Given that the IRS scandal may be the most significant abuse of power in U.S. history, you'd think that by now even Democrats would now want to get to the bottom of what happened. Dream on.
As of yesterday, it was crystal clear that Washington officials, not “rogue” IRS agents in Cincinnati, are responsible for the targeting–and silencing–of conservative groups.
So the Democrats said, "We've got to clean house at the IRS," right? No. The stonewalling on the part of Rep. Elijah Cummings, the investigating committee's ranking Democrat, would be funny, if his behavior didn't show bad faith. Here is how Peggy Noonan described the surreal scene on the Hill yesterday:
The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office—that had been established—but to the office of the chief counsel.
That is a bombshell—such a big one that it managed to emerge in spite of an unfocused, frequently off-point congressional hearing in which some members seemed to have accidentally woken up in the middle of a committee room, some seemed unaware of the implications of what their investigators had uncovered, one pretended that the investigation should end if IRS workers couldn't say the president had personally called and told them to harass his foes, and one seemed to be holding a filibuster on Pakistan.
What happened yesterday was that in a nine-page letter to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel tax lawyer Carter Hull, a 48-year IRS veteran in Washington, was quoted tying the targeting of conservative groups to the office of the IRS Chief Counsel, an Obama appointee. Elizabeth Hofacre, an agent in the maligned Cincinnati office, expressed anger at having been blamed by the very bosses she said gave her the orders. Hofacre and Hull went before Rep. Darrell Issa’s Oversight Committee yesterday.
The Chief Counsel is William J. Wilkins, the lawyer who provided pro bono defense to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church when the IRS looked into it after then presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke there, raising questions about whether the church was political and therefore ineligible for tax exempt status. So we can assume that Mr. Wilkins is quite familiar with this particular aspect of the tax code.
The Tea Party is a movement that successfully made the case in favor of limited government and fiscal responsibility and aganist the giant folly known as ObamaCare. The delaying tactics used by the IRS put many Tea Party groups out of commission during the crucial period when Americans needed to talk about the ideas they were promoting. It becomes apparent if you read Peggy's whole story that the wily IRS officials were too clever to just turn down applications–that would allow for repeal. Better to delay, then say that the information is out of date. Yes, welcome to the banana republic.
But Elijah Cummings’ paramount interest doesn’t appear to be getting to the bottom of the scandal:
It was Maryland's Rep. Elijah Cummings, the panel's ranking Democrat, who, absurdly, asked Ms. 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. Ms. 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?
Mr. Cummings is not, and his seeming desperation is telling. Recent congressional information leads to Washington—and now to very high up at the IRS. Meaning this is the point at which a scandal goes nowhere or, maybe, everywhere.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, finally woke the proceedings up with what he called "the evolution of the defense" since the scandal began. First, Ms. Lerner planted a question at a conference. Then she said the Cincinnati office did it—a narrative that was advanced by the president's spokesman, Jay Carney. Then came the suggestion the IRS was too badly managed to pull off a sophisticated conspiracy. Then the charge that liberal groups were targeted too—"we did it against both ends of the political spectrum." When the inspector general of the IRS said no, it was conservative groups that were targeted, he came under attack. Now the defense is that the White House wasn't involved, so case closed.
This is one Republican who is right about evolution.