Photo by George Lauby
Several months ago, the American people heard the disturbing news that the Internal Revenue Service intentionally targeted and “slow walked” the applications of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Since then, members of Congress have held a number of hearings to identify the individuals and policies responsible for this harassment. I’d like to share with you some new details we’ve learned from the ongoing investigation.
You may recall the IRS initially claimed the pattern of abuse was confined to a few “rogue employees” in Cincinnati, Ohio. We now know this claim is simply untrue. The orders were systematic. They came down the chain-of-command from Lois Lerner, then-head of the tax-exempt organizations unit in Washington, D.C.
Lerner wasn’t working alone.
House of Representatives investigators learned from Elizabeth Hofacre, the IRS employee in charge of processing tea-party applications in Cincinnati, that a Washington-based IRS attorney directly supervised her work.
The attorney supervising Hofacre was Carter Hull. Hull confirmed Hofacre’s testimony and added that his own related work was regularly reviewed by his superiors, at the direction of Lois Lerner.
When the head of Hull’s unit, Michael Seto, spoke to House investigators, he disclosed that Lerner’s senior adviser instructed him to send his recommendations on tea party applications directly to the IRS Chief Counsel, William Wilkins.
As you may know, the IRS chief counsel is one of only two political appointees at the agency made by the president.
Wilkins’ personal participation in the IRS’s decision-making process raises serious questions. Indeed, not only was Washington involved, but a top-level political appointee helped to orchestrate the whole affair.
Not exactly a few rogue employees in Cincinnati, is it?
Instead of working with lawmakers to clarify these confusing claims, the White House considers the case closed – and even fabricated.
In a recent speech, President Obama admonished Congress, arguing it was time to move on from the “phony scandals.” The pattern of abuse by IRS officials is hardly phony – it is all too real, and all too chilling.
Critics of the investigation also claim that the mistreatment was not politically motivated. In other words, these groups weren’t targeted because of their conservative belief in “small government” or “lower taxes.”
Yet, Hofacre testified that she did not scrutinize the applications of liberal or progressive groups.
“I would send those to general inventory,” she stated.
As the federal agency tasked with administering the U.S. tax code, the IRS has an extraordinary influence on the lives of Americans from all walks of life and points of view. Citizens have the unconditional right to expect the IRS to be free from political influence, with taxpayers treated fairly and enforcement carried out in an unbiased manner.
This deeply troubling behavior, and the flip attitude with which some dismiss it, is symptomatic of a much bigger problem -- a growing trust gap between the American people and their government.
Nearly one year after the terrorist attack in Benghazi, there are still lingering questions about the administration’s handling of the attack and information leading up to it.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency acted recklessly in releasing the private information of thousands of farmers and ranchers across the country to activist environmental groups.
A recent audit of the National Security Agency reveals that it broke privacy rules several thousand times per year, despite the agency’s assurances to the contrary. Unfortunately, the list of the federal government’s breaches of the public trust goes on.
As investigation into the scandal moves forward, I will continue to push the IRS and the administration for honest answers. That’s the very least the administration owes to the American people.