their fingers though their incompetent administration of other people’s money, as the economy continues to stagnate!

    As for looking at the ever-increasing stock market, it’s only because the Fed keeps it afloat by printing more money and keeping interest rates so low. We are basically living in a prefabricated world, constructed by an administration that wants to keep people fooled as to how dire circumstances really are. I really can’t see how so many people continue to keep this president propped up by stupid excuses!

  • steve

    …- Please try to say with a straight face that you believe those were social welfare groups and not political ones. Also, try reading. I said what she did was not legal. There should be an investigation. Then a really harsh punishment fitting the crime if she is guilty. Maybe 90 days of community service.

    Steve

  • CStanley

    @steve-
    Personally I don’t think it’s credible that any of these groups, right or left, are social welfare groups. But it’s up to the legislative branch to fix that by reforming the tax code. It’s inconceivable to me that anyone is arguing that the bureaucrats in the executive branch were right to have sprung into action just because the president’s opponents were finding an advantage in the existing tax structure.

  • Based on the discussion above, it appears to me that many of the objections are about the law which I won’t disagree with. However, given the law the IRS had moral and legal obligations to apply the law in an even-handed and content-neutral way which it has already been determined was not the case.

    The remaining questions are whether there was intent or a conspiracy not whether the IRS acted wrongly. That intent can be inferred from a pattern of action is a conventional prinicple of law.

  • Zachriel

    : So, then, you are contradicting yourself and you DO believe that the law should be enforced unequally.

    No. The law should be applied equally. That means you apply the law to those who cross the line. They need to use neutral criteria, however.

    By the way, do you think that the primary purpose of the flood of money into Tea Party groups was non-political?

    TastyBits: You need to understand the subject matter before you attempt to school me.

    You still can’t seem to form a coherent argument. Is it a secret? Should we ask your neighbors?

    PD Shaw: Is this position being taken officially, or being urged by someone citing to the law? Because it sounds ludicrous on its face.

    IRS records are required to be printed and filed. As no one printed every email (who left the month-old lasagna in the fidge?), that suggests they didn’t consider them records for the purposes of the Act. This should be changed, of course.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/06/25/daily-show-goes-long-on-irs-incompetence/

    CStanley: how stupid would we have to be to believe that a policy of allowing each employee to decide which documents to preserve and which to destroy, would be acceptable practice?

    Right up there!

    jan: Why can’t people just drop the party affiliation and simply assess all these controversies in an honest, non-partisan manner.

    That would be a good idea.

    jan: Now, why is it that the IRS is somehow exempt from it’s own demands from others?

    They shouldn’t be.

    jan: What do you think the WH has done with the tons of taxpayer money that has slipped through their fingers though their incompetent administration of other people’s money, as the economy continues to stagnate!

    Heh. You just called for a non-partisan manner, then jumped to a completely different topic because it fit your partisan narrative.

  • Zachriel

    : So, then, you are contradicting yourself and you DO believe that the law should be enforced unequally.

    Not at all. Everyone deserves equal protection under the law, and neutral criteria should be used.

    By the way, do you think the surge of money into Tea Party groups was primarily for non-political purposes?

  • Zachriel

    TastyBits: You need to understand the subject matter before you attempt to school me.

    Still not a coherent argument.

  • Zachriel

    PD Shaw: Is this position being taken officially, or being urged by someone citing to the law? Because it sounds ludicrous on its face.

    The IRS policy was to print any official records. As most emails were never printed (Who put the month-old lasagna in the fridge?), it implies they weren’t considered records under the Act. This policy should be changed, of course.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/06/25/daily-show-goes-long-on-irs-incompetence/

  • Zachriel

    CStanley: how stupid would we have to be to believe that a policy of allowing each employee to decide which documents to preserve and which to destroy, would be acceptable practice?

    Very.

  • Zachriel

    jan: Why can’t people just drop the party affiliation and simply assess all these controversies in an honest, non-partisan manner.

    That would be a good idea.

    jan: Now, why is it that the IRS is somehow exempt from it’s own demands from others?

    They shouldn’t be.

    jan: What do you think the WH has done with the tons of taxpayer money that has slipped through their fingers though their incompetent administration of other people’s money, as the economy continues to stagnate!

    Said just after calling for a “non-partisan manner”.

  • Zachriel

    Oops. The previous post didn’t show for some reason, then it did. Sorry for the duplication.

  • Modulo Myself

    Based on the discussion above, it appears to me that many of the objections are about the law which I won’t disagree with. However, given the law the IRS had moral and legal obligations to apply the law in an even-handed and content-neutral way which it has already been determined was not the case.

    The remaining questions are whether there was intent or a conspiracy not whether the IRS acted wrongly. That intent can be inferred from a pattern of action is a conventional prinicple of law.

    I think we all agree that the IRS acted wrongly. A group with a name like Wichita Tea Party for the Destruction of the Tyrant Obama should have been treated exactly like Americans for Environmental Progress. They were not–the IRS screened the names. But there’s no evidence that they treated the Wichita Tea Party for the Destruction of the Tyrant Obama differently than they would have had they examined the group fully before dropping them into the pending or hold category.

    And then what happened? The groups were asked questions by the IRS. They were allowed to raise money and act pending the end of the review. And then they were cleared.

    So the pattern is that of an aged bureaucracy, hit with something new and an onslaught of applications for this new category, reacting in an unsurprising way and doing very little, in the end, to inhibit these groups.

    It’s important to note that what brought this whole scandal was the Tea Party didn’t like being asked questions by the IRS. These groups applied for 501(c)(4), operating apparently under the assumption that they did not have to show they were acting for social welfare. People in the Tea Party were honestly angry that someone in the IRS believed it possible they were forming to get rid of Obama. They were terribly unsophisticated people who somehow ended up trying to get a legal classification built by Washington lobbyists.

  • I agree with practically all of that comment, Module Myself, except for this:

    And then what happened? The groups were asked questions by the IRS. They were allowed to raise money and act pending the end of the review. And then they were cleared.

    That may have happened in some cases. In others it was more like The Trial. The groups were asked for more and more information, some of which the IRS was not empowered to demand. In some cases approval was delayed for, quite literally, years. Some were still pending years later.

    To the best of my knowledge although some notionally left-leaning groups were subjected to additional scrutiny not one was subject to that level of scrutiny. If you can identify one and document its case history, that would be handy.

  • PD Shaw

    @steve, I believe these were social welfare organizations involved in public advocacy.

    @Zachriel, thanks for the response. I guess I wouldn’t accept the idea that a statute would be interpreted by a practice of violating it. But I think your point is rather that it was a general practice not special to Lerner’s e-mails.

  • PD Shaw

    MM: The treatment was inconsistent between grass-roots and sophisticated groups like Karl Rove’s. Most 501(c)(4)s are grass-roots organizations, set up by non-lawyer members using forms they’ve downloaded. The sophisticated groups sail through, and the grass-roots get clobbered with interrogatories, which either scare the hell out of them or send them to a lawyer, whose never seen anything like it before. I think your assumption that it was no big deal, breaks down between how sophisticates and virgins would react.

    Small point: These groups were allowed to raise money without filing or seeking a 501(c)(4).

  • Modulo Myself

    To the best of my knowledge although some notionally left-leaning groups were subjected to additional scrutiny not one was subject to that level of scrutiny. If you can identify one and document its case history, that would be handy.

    Well, the Tea Party people did not just wake up and find themselves having to argue their case. They applied for a tax category created for nebulous purposes, and then, honestly, seemed to lack the sophistication and competence to perform their role properly, or even to grasp that they were acting in a role. There was a NYT’s article about a group that had paid for radio advertising for a candidate but not television or print and somehow thought this was okay.

    Joseph K. was doomed, no matter he did, but he did not really get his role as the accused. I always feel that Kafka is not Orwell, so he does not expect you to be totally sympathetic with the plight of his heroes. He makes you feel embarrassed for their stupidity, even as they blunder in full innocence.

    Similarly, I would suggest that the IRS did not get their role. They screwed up by not grasping that outside of Washington and the nice progressives who have experience and some sort of awareness, a huge section of this country lives in a state of passive-aggressive fury that would not be wished upon anyone. It’s like dealing with insane relatives, basically. Should there be separate laws and procedures? Perhaps that should be looked into, just so people like TastyBits and Jan can feel they get their money’s worth in America.

  • Zachriel

    PD Shaw: I guess I wouldn’t accept the idea that a statute would be interpreted by a practice of violating it.

    IRS Commissioner John Koskinen: “In discussing document retention at the IRS, it is important to point out that our email system is not being used as an electronic record keeping system. Furthermore, it should be remembered that not all emails on IRS servers or backup tapes qualify as an “official record,” which is defined (in 44 U.S.C. 3301) as any documentary material made or received by an agency under federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and appropriate for preservation. Accordingly, our agency’s email system is not designed to preserve email. Rather, email that qualifies as “records” are printed and retained in compliance with relevant records control schedules. Individual employees are responsible for ensuring that any email in their possession that qualifies as a “record” is retained in accordance with the requirements in the Internal Revenue Manual and Document 12990 (Record Control Schedules).”

    However, as you point out, this policy is probably not an accurate interpretation of the law, and should be changed.

    44 U.S. Code § 3301 – Definition of records: “s used in this chapter, “records” includes all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government or because of the informational value of data in them. Library and museum material made or acquired and preserved solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference, and stocks of publications and of processed documents are not included.”

  • Modulo Myself

    The sophisticated groups sail through, and the grass-roots get clobbered with interrogatories, which either scare the hell out of them or send them to a lawyer, whose never seen anything like it before.

    But it’s not like setting up a corporation or filing income tax. It’s no big deal in that none of this was necessary. The reward for sailing through was that you could operate as a partisan group while being on paper something else. It was all farce. Yes, the IRS should have had better procedures in place. Maybe they should have grasped that it was a farce, and let these groups through, because we live in a democracy, and the little fish are entitled to the same as the big fish. I don’t know. Try telling your accountant this, and see what he or she says. My experience is that accountants are amongst the least likely to have professional irony.

  • PD Shaw

    @Zachriel, again thank you. That’s probably more than I have time to chew on, but there appear to be three concepts being discussed: what records are required to be kept; what archiving/backup system is used; and what are the technical limitations of the technology being employed.

    I should add that my expectations aren’t based upon a policy of preventing agency members from destroying evidence of corruption, but agencies generally prefer outside communications to go through approved channels.

  • TastyBits

    @Zachriel(s)

    If you are arguing that your lack of knowledge of backup systems is no impediment to your commenting upon the complexity of restoring a backup image, then you are trifling and stupid.

    Lacking knowledge of the subject, you attempt to change the subject. Typical.

  • Cstanley

    One of the most disturbing trends that I see exposed as this scandal unfolds is a kind of corruption creep.

    Some liberals have compared the loss of IRS emails to more or less similar instances that occurred with White House emails under the Bush administration. For the purpose of this discussion, assume that is a valid comparison. So, when it became apparent that new rules might be needed to secure “paper trails” in government of the digital age, Democrats and Republicans sprung into action to explore the problem and craft solutions, right?

    Wait, what’s that you say? Nothing was done, and no one even raised the issue again until now when the previous example is used only to deflect from the current problem? Why, you’d almost think that the politicians of both parties wanted it that way. That couldn’t be, though…look how outraged everyone is!

  • steve

    Cstanley- Could be, but I think it more likely that government email systems, govt IT in general, sucks.

    PD- Wanna buy a bridge?

    Steve

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