The Political Theater of the IRS Scandal

I have a question about the politics of the ongoing, interminable unfolding of the IRS scandal, based upon comments in this post. I think it’s obvious why the House Republicans aren’t giving Lois Lerner immunity in exchange for her testimony. It keeps the ball up in the air, she remains prosecutable for any crimes she may have committed, and they can always give her immunity later if it’s useful.

What’s not so clear to me is why the Senate Democrats aren’t eager to grant her immunity in exchange for her complete testimony. If there’s nothing there, wouldn’t think they would?

12 comments… add one
  • ...

    If there’s nothing there, wouldn’t think they would?

    Harry Reid is to busy explaining that all complaints about ObamaCare come from the Koch brothers.

  • jan

    Harry Reid is the Grand Marshall of the “Corrupt Politician’s Parade.”

  • PD Shaw

    It keeps the issue open, but it also discredits the IRS at a time when Democrats want the IRS to have more power.

  • Cstanley

    Perhaps they don’t know whether or not anything is under that rock, and don’t want to risk finding out.

  • ...

    PD, I have a question for you. If someone takes the Fifth, is then granted immunity, and then under testimony reveals that – nothing illegal happened – , could they then face some sort of penalty? I can’t imagine that they would, but it does seem that taking the Fifth at least implies that some sort of legal infraction exists. Therefore taking the Fifth when nothing is wrong could be construed as a form of perjury (assuming the person knew nothing was wrong in the first place.)

  • Modulo Myself

    Why would the Democrats give her immunity? The scandal has gone nowhere. It’s dead. There’s no theater involved, because no one is watching. Giving Lerner immunity would just give the thing a little boost of energy.

  • PD Shaw


    I think its understood that someone takes the Fifth not solely because they committed a crime, but they are at risk of criminal prosecution in a situation where the facts are contested or the law is unclear. Doug @ OTB quoted a case or two about how the Fifth isn’t just for criminals, but those at risk of being accused of crimes, who may ultimately be exonerated. Where I think I disagree with Doug is that the fact of taking the Fifth in many jurisdictions is evidence that can be used in civil lawsuits, professional reprimands, license revocations, and the court of public opinion. I doubt it would ever be taken lightly.

  • ...

    Thanks, PD.

  • steve

    I think this is a fair question. It could certainly be seen as letting someone off the hook who was prejudiced against conservatives. If it turned out she was the main actor in the scandal, Democrats would have just made her immune to prosecution.

    This seems a bit risky for Democrats, but I would like to see them take that risk, so would support this. That still doesn’t obviate the fact that the ones who should be willing to give her immunity should be the GOP. They are the ones making claims about higher ups and should be willing to let her go for her part in order to go after those people. For goodness sake, dont these people watch Law And Order, CSI, NCIS, or even Perry Mason reruns. You always cut a deal with the low level criminals to go after the higher ups.


    (My wife, the cop show aficionado, points out this sometimes backfires. Sometimes they give immunity to the person who really did commit the most heinous crime. So, see paragraph number one.)

  • Andy

    I suppose it’s possible the Democrats are being strategic, similar to the way the President was with his birth certificate – give the GoP some rope and room to hyperventilate and then burst the bubble.

  • jan

    “You always cut a deal with the low level criminals to go after the higher ups.”

    I’ve heard people use that same logic, Steve. The difference is that they look at Lerner as a ‘higher up’ person, and seem to think someone below her would be the one in which to offer immunity.

    Also, there are republicans who believe Lerner’s long opening statement, before taking the Fifth, botched her Fifth Amendment rights creating a culpability for contempt charges to be issued should she still refuse to testify when called back to the Hill.

  • PD Shaw

    Reflecting on steve’s wife’s observation: In these sorts of institutional situations, its very often the middle management that criminal law targets. If the King yells that he wishes someone would rid him of this meddlesome priest, the King can always deny he meant it, but the man that bore the dagger down has no plausible deniability of what his action meant, and criminal law is unlikely to ever deny him primary responsibility for his deed.

    I’ve heard that the juries that are refusing to convict for banking fraud stemming from the financial crisis have told prosecutors two things in the post-trial interviews. One, they felt that laws were broken, but that the government was targeting middle-management employees, when the people above them should be responsible for the incentives they created. (But is creating bad incentives a crime?) Second, just about everybody, top-to-bottom was taking the Fifth, so it was hard to construct a clear storyline.

    If a crime was committed here, Lerner is the most likely criminal. Elected officials might have encouraged her, but she took the bait. Not everybody would have. Also, IRS officers have additional legal responsibilities, more so than most government employees; definitely more than U.S. Senators.

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