The Continuing Fizzle of the IRS Scandal

The IRS "scandal" will be dragged out, but it's already gone pfffft.

In case you didn't notice, it was revealed this week that the words "Occupy" (as in Wall Street) and "progressives" were also targeted by IRS employees in charge of awarding nonprofit status to applicant groups. So there goes that political conspiracy. Well, not to everyone--some people will no doubt just say "Ah, but you see, Obama, being the Manchurian that he is, was clever enough to instruct that some progressive groups be targeted, just enough to provide cover." This is insane, World Net Daily kind of stuff, but some will inevitably believe it.

There is, however, another political conspiracy afoot, perhaps. You may be wondering, why wasn't this news public until this week? The answer is that the Democratic staff on the relevant House committees didn't know until this week. Republican oversight chairman Darrell Issa, in his original letter, asked Treasury inspector general Russell George only about "tea party" groups, and that's all the information George provided.

Further: At a hearing back in May, George was asked by Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly if he knew of the screws having been put to any liberal applicants. He said his people "were unable to make that determination" because "in many instances the names were neutral."

And so, we have some questions. Did Issa in the first place know that liberal applicants were involved but decide to tailor his request to the IG only to tea party groups? That, of course, would make the whole matter look partisan and far more conspiratorial on the IRS's part. Did George and Issa in some way plot together? George has a pretty long history as a Republican staffer, although he once was a friend (and possibly a short-lived companion) of Michelle Obama in law school. At that May hearing, did George knowingly mislead Connolly? "In many instances" the names were neutral...but not in all? Were there tip-offs in any names that applicants were left-of-center?

I tend to doubt a conspiracy here. It seems plausible to me that Issa asked only about tea party groups because that's what he was hearing about; after all, if progressive groups were having troubles with the IRS, they weren't going to go to Darrell Issa about it. And George has had no history of partisan tomfoolery. So maybe there are innocent explanations for these things.

However, we do know also that the Democratic staff of the oversight committee was frozen out of the investigation process from the start, in what I am told was an unusual way (not informed of certain letters, not invited to have a representative present at certain meetings, and so on). That fact does raise fair questions.

The committee is still taking testimony privately from witnesses, with a handful of interviews yet to be conducted. Tomorrow morning, the oversight commitee is going to vote on whether Lois Lerner, the Washington IRS person in charge of nonprofit applications, waived her Fifth Amendment rights. That vote will surely go along party lines, meaning the committee will decide that she did waive them, but so what? They can't hold her mouth open and make her talk.

Issa will apparently be on some Sunday shows again. I guess that means he gets ratings, which means Americans are still interested in this. It might also mean that Sunday hosts want to play gotcha with him and see if they can get him to make more self-discrediting accusations, which seems at this point to be his greatest skill.

So this thing will drag out, and it will, alas, take public opinion time to catch up with the reality. But unless one of these handful of remaining witnesses possesses some kind of smoking gun, which seems pretty unlikely, this "scandal" is over, in terms of the White House. Pfffft.