Thursday, August 01, 2013

IRS Scandal Isn’t “Phony” (II)

Evidence mounts that the IRS scandal is serious the way Watergate was. We earlier showed how the scandal stemmed from presidential pique and fear.  In a hothouse where subordinates treat a presidential wish as a command, loyalists acted following Obama’s distress that a 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowed anonymous donations to tax-exempt political attack organizations.

Obama’s people set out to curb conservative outfits that might turn the ruling to their advantage.  As Patrick Howley of the conservative Daily Caller reported, “Between 2010 and 2012, the IRS sent letters demanding [Republican-leaning] groups’ training materials, personal information on groups’ donors and college interns, and even the content of a religious group’s prayers.”

Then last month, came the IRS story’s big break. From the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan:
The IRS scandal was connected . . . not just to the Washington office. . . but to the office of the chief counsel. That . . . was a bombshell. And Democrats know it. Which is why they are so desperate to make the investigation go away. . .
When the scandal broke . . . in May, IRS leadership in Washington claimed the harassment of tea-party and other conservative groups requesting tax-exempt status was confined to the Cincinnati office, where a few rogue workers bungled the application process. . .
House investigators soon talked to workers in the Cincinnati office, who said everything they did came from Washington. Elizabeth Hofacre, in charge of processing tea-party applications in Cincinnati, told investigators that her work was overseen and directed by a lawyer in the IRS Washington office named Carter Hull.
Republicans called Hull, a 48-year IRS veteran and tax exemption expert, before Congress. Hull testified that tea-party applications under his review were at Lois Lerner's direction sent upstairs within Washington.

Noonan’s report continues:
In April 2010, Hull was assigned to scrutinize certain tea-party applications. He requested more information from the groups. After he received responses, he felt he knew enough to determine whether the applications should be approved or denied. But his recommendations were not carried out.
Hull told House investigators that at some point in the winter of 2010-11, Lerner's senior adviser, whose name is withheld in the publicly released partial interview transcript, told him the applications would require further review:
Q: "Did [the senior adviser to Lerner] indicate to you whether she agreed with your recommendations?"
A: "She did not say whether she agreed or not. She said it should go to chief counsel."
The IRS chief counsel is William Wilkins, one of the only two Obama political appointees in the IRS. Conservative Dick Morris, once Bill Clinton’s chief political aide, wrote what he knew about Wilkins:
Chief Counsel to the Internal Revenue Service[, Wilkins is] a long time Obama crony and Democratic donor who earned his spurs by successfully defending, pro bono, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright from charges that his radical politicization of his pulpit should deny his church tax exempt status. The event that triggered the IRS’ interest [in Wright]? Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s speech to [Wright’s] congregation during the [2008] Democratic presidential primary campaign. Now does[n’t] that sound like “political activity”?
Well, Wilkins was able to convince the IRS that it was not! He knows his stuff. Tax exempt organizations were one of Wilkins specialties in private practice. He knows the field, making him a likely key man in the emerging scandal. He’s not just a wealthy donor who was rewarded with a plum position who doesn’t know much about taxes. No, he’s an expert on the very area of tax law that is at the heart of the charges of politically motivated harassment of the Tea Party and other conservative groups by the IRS.
This was the Wilkins who then had his hands on the conservative outfits’ applications.

Back to Noonan’s report, drawn from Hull’s testimony to Congress:
What was [Wilkins] looking for? . . . "information about the applicants' political activities leading up to the 2010 election." [Wilkins'] office[, according to another testifier, was] "not very forthcoming. We discussed it to some extent and they indicated that they wanted more development of possible political activity or political intervention right before the election period." . .the conservative organizations in question were, during two major election cycles, deliberately held in a holding pattern.
Hull . . . described what was, essentially, a big, lengthy runaround in the Washington office in which no one was clear as to their reasons but everything was delayed. The multitiered scrutiny of the targeted groups was, he said, "unusual."
In government, as with justice, to delay is to deny. But delay only if the application was from a conservative outfit.

As Noonan wrote:
Hofacre of the Cincinnati office testified that when she was given tea-party applications, she had to kick them upstairs. When she was given non-tea-party applications, they were sent on for normal treatment. Was she told to send liberal or progressive groups for special scrutiny? No, she did not scrutinize the applications of liberal or progressive groups. "I would send those to general inventory." Who got extra scrutiny? "They were all tea-party and patriot cases." She became "very frustrated" by the "micromanagement" from Washington. "It was like working in lost luggage." She applied to be transferred.
In the Congressional hearing, what happened next clearly upset Noonan:
Rep. Elijah Cummings [D-MD] absurdly asked Hofacre if the White House called the Cincinnati office to tell them what to do and whether she has knowledge of the president of the United States digging through the tax returns of citizens. Hofacre looked surprised. "No," she replied.
It wasn't hard to imagine her thought bubble: Do congressmen think presidents call people like me and say, "Don't forget to harass my enemies"? Are congressmen that stupid?
The Daily Caller’s Howley rounds out the narrative with this significant nugget:
IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, who was named in House Oversight testimony by retiring IRS agent Carter Hull as one of his supervisors in the improper targeting of conservative groups, met with Obama in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on April 23, 2012. Wilkins’ boss, then-IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman, visited the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on April 24, 2012, according to White House visitor logs.
On April 25, 2012, Wilkins’ office sent the exempt organizations determinations unit “additional comments on the draft guidance” for approving or denying tea party tax-exempt applications, according to the IRS inspector general’s report.
It seems that the IRS Scandal is Watergate, but without the Oval Office tapes that would connect the scandal to the president.

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