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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The IRS Scandal, Day 328

IRS Logo 2 The Heritage Foundation:  IRS Targeting: Is the Obama Administration Conducting a Serious Investigation?, by Hans A. von Spakovsky:

A Jan. 8 letter from the Committee to Attorney General Holder outlined the Justice Department’s refusal to provide any information or updates on the status of the Department’s investigation. The letter notes that the FBI offered to meet with Rep. Jordan to do exactly that but later “rescinded” the offer “after [Justice] Department officials apparently interfered.”

It is certainly true that the FBI cannot disclose sensitive information during an ongoing criminal investigation, but an active investigation does not prevent the FBI and the Justice Department from giving Congress basic information regarding the status of an investigation that does not compromise their work.  ...

Yet lawyers representing dozens of the targeted conservative groups have recently testified before this Committee and have said that their clients have not been contacted or interviewed by any FBI agents. 

I find that simply incredible – that nine months after the Attorney General announced he was opening an investigation, neither the FBI nor the Justice Department has conducted basic interviews with the victims to gather information about their dealings with the IRS officials and employees who may have been involved in wrongdoing.

In addition to the unjustified refusal of the Department to provide this Committee with any information about its investigation, there is the troubling selection of a Civil Rights Division lawyer, Barbara Bosserman, as the lead lawyer in the investigation. This scandal involves the possibility of public corruption – misbehavior by federal employees in the IRS.  It is the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division – not the Civil Rights Division – that has long been responsible for investigating and prosecuting this type of public corruption. 

Bosserman works in the most politicized division within the entire Justice Department. ... The Justice Department’s pick of Barbara Bosserman to lead or be involved in making decisions about this investigation raises the appearance of a conflict of interest because of her extensive political donations to President Barack Obama, who recently said there was “not even a smidge of corruption” in the IRS scandal – even though the  investigation is supposedly not complete.

When this first became public, Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson claimed that Bosserman could not be removed from the investigation because “[i]t is contrary to department policy and a prohibited personnel practice under federal law to consider the political affiliation of career employees or other non-merit factors in making personnel decisions." The problem with this claim is that it is not true.

Taking a lawyer off a particular case because of a possible conflict of interest or the appearance of such a conflict is not a “prohibited personnel practice” like firing, terminating, or changing the pay of someone for political reasons. Indeed, Justice Department regulations clearly state that DOJ lawyers must avoid even “an appearance of a conflict of interest likely to affect the public perception of the integrity” of an investigation or prosecution.

No one questions the right of career employees to make political donations. This is allowed under the Hatch Act and applicable DOJ regulations, as explained by the Justice Department’s Ethics Office. But Bosserman’s considerable campaign contributions certainly raises the appearance of a possible conflict of interest in terms of the public’s perception of her ability to make unbiased, objective decisions in an investigation that could prove very embarrassing to the president she supports – a president who has already signaled through his public statements what he thinks the outcome of the investigation ought to be. ...

Given the allegations in the IRS case, especially the suspicion that conservative organizations were specifically targeted by IRS officials to help dampen public opposition to President Obama’s reelection, the Justice Department should make every effort to conduct a thorough investigation and avoid any questions about the objectivity of the attorneys and investigators involved in the investigation. ...

The involvement of the Civil Rights Division and the appearance of possible bias by one of the supervising, if not lead, lawyers in this investigation is a very serious issue. When combined with the refusal of the Justice Department and the FBI to provide even basic information about the status of the investigation, as well as the seemingly unjustifiable delays in talking to key witnesses in the conservative organizations targeted by the IRS, it raises substantial questions about whether or not a serious, objective, unbiased investigation is being conducted.

This Committee should continue to attempt to get more information about the integrity of the government’s investigation and should pursue its oversight function vigorously.  Otherwise, what happened at the IRS will happen again, and federal employees will believe that they can engage in wrongdoing by targeting the political opposition of the administration without fear of any consequences.

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