Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The IRS Scandal, Day 307

IRS Logo 2Providence Journal:  Can Congress Compel IRS Chief to Testify?, by Robert Romano (Citizens for Limited Government):

A lot has happened since former Internal Revenue Service Exempt Organizations head Lois Lerner refused to testify in May 2013 about the agency’s targeting of the Tea Party and other 501(c)4 organizations, asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

For starters, it turns out the scandal goes much higher than was originally stated.

Holly Paz, managing director at the D.C.-based IRS technical office, has testified that, in February 2010, “a case was identified where there was potential for political campaign activity, and that was when they reached out to Washington and the case was transferred to Washington.”

Paz said she then forwarded it to agency tax specialist and lawyer Carter Hull, who developed many of the invasive follow-up questions that attempted to probe just how political groups intended to be.

Michael Seto, the head of Hull’s unit, said it was Lerner who ordered that the Tea Party applications be subjected to special scrutiny.

In addition, Hull said that when he met with Lerner’s senior adviser, he was told that his recommendations on the Tea Party applications would be first reviewed by the IRS general counsel William Wilkins, only one of two political appointments in the agency besides the commissioner.

Hull’s supervisor Ronald Shoemaker told investigators that the counsel’s office wanted information about the applicants’ political activities leading up to the 2010 election.

So, what began as a scandal with supposedly “low-level” employees in Cincinnati actually goes all the way to Washington, with the then-head of Exempt Organizations and the agency’s general counsel not only aware of the targeting but coordinating its decision-making process.

And yet, the targeting might not have been criminal after all, or so says the Department of Justice, which according to The Wall Street Journal is not planning on filing charges.

Giving the benefit of the doubt — that there is nothing in the U.S. Code that prohibits the sort of targeting that took place, even though one of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon was “to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner” — then why did Lois Lerner even bother pleading the Fifth back in May and again this week?

If there was no criminal activity, in principle, then Lerner cannot incriminate herself. Lerner said it herself before the House Oversight Committee: “I have not broken any laws.” ...

Lerner is running out of excuses. So maybe she just needs to come clean, fess up and be done with it. Or be found in contempt of Congress and face even more consequences.

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Why would anyone expect Lerner to testify now that she's under the umbrella of protection from the DOJ and not a smidgen of corruption Obama? Didn't Holder get charged with contempt, but the DOJ wouldn't follow through?

Posted by: Susan | Mar 12, 2014 1:26:48 PM

Sloppy reporting--seems as though Mr. Romano got his info direct from the mouth of Chairman Issa. Carter Hull did not say that "Tea Party applications would be first reviewed by the IRS general counsel William Wilkins." What Hull actually said was that Tea Party applications would be reviewed by Chief Counsel. The term "Chief Counsel" is used by tax specialists in both the public and private sectors to refer to 1) an official, the Chief Counsel for the Internal Revenue Service and 2) the Office of Chief Counsel for the Internal Revenue Service. The Office of Chief Counsel has about 1600 lawyers in it, stationed all over the country, along with a smattering of economists, acctuaries, and other professionals of different types. Thus, a reference to "review by Chief Counsel" can refer either to the personal review by Mr. Wilkins or to a review process by any of the components, suboffices, or lawyers within the Office of Chief Counsel. Personal review by Mr. Wilkins would be somewhat unusual, though certainly not improper, much less criminal. Review by one of the components of the Office of Chief Counsel, say the Tax Exempt & Government Entities Division--notice the "Tax Exempt" part of the title?--would not be unusual at all, since that is what TEGE does. In fact, good practice would call for such reivew.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Mar 12, 2014 11:10:16 AM


""What Does She Have To Hide?"

I've been seeing a lot of comments to the effect of "why should Lois Lerner take the Fifth if she has nothing to hide?" Ironically these comments often come from people who profess to oppose expansive government power, and from people who accept the proposition that Lerner was part of wrongdoing in the first place — in other words, that there was a government conspiracy to target people with the machinery of the IRS for holding unpopular political views. Such people do not seem to grasp how their predicate assumptions answer their own question.

You take the Fifth because the government can't be trusted. You take the Fifth because what the truth is, and what the government thinks the truth is, are two very different things. You take the Fifth because even if you didn't do anything wrong your statements can be used as building blocks in dishonest, or malicious, or politically motivated prosecutions against you. You take the Fifth because if you answer questions truthfully the government may still decide you are lying and prosecute you for lying.

Pardon me: if you accept the proposition that the government targets organizations for IRS scrutiny because of their political views, and you still say things like "why take the Fifth if you have nothing to hide", then you're either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack."

BTW, how many witch hunts has Issa conducted?
Do you know that on at least one occasion, he tried to release only redacted testimony, rather than full transcripts?

Posted by: Barry | Mar 12, 2014 9:11:39 AM