IRS scandal grows deeper

A few conspiracy-minded observers have wondered if the Obama Administration dropped the IRS political-audit scandal to distract attention from the Benghazi scandal.  It’s starting to look as if the reverse conspiracy theory would be more plausible, because the IRS thing is going nuclear.  Four days in, and we still haven’t heard a single word from the President who bends our ears so relentlessly when he’s got an agenda to push, even as more high-profile commentators – most recently George Will, on ABC’s This Week – are reminding us that Nixon’s fall was partly due to just this sort of politicized abuse of Internal Revenue Service power.

We’ve learned that the target list for these political IRS audits was far broader than we initially thought.  Fox News got its hands on a timeline prepared by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that shows this scurrilous operation growing even faster than most government programs do:

The internal IG timeline shows a unit in the agency was looking at Tea Party and “patriot” groups dating back to early 2010. But it shows that list of criteria drastically expanding by the time a June 2011 briefing was held. It then included groups focused on government spending, government debt, taxes, and education on ways to “make America a better place to live.” It even flagged groups whose file included criticism of “how the country is being run.”

By early 2012, the criteria were updated to include organizations involved in “limiting/expanding government,” education on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and social economic reform.

In other words, basically every group that organized dissent against the Obama regime.  The only bright side to this scandal is that it might win Obama some respect and admiration from the likes of Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, and Bashar Assad.

The Jewish Press adds suspicions that pro-Israel Jewish groups were also targeted for audits:

For example, in 2010, the passionately pro-Israel organization Z STREET filed a lawsuit against the IRS, claiming it had been told by an IRS agent that because the organization was ???connected to Israel,??? its application for tax-exempt status would receive additional scrutiny.  This admission was made in response to a query about the lengthy reveiw of Z STREET???s tax exempt status application.

In addition, the IRS agent told a Z STREET representative that the applications of some of those Israel-related organizations have been assigned to ???a special unit in the D.C. office to determine whether the organization???s activities contradict the Administration???s public policies.???

Z STREET???s lawsuit claims the IRS activity constitutes viewpoint discrimination and a violation of its constitutionally protected right of free speech.  The organization is seeking, among other things, complete disclosure to the public regarding the origin, development, approval, substance and application of the IRS policy to treat pro-Israel organizations differently than it does other organizations.

And at least one purely religious Jewish organization, one not focused on Israel, was the recipient of bizarre and highly inappropriate questions about Israel.  Those questions also came from the same non-profit division of the IRS at issue for inappropriately targeting politically conservative groups. The IRS required that Jewish organization to state ???whether [it] supports the existence of the land of Israel,??? and also demanded the organization ???[d]escribe [its] religious belief system toward the land of Israel.???

The hilariously clumsy lie that all this was the work of a few “low-level IRS employees in Cincinnati” didn’t make it through the weekend, as the Wall Street Journal cites more leaks from that Treasury Inspector General report to announce that “a high-ranking IRS official knew as early as mid-2011 that conservative groups were being inappropriately targeted – nearly a year before then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told a congressional committee the agency wasn’t targeting conservative groups.”

The report concludes that “IRS senior leadership was not aware of this level of specific details” when Shulman gave testimony to Congress in March 2012, a reference to the detailed timeline of the scandal that Fox News described.  But that’s only the “senior” leadership, and the IG only absolves them of knowing very “specific details.”

The high-ranking (but not “senior”) official who did know what was going on, according to documents obtained by the IG, was Lois Lerner, who heads the agency’s tax-exempt organizations division.  She’s also the one who introduced the phrase “low-level employees in Cincinnati” to the lexicon of American political scandals.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Lerner was “raising concerns” about the politicized audits internally, as far back as July 2011, even as she somehow failed to relate these concerns to congressional Republicans who were investigating complaints from the targeted groups.  The Associated Press says Lerner knew exactly what was going on, having been briefed on specifics during a July 29, 2011 meeting.

Not only President Obama, but the entire Democrat Party has been eerily silent about this outrage… to the point where Chuck Todd of NBC News actually made the suggestion I alluded to at the beginning of this post: the Democrats were too punch-drunk from the Benghazi hearings to wrap their rattled brains around the IRS scandal:

What a great defensive strategy!  Hey, man, our Party has grown so corrupt under Obama that you can’t expect us to focus on any one scandal.  We can’t say anything about the IRS because we’re still working on our Benghazi excuses.

Republicans have not been as quiet as their friends across the aisle.  Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) told Fox News Sunday“The conclusion that the IRS came to is that they did have agents who were engaged in intimidation of political groups.  I don’t care if you’re a conservative, a liberal, a Democrat or a Republican, this should send a chill up your spine.  It needs to have a full investigation.”

???This is truly outrageous and it contributes to the profound distrust that the American people have in government,??? Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) told CNN???s State of the Union. ???It is absolutely chilling that the IRS was singling out conservative groups for extra review.  And I think that it???s very disappointing that the president hasn???t personally condemned this.???

Collins also said she wasn’t buying the “rogue IRS employees” excuse, since “groups with ‘progressive’ in their names were not targeted similarly.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Oversight Committee, promised further investigations, and dismissed the IRS’ weak efforts to get ahead of the story during an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press.  In fact, it sounds like Issa might be launching an investigation into the behavior of IRS officials just over the past weekend, as they tried to get the spin machines churning.

“This is something you have to institute changes to make sure it doesn???t happen again,” said Issa.  “There has to be accountability for the people who did it. And quite frankly, up until a few days ago, there???s got to be accountability for people who were telling lies about it being done. And lastly, to be honest, one of the most offensive parts is, my committee and Jim Jordan and I instigated this investigation, got the IG to do the investigation – and before the IG???s report comes to the public or to Congress as required by law, it???s leaked by the IRS to try to spin the output. This mea culpa is not an honest one.