The Next Shoe Drops on the IRS Scandal

The next shoe has dropped on the unfolding IRS scandal. Much of the attention has been directed at the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s recommendation that former Director of the IRS Exempt Organizations division Lois Lerner be held in contempt of Congress. The more significant news is that the House Ways and Means Committee has requested Attorney General Eric Holder to consider criminal charges against her:

After a two-hour meeting behind closed doors, the House Ways and Means Committee voted along partisan lines on Wednesday to officially urge Attorney General Eric Holder to consider criminal charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner.

The vote was based on evidence the committee uncovered while investigating the undue scrutiny that the IRS placed on conservative and liberal groups that filed for tax-exempt status during the 2012 elections. After the scandal broke last year, multiple congressional committees opened investigations into the matter and held several hearings to get to the bottom of it. Unlike other House committees, the Ways and Means committee had access to confidential taxpayer information that shed more light on the issue.

In the criminal referral letter it will send to Holder, the committee lays out three specific ways Lerner may have violated the law. Based on Lerner’s communications and actions, the committee charges that Lerner improperly used her position to influence action against conservative groups like Crossroads GPS while showing leniency toward similar liberal groups like Priorities USA.

The committee also charges that, according to her communications, Lerner knowingly gave misleading statements to the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the internal IRS watchdog, when TIGTA was investigating the controversy. Lastly, the committee says in its letter to Holder that Lerner used her personal email address to conduct official business, putting at risk confidential taxpayer information.

See also Kimberley Strassel’s outline of the scandal at the Wall Street Journal.

I think the Oversight and Reform Committee has erred in its recommendation that Ms. Lerner be held in contempt. It draws too much attention to the Committee’s disregard for Ms. Lerner’s right not to incriminate herself and away from the scandal itself.

There is a legitimate scandal here. The evidence that Ways and Means has submitted to Atty. Gen. Holder is substantial and appears damning. Even worse, violations of the Hatch Act appear to be endemic in the IRS. Caesar’s wife must be above reproach.

As I have maintained from the first public revelations of the scandal, despite the fond hopes, apparently, of Oversight and Reform, it does not reach directly to the White House. Democratic committee member Elijah Cummings may become collateral damage if the allegations of his collusion with the IRS have any legs but that, too, is a sideshow.

The real scandal revolves around whether government agencies should be, as one writer put it “politicized and weaponized” and IMO Ways and Means was quite correct in taking its next step.

The ball will then be in Atty. Gen. Holder’s court. If he refuses to investigate or is dilatory or superficial in his investigation, I suspect his impeachment is all but certain. Doing otherwise would foment a constitutional crisis.

“What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment?”, Atty. Gen. Holder recently whinged. If recollection serves, most of them. Which, sadly, is as it should be. That more attorneys general have not been impeached is a scandal and an outrage. The post has become a sort of bagman for the presidents the attorney general serves.

When we were a tiny country with a small, relatively powerless federal government, and before the rise of political parties, that may have been excusable but conditions have changed and they changed long ago. The country’s chief prosecutor needs to be that.

21 comments… add one

  • Modulo Myself

    This isn’t the next shoe. This is the first shoe, being picked up and dropped over and over again.

    The primary scandal seems to be the question of how much deference Lerner treated the idea that Rove’s group’s purpose was social welfare rather than political action. There’s really nothing else there.

  • I think a call for an investigation on criminal charges is a new development. Did you check out the link to the letter? There’s quite a bit of evidence.

  • Modulo Myself

    I did and there’s nothing there. They aren’t saying she violated the law, btw–they’re saying she might have violated the law. Seriously? This is what they’ve come up with after a year? The big reveal being an email from Lerner to Appeals, which is supposedly how she tried to influence the Appeals process. Why? She offered ‘unsolicited advice.’

    The investigation found no smoking guns. What’s wanted is an endless succession of reports explaining that liberal Propublica articles were being read at the IRS and Fox News was being laughed at and someone in a conference room made a hand-job motion when they mentioned the Tea Party. Put it together and you have nothing more than the money side of the bureaucracy colliding with the regulatory side. That’s it.

  • michael reynolds

    I agree with Modulo. I’m surprised to find you paying attention to this like it’s something. I don’t see a there, there.

  • I think there’s some confusion about roles and responsibilities. In this context Ways and Means’s role can be compared with that of a grand jury. The grand jury’s job isn’t to establish guilt or innocence—that’s a job for the court. It also isn’t to establish a prima facie case or, more difficult, a winnable case. That’s a job for the states attorney.

    Its job is to determine whether there’s any reason to believe that a crime has been committed. It certainly appears that in this case multiple crimes have been committed and in passing the case along to the attorney general the committee is just doing its job.

    The way I interpret Modulo’s complaint is that he (or she) doesn’t think that Ways and Means has established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Quite right. That isn’t its job.

    That’s different from the Oversight and Reform Committee which, in urging the Ms. Lerner be charged with contempt of Congress, is overreaching.

    Now I also think that Ways and Means should have taken this step eight months ago but that’s a different subject.

  • Let’s rephrase your comment, Michael. What you’re saying is that you don’t think there’s any reason at all to believe that Lois Lerner has committed a crime because that’s all that Ways and Means is saying. I, on the other hand, think there’s already a prima facie case for perjury and may also be one for multiple violations of the Hatch Act. The next step in the process would be for Justice to investigate and determine whether they can make a case. If the published reports are to be believed Justice hasn’t conducted a bona fide investigation yet.

  • ...

    What Reynold’s is saying is that the Obama Administration can do anything at all and he will claim that what it did was the best thing ever. Obama supporters are like Stalin supporters: Nothing is too much if the Dear Leader wants it.

  • michael reynolds

    I have not paid a lot of attention to this story, but from what I have seen it seems the IRS is required by law to determine the validity of a claim of tax-free status. Initially there were claims that the IRS broadly singled out right-wing groups. I have not seen evidence that right-wing groups were thus generally singled out, in fact various oxen were gored, left and right. Rather it seems various groups (more right wing because there was a proliferation of new groups after the emergence of the Tea Party) were trying to game the system and didn’t like it much when they were questioned.

    Ms. Lerner’s office may have singled out right wing groups. I don’t know, and the article at WSJ is just a list of rhetorical questions and innuendo, so they don’t know, either. If the committee really wants to find out, they can immunize Lerner. But they don’t want to do that because it’s better for them politically if they can imply a cover-up. Lerner’s not the scalp they want.

    So now, Issa having failed to find anything beyond one 5th Amendment-taking functionary, wants to find a way to keep the story alive through the mid-terms. Thus the calls for impeaching the AG and calls for special prosecutors. On November 5th, 2014, Issa will stop caring. He’ll move on to trying to prove Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster with a candlestick in the library.

    Did Lerner violate the Hatch Act? Damned if I know. But Issa has had subpoena power and free rein for quite a long while now and thus far has zip. As far as I’ve seen, no one has rolled over on Ms. Lerner. So an AG investigation would go over the same ground and likely come right back to Ms. Lerner demanding immunity. In the absence of other witnesses, if we want an answer someone needs to immunize Ms. Lerner. That may suck, but it’s the way our system works, whether you’re a drug dealer or an IRS employee.

  • michael reynolds

    Yes, Lois Lerner is Stalin. That much is clear.

  • Michael, you’re complaining about the actions of the House Oversight and Reform Committee (I’m more or less in agreement with you about that) and I’m talking about Ways and Means. Two different committees. Two different investigations.

    Ways and Means is doing its job. Oversight and Reform appears to be conducting an auto da fe.

  • ...

    Reynolds, you have not only not criticized Obama, you have praised everything he has done. You have even praised the roll-out of the PPACAA as a success, not because it was a success but because it allegedly established a right for all Americans to healthcare. Which is completely irrelevant to whether or not the roll out of the exchanges was done successfully. But you will not address that.

    You complained about Bush for violating international norms in the handling of prisoners. You have praised Obama for pretty much doing the same thing, plus assassinating American citizens. You are okay with that.

    You still whine about Bush’s deficits. Obama’s are much worse, and not a peep about it. Just shy of five years into the “recovery” we have 3,872,000 fewer full-time jobs than we did in November of 2007. (Those numbers as of March 2014.)

    Again, you call that a B+ job.

    You complained that Bush had a foreign policy of reckless disregard for international norms. Obama is overthrowing governments left and right, and you deem this a good thing. Even when he is supporting al Qaeda in Syria and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, you were claiming it was nothing but unbridled success. When Obama changed his mind and allowed the generals to throw the Muslim Brotherhood out of power, you were fine with that, too. So are you in favor of terrorists and democracy in Egypt, or are you in favor of authoritarian rule by the military? You’ve been on both sides of that issue.

    Seriously, has Obama done anything that you think was perhaps, just maybe, merely a C level job? Because you have favored everything he has done domestically and internationally, and proclaimed every single action a success. Hell, even Drew and jan can give a list of things that they think Bush screwed up, but I have yet to here you, or steve, or any other Obama supporter admit that your guy is anything other than wonderful in all things. I know born again Christians that aren’t as high on Jesus as you are on the smell of Obama’s farts.

  • Modulo Myself

    Dave,

    Lerner is in the criminal referral letter is talking about ‘damning allegations’ concerning Crossroads. Now it doesn’t make you suspicious that the entire case presented against her, in the letter, rests on her being partisan and yet the committee seemed to show no real interest in refuting the idea that there were damning allegations re: Crossroads? I mean, if they would have examined these allegations and concluded that they did not exist, or that Lerner was blowing them way out of proportion, then I would listen. But their position seems to be that proof of her partisanship is obvious because nobody would otherwise think Crossroads worth auditing.

  • That somehow renders Ms. Lerner’s actions more legal? Gives her a “Get Out of Jail Free” card?

    There’s a sort of modern day Donatism going around under which the only way criminal prosecutions for political crimes are legitimate is if the accusers are free from political motivations themselves. That’s just not the case. Violations of the law are violations of the law even if they’re to the political advantage of people you don’t like.

  • Modulo Myself

    Dave,
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Lerner’s actions are only illegal if she was trying to bend the outcome to a partisan determination. Right?

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but Lerner’s actions are only illegal if she was trying to bend the outcome to a partisan determination.

    Crossroads wasn’t the only organization in question. Are you suggesting that Ways and Means should first pursue the victims? If that’s a chore for anybody, it’s a chore for Justice.

  • Modulo Myself

    Seriously, reading the letter again reveals the empty heart of the whole matter. You have an accusation that Herr, a revenue agent, was directed to reach a particular result with Crossroads. But the evidence that he has a log entry that says he received guidance on how to best proceed with Crossroads. Was he pressured into going after them? Did he record the pressure in his log? Or was it actual guidance on how to proceed with Crossroads, because of its political nature, which would also make sense.

    Note also that there’s no reference to his testimony. According to Google, he was called to testify. You would think that there would be some sort of mention of this is in the letter, if it fit the GOP version of the events.

    It’s a grand jury trying to indict a ham sandwich.

  • Modulo Myself

    I’m saying there may not be any victims. The IRS is allowed to do what they did. How complicated is that?

  • michael reynolds

    Ice:

    Gosh, once again, wrong. I referred to the roll-out of O-Care in various ways, ranging from incompetent to disastrous to inexcusable. I said that because it was true. I recall engaging with Dave in an exchange in comments where he was actually suggesting I was being too harsh toward the tech end of things.

    What I have said is that obsessing over the policy details was missing the point that O-Care is more about the politics, that it would prove durable because of the underlying politics, which move health care into the federal in-box. Which, by the way, is what happened. Which is why the House GOP quietly amended the law to improve it. See? That’s the issue being federalized and (one hopes) improved over time. The predicted meltdown, death spiral, and so on, was all beside the point: whenthe GOP failed to come up with an alternative, Obama won.

    I almost never talk about deficits, unless someone else brings it up. It’s never been one of my issues. I enjoy pointing out people’s hypocrisy and inconsistency, but if you think I give two shits about the deficit, you’re wrong. I’m a social issues and defense guy, not a fiscal guy. Never have been. Too many numbers.

    I’ve never accused Bush of violating “international norms”, I tend to dismiss international law. I have condemned torture. To refresh your perhaps aging memory, I supported Gulf War 1 (strongly,) Gulf War 2 (not so strongly,) and Afghanistan very strongly. I shrugged at Libya, because I think it’s worth a shrug. On Syria I was opposed to intervention from the start and said so, at length. I’m glad that we (may) salvage a reduction in chem weapons, because it’s good to have less nerve gas. As for Egypt, I’ve never had strong a position because there wasn’t a winning move that I could see.

    Yep, I think Obama is a B or B+. Which is what I’d also give to Bush pere. Not an A or A+, which is what your theoretical Christian would say about Jesus, right? I mean, they like Jesus, don’t they?

    So, let’s see, that’s you wrong as usual, making things up, as usual. You accused me of calling you a racist, I asked for proof, and of course nothing. Now more nothing.

    As for criticisms of Obama, I’ll repeat things I’ve said many times here and elsewhere. I think he’s disengaged, almost feckless, doesn’t know how to line up allies, does a lousy job of selling programs, took it way too easy on bankers (although I see some DoJ moves there lately). I think his conversion on gay marriage was pathetically transparent. I wish he had done more to open up torture data. I think the Afghan surge was a combination of politics and catering to the Pentagon, I don’t think he sincerely believed it would work.

    If there’s a core criticism I have it’s mostly about character. He is a chilly intellectual who barely hides his condescension for others in politics, which is why he has no real political friends and has no one other than cabinet officers to go out and defend his policies. The endless GOP whine about him being a “community organizer” was always off-base: he’s a professor who thinks a winning rhetorical point is as good as a fist to the gut. It’s not. He could use more Bill Clinton in his make-up. And a little Nixon, too.

  • What makes you think President Obama is an intellectual, Michael?

  • TastyBits

    @michael reynolds

    … almost feckless, doesn’t know how to line up allies …

    I am not greatly impressed with President Obama, but he probably cannot figure out which of their sorry asses to line up. They are all a bunch of worthless sacks of shit.

  • michael reynolds

    Dave:

    I mean more in character terms. In other words, if I were writing him as a character. He’s a guy who thinks about and cares about words, abstract ideas, ideals, concepts, as opposed to Bill Clinton was a wonk (and smarter than Obama, I’d guess) but honed in on emotion as the key defining thing. Or George W. Bush who was all instinct. (Not great instinct.)

    Intellectual used to mean anyone who made their living off thinking and expressing ideas but I suppose that’s a dated view given that so many people now would fit that definition.

    Ever notice how Obama has no one to represent him except Biden and various cabinet folk? Clinton had people who would go to the wall for him. You have to give the love to get the love, and Obama’s too cold for that.

    I think the circle of people Barack Obama cares deeply about doesn’t extend beyond his family. Everything else presents to him as an abstraction. Not an emotional guy. Not an instinctive guy. Not really a natural politician, though he learned some moves during his first run. He thinks he’s right, he figures if he just keeps doing whatever he’s doing all the slower folks will catch up, which is not a politician.

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