Politics

06.23.14

The Woman at the Center of the IRS ‘Scandal’ Must Be Clairvoyant

Remember those two years of missing emails the Republicans were going on about? It turns out the former commissioner’s computer crashed 16 days before she learned of IRS targeting.

If I were the Republican Party, rather than attacking Lois Lerner as a modern-day E. Howard Hunt, I’d hire her as an election consultant. Why? Because the former commissioner at the center of the “newly re-burgeoning” IRS “scandal” is clearly a clairvoyant. I should think she’d be pretty handy for Reince Priebus to have around this October. You see, she can see things 16 days before they happen.

How do I know this? Consider the timeline of events. Lerner, who worked in the service’s Washington office, was first alerted that employees in the Cincinnati branch were using “inappropriate criteria” (key words like “tea party”) to process the applications of nonprofit groups on June 29, 2011. This comes from the very Treasury Department IG report that first made this whole business public. See the timeline here.

OK, so that’s that. Now, you’ve been hearing all this stuff lately about her lost emails, right? Her emails from between January 2009 and April 2011 disappeared. Went poof. It was in early 2010 that the IRS began using the inappropriate criteria. Looks awfully suspicious, doesn’t it? She lost all her emails pertaining to the period under examination and then some. Stinks to high heaven. Some have compared the missing two-plus years to the famous 18 1/2-minute gap in the Watergate tapes.

One problem. Her computer crashed on June 13, 2011. It was the following day that she wrote to other IRS personnel to tell them: “My computer crashed yesterday.” This date was noted last week by Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

That was when all those emails disappeared on her. It happened 16 days before she even knew about the problem in the Cincinnati office. So how likely is it that she deleted those emails in order to prevent House investigators from being able to learn anything about the “scandal”? Considering that she didn’t know about the problem yet, I’d say bloody unlikely.

Unless Lois Lerner is a clairvoyant, the idea that she deleted emails on June 13 to cover up behavior she didn’t even learn about until June 29 is simply preposterous.

In other words, this is just another ridiculous allegation in a parade of them. Admittedly, all of these revelations have looked dubious at first glance. But all of them have fizzled upon serious examination. It wasn’t just groups on the right that were targeted. The IRS head who visited the White House 155 times or whatever it was turns out to have gone to the Old Executive Office Building, not the White House, most of those times, and largely to talk about the IRS’ role in crafting and implementing Obamacare. And so on.

On top of that, the idea that Obama himself had some hand in this stuff, which was of course the original suspicion and orgasmatronic dream in Wingnuttia, is and always has been utterly crazy. I wouldn’t have put much past George W. Bush, but I would never have believed that even he would have orchestrated a scandal with such little upside (keeping some groups from getting 501c3 status) and such massive downside (possible Nixonian illegality). Dick Cheney, maybe, but not Bush.

And on top of that, the extremely unsurprising fact is that federal government computers crash all the time. These agencies’ internal operations are all underfunded, and bureaucrats all over the country are using primitive computers that groan under the weight of today’s demands. Plus, requirements for data preservation are fairly lax—and even if they weren’t, problems happen in this realm frequently.

Remember the Bush-era U.S. attorney firings? The Bush White House announced that it had lost 5 million emails during that probe. Not all emails relating to the Valerie Plame investigation were properly preserved. And finally, a Justice Department report found that many emails written by and to two Bush administration officials who’d been involved in crafting the “torture is legal” argument had suddenly gone missing. I’m sure the people today saying that the IRS scandal is bigger than Watergate were making excuses then.

In this case, no excuses need to be made. Unless Lois Lerner is a clairvoyant, the idea that she deleted emails on June 13 to cover up behavior she didn’t even learn about until June 29 is simply preposterous to any rational person with even a passing respect for facts and evidence. Unfortunately, that doesn’t describe Darrell Issa, who is holding another hearing Monday night (yes, night!), casting his fishing line out into the sea one more time. His colleague Trey Gowdy is going to be getting all the Benghazi headlines once that committee is up and running, so Issa has to find something to do, I suppose.

What’s amusing to me here is this: Conservatives are the people who think government can’t do anything right. That is exactly the situation we have here. IRS employees in Cincinnati really screwed up the processing of applications. The people in the charge of them in Washington were to some degree asleep. Computers crashed and emails were lost. As far as conservatives are concerned, that’s what government does all the time.

To conservatives, that usually explains a lot. But here of course they thought they had a chance to advance the more delectably sinister theory that Obama is out to destroy his political enemies. But sorry. Obama’s no Nixon, and Lois Lerner is no Rose Mary Woods.