What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

The story about IRS officials targeting conservative and libertarian 501(c)(4) organizations seems to be heating up. Apparently, there was an actual policy in place as early as 2011:

The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration is expected to release the results of a nearly yearlong investigation in the coming week. The AP obtained part of the draft report, which has been shared with congressional aides.

Among the other revelations, on Aug. 4, 2011, staffers in the IRS’ Rulings and Agreements office “held a meeting with chief counsel so that everyone would have the latest information on the issue.”

On Jan, 25, 2012, the criteria for flagging suspect groups was changed to, “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement,” the report says.

While this was happening, several committees in Congress were writing numerous letters IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman to express concern because tea party groups were complaining of IRS harassment.

I see at least two issues in this. First, if groups were singled out for additional scrutiny based on the causes they espoused, that strikes me as a clear violation of First Amendment rights. Second, if there was an actual written policy in place of which managers at the IRS were aware, that means that the problem goes up to IRS senior management at the very least.

Douglas Shulman, the IRS Commissioner who adamantly denied any such targeting in his testimony before Congress in 2012, left office in November 2012 so there’s no issue of firing him over this. However, there does remain the question of whether he knew about the policies when he testified. Contempt of Congress has the potential penalty of jail time. If he lied under oath, that would add perjury to the charges.

The question for him now becomes as with other senior IRS managers what did they know and when did they know it?

Update

The editors of the Washington Post have produced an outraged editorial on the matter:

If it was not partisanship, was it incompetence? Stupidity, on a breathtaking scale? At this point, the IRS has lost any standing to determine and report on what exactly happened. Certainly Congress will investigate, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) promised. Mr. Obama also should guarantee an unimpeachably independent inquiry.

One line of questioning should focus on how the IRS’s procedures failed to catch this “shortcut” before its employees began using it. Another should center on how this misguided practice came to light, and on what the IRS planned and plans to do about it. Ms. Lerner was responding to a question when the news first came out; it’s not clear whether the government intended otherwise to disclose what had happened. Nor have officials been clear whether disciplinary measures have been taken.

Tax collectors are never popular. Tax collectors who use the power of their office to harass people they don’t like are criminals. That strikes to the very heart of the organization. For that reason tax collectors, like Caesar’s wife, must be beyond reproach.

29 comments… add one
  • Andy

    I’m getting the sense that this could be very damaging to the Obama administration. I predict that the GoP will put less focus on Benghazi in favor of this.

  • CStanley

    I know I’m getting into tinfoil hat territory here, but I find the timing of this coming out a bit odd (and the way it came out, with an odd, flippant apology from an IRS official.)

    Who is helped by shifting the focus from Benghazi to this? Well, Benghazi is bad for two different factions of the Democratic party, the Obama and Clinton factions. The IRS debacle only reflects on Obama. Am I way off base to think that a Clintonite might have pushed the IRS story forward?

  • TastyBits

    Heads need to roll over this. If not, this will be the new normal. When Republicans are back in the White House, they will do it because “they did it first.” The guilty need to be punished as harshly as possible, and this includes the top, middle, and bottom. This is not a partisan issue, but to keep it from becoming one, the punishment needs to be seen as life altering. The Republicans need to understand that they do not get a freebie.

    From your next post, “Make no mistake: they all know.”

  • jan

    but I find the timing of this coming out a bit odd (and the way it came out, with an odd, flippant apology from an IRS official.)

    CStanley, such questions usually tumble into the conspiracy category, which then becomes ripe for derision from others. But, I think mere coincidence doesn’t always account for how events fall into place. Many times there seem to be patterns of orchestration behind the scenes, that the average Joe public is way too out of the loop to know about and/or put together.

    For instance, Richard Belzer has a new book out entitled Hit List which takes a compelling look at the JFK assassination. There were over 50 coincidental untimely deaths/murders of people associated with the killing of JFK, along with other unusual distractions that have indirect/subtle linkages to people surrounding this event. Such a read makes one look at government with a more jaundiced eye and questioning mind, regarding the etiology of said coincidences, that’s for sure.

  • The Age of Competence

    At this point, the IRS has lost any standing to determine and report on what exactly happened.

    Thank God we’re going to give the IRS even more power and more ability to pry into everyone’s lives, courtesy of ObamaCare. No doubt that will be administered even MORE competently.

  • CStanley: Apparently, an IRS Inspector General report is in draft. That draft contains comments about this issue. The draft of the IG report was leaked.

    The report, if I recall correctly, was to be released sometime during the late summer, but the leak has obviously push it forward. I’m sure the IG will be asked to explain his findings to Congress.

  • PD Shaw

    The First Amendment issues are important to keep in mind. It seems like a lot of people are assuming that its easy to distinguish a social welfare organization from a political organization from a content-neutral point of view. I think its not, and more importantly, the courts will be reluctant to allow the government to police such distinctions for fear that the attempt will chill permissible free speech and association that comes anywhere close to the line.

  • michael reynolds

    1) The idea that the Obama administration are using an actual, real, genuine scandal to distract from a bogus pseudo-scandal is crazy.

    2) There is nothing yet to link this to the White House in any way.

    3) Obamacare? Seriously? WTF?

    4) Someone’s head should roll. I suggest the IRS commissioner, Mr. Shulman. Possibly Treasure secretary as well when we get a picture of where this goes.

    5) This is totally, completely unacceptable.

  • There is nothing yet to link this to the White House in any way.

    That’s the way I see it, too.

    Someone’s head should roll. I suggest the IRS commissioner, Mr. Shulman. Possibly Treasure secretary as well when we get a picture of where this goes.

    Shulman’s term of office ended in November 2012. He’s no longer with the IRS. If legitimate responsibility could be attributed to Geithner, frankly, I’d be delighted. But I doubt it. If just plain incompetence or being asleep at the switch has become unacceptable in the federal government, I don’t know where you’d stop.

  • michael reynolds

    Ah, I didn’t realize Shulman was out. That’s a tough hit for the WH – they need a sacrifice.

  • Andy

    Sounds like another reason to end corporate taxation.

  • Yes, and there’s nothing linking this president to Fast and Furious, the AP Scandal, Sec. Sebelius’ illegal fund raising, the Administration’s aiding and abetting suppression of the active duty military vote, the AP scandal, Benghazi being blamed on a video, Solyndra, ad nauseum. It was all just a bunch of loose cannons in the administration and the president was undoubtedly just getting in a round of golf at the time and knew nothing about any of this.

    If anyone on this board is naive enough to think this wasn’t deliberate policy that was known to the White House, two things:

    1) They’re either forgetting or deliberately ignoring Barack Obama’s entire political history.

    2) They deserved to be ruled by him.

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