WASHINGTON, October 26, 2015 − Last Friday, October 23, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) notified members of Congress that its two year investigation into the IRS’ improper targeting of Conservative groups was being closed with no charges being filed against IRS official Lois Lerner or anyone else. While DOJ claim there was no evidence of a crime, most people wonder if this was a sham.
In May 2013, Lerner publically apologized for inappropriately scrutinizing Conservative groups who were applying for tax exempt status. Congressional hearings were held shortly thereafter, eventually leading to resignations by top IRS officials, including Lerner.
The improper scrutinizing of Conservative groups and businesses primarily supporting the Republican Party and its candidates materially impaired the ability of those organizations to effectively support their candidates during the 2012 elections, from the top of the ticket on down. This resulted in a lopsided fund-raising and PR advantage for those organizations supporting the current administration and opposing Conservative organizations and candidates.
After investigation were undertaken, it is was revealed that hundreds of Conservative groups were indeed scrutinized and either denied nonprofit status or were left waiting for a decision until after the polls had closed. Only a very few liberal groups received the same level of scrutiny.
When questioned, the IRS claimed to have lost emails that would have provided more clarity regarding this incident, noting that the computers of numerous high ranking IRS officials had simultaneously crashed, destroying the relevant emails in the process.
By all accounts, including sworn statements, it appeared that not only had IRS officials acted improperly, perhaps illegally, in this matter. Worse, they then tried to cover-up what they had done.
Much later, the IRS suddenly revealed that the agency did indeed have some of allegedly erased emails in their possession. In July 2015, largely due to a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, the IRS turned over 906 pages of previously “lost” emails to that organization. According to Judicial Watch’s president Tom Fitton, “The material shows that the IRS’ cover-up began years ago.” He called the evidence a “smoking gun.”
IRS official Lois Lerner was called to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on this manner. She appeared before the committee in May 2013 and again in March 2014. During each appearance, she completely stonewalled the committee, refusing to answer any questions claiming it was her right not to answer due to the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
According to the Cornell University law school, “The Fifth Amendment protects criminal defendants from having to testify if they may incriminate themselves through the testimony.” However, for the average American, when someone pleads the Fifth Amendment, it’s a clear signal that there must be some criminal activity involved in the refusal to answer, or there would be no need to take that pleading.
To anyone who objectively examines the actions the IRS took, it is clear that something was, and perhaps still is seriously wrong at this agency. Nevertheless, DOJ’s investigation concluded “mismanagement” and “poor judgement” occurred at the IRS. But DOJ ultimately found no evidence of criminal activity.
That conclusion is an obvious sham.
Over the two year period, explanations regarding the scrutiny of Conservative groups and the suddenly missing emails that pertained were changed with considerable frequency by top IRS officials. The preponderance of the evidence clearly indicates a substantial agency bias against groups that were not politically in agreement with the current administration.
Lame stories claiming that emails relevant to this case were no longer available due to the astonishingly coincidental and simultaneous crash of six key personal computers is absolutely not believable. Likewise, the official IRS statement claiming there was no back-up for these computers or that the back-up was destroyed. This would be entirely in contradiction to established Federal government policy.
It appears that even President Obama at least knew peripherally of the IRS’ actions and the resulting cover-up. But in typical fashion, he blamed the scandal not on poor management at the agency. Instead, he blamed it on “crummy” legislation passed by Congress that gave employees confusing instructions, and on budget cuts made by Congress. He also declared that there was not a “smidgeon of corruption” at the IRS.
The right of free speech and the treatment of all Americans equally in the legal process is fundamental to the health of our Democracy. Unfortunately, this administration has a long history of selectively enforcing laws, frequently allowing criminals to escape full prosecution and targeting groups that have opposing views to those of the White House. In both the short and the long run, such actions are extraordinarily dangerous and strike at the heart of our Constitutional democracy.
President Obama and his administration feel free to unilaterally rewrite laws that Congress has passed because he knows Congress will not alter or pass legislation endorsing his changes. The Supreme Court has ruled that many of his executive orders are illegal actions that he has taken in order to skirt established legal process and precedent. His executive order changing immigration law just one example of a presidential decree that the court eventually ruled to be illegal.
What really separates our American democracy from others around the world is that, at least until recently, American law is blind to any individual’s circumstances or characteristics; and as a result, treats all plaintiffs and defendants equally under the law. When the Department of Justice and the President of the United States decide, solely for political reasons, to unilaterally change or ignore the law, we know that our country is in serious trouble.
*Cartoon by Branco. Reprinted with permission and by arrangement with LegalInsurrection.