IRS probe needs independent look

The ongoing investigation of wrongdoing within the Internal Revenue Service should be led by an independent special counsel.

Top former and current IRS officials continue to make the rounds of congressional committees, taking a public flogging for targeting select taxpayer groups for political reasons while continuing to deny knowing much about what happened.

They profess ignorance on some topics, evade questions on others and generally profess shock at the knowledge that widespread misconduct was going on right under their noses.

Amid all the incredible answers they've given to dozens of questions since the IRS scandal broke, one classic response came from Douglas Shulman, who was running the IRS when his subordinates began giving extra scrutiny to political groups they perceived to be in opposition to President Obama.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow asked Shuman why he did not take immediate action to find out what was going on when he first heard of potential problems. Shulman replied, "I agree that is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain (of command). And they didn't. I don't know why."

Notice how a question about Shulman's behavior prompted an answer in which he expressed bewilderment about the behavior of an unidentified "they."

Answers like that are why these congressional hearings are going nowhere. There's no doubt that IRS officials are coming across as completely incredible, obviously doing their level best to disclose little. It's terrible public relations.

But bad PR does little damage to an otherwise bulletproof federal agency that is demonstrating just how unaccountable it is. What's needed is an outside counsel, acting independently of the U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder, to conduct a full-scale probe of what happened here.

Once the facts are determined and individual wrongdoers, if any, are identified, the real legal accountability can begin.

This is serious business. It's intolerable in a free society for any group of government bureaucrats to use their official power to harass or intimidate for political reasons any individuals or groups. That's clearly what happened here.

Top-level officials, almost laughably, have tried to put the lion's share of the blame on two or four (the numbers change) rogue employees in the IRS's Cincinnati office. But the questionable behavior is too widespread and the misconduct too outrageous to be the work of a handful of tax bureaucrats in one office.

Although the targets of this harassment were groups and individuals who do not share President Obama's politics, it's reassuring to see both Democratic and Republican members of Congress express outrage over what happened. They all realize that the IRS behavior is simply inconsistent with the tenets of a free society.

Unfortunately, the issue also has been the subject of political sniping. Top White House aide Dan Pfeiffer, speaking on the Sunday talk shows, charged that Republicans are trying "to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped up hearings, and false allegations" while at the same time he acknowledged the IRS misconduct is indefensible.

Obviously, Republicans are trying to make political hay out of this egregious misconduct, and one forum where they can do so is in Congress. That's another reason a special counsel would be a more effective way to get to the bottom of what occurred.

There's nothing wrong with digging out all the facts, finding out who did what and when and holding those who crossed the line legally responsible. There is little room in criminal investigations for partisan posturing. President Obama should name a lawyer independent of the Justice Department to look into this matter and let the chips fall where they may.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 22, 2013 at 11:05 am

"Calling Ken Starr !  Calling Ken Starr !!"

Good luck finding an "independent" lawyer.  They are as rarer than the "independent" news media.  Good ole boy Ken was not independent from party politics.  Whoever would be appointed would be cast as a member of a conspiracy by one side, or the other.  The performances of outrage were played to the hilt by Congress this week.  Sam Levin, and John McCain should get Oscars.

Danno wrote on May 22, 2013 at 12:05 pm

IRS's Lois Lerner invokes 5th Amendment rights, "I've done nothing wrong." More, after this commercial break from our post mortem sponsor, Johnnie Cochran...

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Before all of this is done, she better invoke her 2nd Amendment right also.  Whether she did anything wrong, or not; she will be found guilty in the court of public opinion.

Contempt of Congress has taken on another meaning since democracy's dysfunction.

Danno wrote on May 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Ooohhh, another Constitutional spin/mess...Lois claimed "I've done nothing wrong"...then pleads the 5th...mmm...claimed innocence then, pleads 5th. Major issue here. Any Constitutional Scholars out here?

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 22, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Wantabee Constitutional Scholars?   Congress told her today "testify, or lose your job".  She is going to be fired anyway.  Why not just tell the puffed up hypocrites "I quit"; and give them the finger?  Oh; there would be a fuss, and a Contempt of Congress charge.  So what?  They want a circus; give them a circus.

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Michael Crichton was right, "congressional hearings are just Stalinist show trials". They're meaningless. Just look at where the mortgage industry leaders ended up, right back into 7&8 figure jobs instead of jail while congress was busy addressing the sound level limits of commercials on cable and steroids in baseball.

Circus

yates wrote on May 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Sid and Bulldog would be singing a totally different tune if the IRS did the same thing to liberal groups and Obama lost the election. I will give you both one thing thing, you are comitted lefties no matter what you see or hear.

Bulldogmojo wrote on May 23, 2013 at 10:05 am

Really? Meet the group the IRS actually denied; Democrats

"Emerge America and its initial state programs were granted 501(c)(4) status by the IRS several years ago. Later, when a new state program applied for the same status, it was denied because Emerge works only with women who are in the Democratic Party, so the IRS determined this did not meet the definition of “social welfare” for the common good. We believed this denial triggered a review of the Emerge programs that had already been granted c4 status, and consequently those statuses were revoked. Becoming 527 organizations has not hurt our fundraising or organizational expansion – we report our donors and continue our work fully transparently."

So who was being targeted again?

Danno wrote on May 22, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Swami sez..."...what is an 'Emergency' plea?..."

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 22, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Yates;  You must see "lefties" under your bed at night.  The IRS did not only scrutinize Tea Party organizantions.  It examined others as well.  It was given the order by Congress via legislation to examine organizations on whether they were "public service", or "political" on their requests for tax exemption.  The NRA, and the ACLU are both tax exempt because of their "public service".  I do not think either of them are "public service" organizations.

It must be easy to see things either Red, or Blue; Leftie, or Rightie; Commies, or Nazis.  Unfortunately, reality is not that clear.  Why not watch the PBS News Hour instead of FOX News once in a while?  The big words can be explained with the use of a dictionary.

Danno wrote on May 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Hey! Now that PBS has been mentioned; Peter Sagal is host on 'Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me', airing on 580AM Saturdays at 10 am. Great stuff (my subjective opinion). Also running a series on the TV side (The Constitution) Tuesday evenings during May. Hits many topics; free replays are available on-line.

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 22, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Forgive me for not mentioning the series on The Constitution.  It is a great series.