But it can and must use its oversight powers to expose the culture of intimidation that has taken root and flourished throughout the executive branch, and that’s the point of my Washington Examiner column today.
What we learned the past two weeks was not just the outlines of the scandals surrounding Benghazi and the IRS’ abuse of political opponents of President Obama.
We also learned that the American people are paying very close attention, and that they are outraged. They want to know more, and the House GOP should deliver the knowledge they demand, and in an orderly, systematic fashion. The MSM may scoff and the president’s loyalists scream “partisanship,” but the lid is off the Chicago-style politics of intimidation and Americans are angry.
The Benghazi and IRS scandals will follow their own courses, but there are horror stories from every corner of the government. Recall Regional EPA Administrator Al Armendariz who was forced out after a tape of his argument on the need to “crucify” the regulated community? Or the Sacketts who prevailed 9-0 in their case against the EPA when it got to the Supreme Court, or the little Lutheran school Hosanna-Tabor, persecuted by the EEOC until the Supreme Court put a stop to that by another 9-0 vote? These three examples are all from within the first term of President Obama, as are all of the IRS abuses detailed yesterday and the many more lined up for expose.
I have spent 23 years representing clients before various federal agencies, and the vast majority of federal officials I have dealt with have been just like those I worked with during my time as a general counsel in two federal agencies, and as a staff lawyer the White House Counsel’s office and DOJ –superb public servants of the highest ethics and significant competence.
I continue that law practice before an alphabet soup of agencies, as do my partners, but things have changed, and they have changed at every level of the federal government. Indifference combined with arrogance and sometimes pure spite used to be very, very rare, but increasingly it seeps out of almost every agency, and the very good employees struggle to undo the work of the worst.
There are roughly 75 Fridays between now and the effective end of this Congress which comes with the elections of 2014. There are hundreds of federal departments, agencies, bureaus and commissions. The House GOP leadership should put together a master schedule of oversight hearings, one for almost every Friday stretching from now through to the end of this Congress, and publish the name and membership of that committee and the contact staffers for the committee which will be conducting the hearing, and ask the public to step forward with their stories of abuse at the hands of these agencies. Some agencies will no doubt emerge with stellar records and no headlines, but the weeks for which the various divisions of EPA are in the dock the stack of damning material will be high indeed.
What last week’s Benghazi hearing and this week’s IRS hearing showed us is that even MSM is obliged to cover those hearings which are scheduled and publicized. Take a look at the members who have appeared on my show in the past week and whose interviews we have transcribed. (Some of the interviews with other members could not be transcribed.) The list of interviewees is long and full of senior senators and representatives, and much more importantly, the audience for what they had to say was vast and engaged. People want to know their government is being called to account. It is up to the House GOP to do just that, and to do so in such a way that the aggrieved know when they will have a hearing and who is conducting it.
That is genuine oversight, and if yesterday’s chilling testimony and evidence showed anything, it is that such oversight is vitally necessary now.
The GOP must become the party of government reform and it must demand ethics at every level of the vast federal government even as it battles to pare that government back to a manageable size. The latter project cannot succeed with a Democratic Senate and President Obama blocking the way for the balance of his term.
But reform has its own momentum, and hearings generate attention and reform, as well as prosecutions when required. The House GOP knows what it has to do. Let’s see if it has the courage to do it.
That was stomach churning. Some employees within the IRS –and it sounds like a lot of employees– have simply been out of control, and in ways that will chill and disgust most Americans. It is as though the IRS hired exclusively from MoveOn, Kos, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Ms. Lois Lerner in particular has much to answer for, but so do many, many other people and parts of the IRS and many, many other employees in other agencies. (Read this from the Thomas More Society, cited in today’s hearing.) Care must be taken not to damage the reputation and careers of the fair and the honest within the agency, but the “tip of the iceberg” analogy is completely accurate.
In January of 1975, a Senate shocked by revelations about the CIA put together the Church Committee. That Committee did enormous damage to the agency, paralyzing it and in many ways crippling the U.S. national security.
No such danger exists here, but the predicate is the same: An agency of the federal government with vast power has been systematically abusing it. There needs to be a Select Committee on Benghazi and there needs to be one on the IRS. If the Senate Democrats block a deep, thorough investigation into this cesspool, every Democrat up for re-election in the upper chamber should lose in 2014.
CSPAN (and any network that wants eyeballs) should replay the entire hearing this weekend so those at work can watch it for themselves. The IRS actually asked one group: “What was the content of your prayers?” People need to hear that, and they need to hear the story of Congressman Brady’s constituent, and the hundreds –thousands? tens of thousands?– of other cases of abuse.
One key area of focus: Who got leaks of what from whom within the agency? Today’s hearing established that Ms. Lerner used an outsider –Ms. Celia Roady– to try and set-up favorable IRS media coverage. Who else in the private sector and other government agencies have been manipulated by IRS senior leadership? That which done once is usually simply part of a pattern or a practice.
Posted below is Congressman Mike Kelly’s closing statement which brought applause and cheers to the room.
Congressman Paul Ryan on Benghazi, IRS, and DOJ Snooping the House: “Of course I’m troubled. Are you kidding?”
Representative Paul Ryan was my guest Thursday and we covered a lot of ground. The transcript will be posted ASAP below. On the question of DOJ’s snooping of the House press gallery, Representative Ryan replied to my question about it: “Of course I’m troubled. Are you kidding?”
Most of the MSM hasn’t figured out yet that if the DOJ can grab the press phone records originating from the House, they can grab any phone record coming out of the Hill.
Ryan also comments on the impact on the election of the manipulation of the Benghazi attack by the White House and on the IRS scandal. For additional background on the IRS scandal, read this post and this post by Carol Platt Liebau, and this post by National Review’s Kevin Williamson, for background on Benghazi this post by Powerline’s John Hinderaker, and for the impact of all the scandals on the president this important column by Peggy Noonan.
Transcript of the Paul Ryan interview:
HH: Joining me, a member of the Ways And Means Committee, and of course, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Congressman Paul Ryan. Congressman, welcome back, good to talk to you.
PR: Hey, Hugh, how have you been? Good to see you, or good to be with you, excuse me. I guess I can’t see you. Good to hear you.
HH: Thank you. I want to begin with what my colleague, Carol Platt Liebau at Townhall.com has pinned as the key thing thus far in the IRS scandal. On August 4th, 2011, Obama appointee Williams Wilkins, who is chief counsel of the IRS, was briefed on the political targeting of conservative groups. Now he’s a well-trained lawyer.
HH: Could he possibly have learned of this and not informed the White House, in your view, Paul Ryan?
PR: We’re going to find out. You know, I don’t know the answer to the question, but I can tell you this, we’re going to find out the answer to these questions. The reason we know about this already is because of the Ways And Means Committee and the oversight and research we’ve been doing, which prompted the Inspector General report. We had hearings last year in the Ways And Means Committee where we asked the commissioner about this, and they just denied it. And so they have had a couple of opportunities since that moment you just, you know, since then, to affirm, confirm or deny with Congress whether this happened or not. They denied it. So there’s a lot we have left to learn. They can try and have disciplinary action, they can call for resignations. Those things are necessary. But they’re not enough. And Hugh, this goes much bigger than this. And this is unfortunately the kind of thing you have with a big government and a really bad tax code. And you know, we have a government that’s working for itself, not for the people. And the IRS is fishing around people’s private lives, it’s approving the groups it likes and harassing the groups it doesn’t. That’s not who we are.
HH: Congressman, Peggy Noonan, in a piece that went online minutes ago, and will be in the paper tomorrow, writes we are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. And she writes, as it always comes down to trust, do you trust the President’s answers when he’s pressed on an uncomfortable story? Do you trust his people to be sober and fair-minded as they go about their work? Do you trust the IRS and the Justice Department? You do not. And it goes on to say look, these are his agencies. The IRS and the Justice Department answer to him. Does he set the tone?
PR: Of course he sets the tone. This isn’t just about incompetence, though. This is about an overreach. This is about a government that has gone beyond its scope, and this also speaks to the philosophy of government that’s at play here in Washington. And if you want to have a government that does everything for you, they’ve got to know everything about you. If you want to have a government that should be in the position of picking winners and losers, well then, they will pick winners and losers. And so it’s not a story just about incompetence. It’s about overreach. You know, big government is bad in theory, but it’s much worse in practice. And effective government, that is good government that’s limited, focuses in on our core duties. So this speaks to more than just, you know, did they do this to conservative groups before an election to try and give themselves an advantage? It also goes beyond that to, you know, bureaucrats are making decisions for us on behalf of government, not on behalf of the people. And so…
HH: Now Congressman, I’ve heard…
PR: That’s, to me, a bigger, the bigger issue here.
HH: I have heard from people that the SEC has targeted Romney/Ryan supporters. I have heard, and I know for a fact about the EPA scandals and the fake ID’s, and the selective FOIA requests. I was told by Rob Portman yesterday about the HHS Obamacare fundraising scandal.
HH: It’s everywhere. How vast is this culture of intimidation and corruption?
PR: I get the sense that we’re just at the tip of the iceberg here. And this is why we’re going to do this methodically, we’re going to do this the right way, we’re not going to be passioned or partisan. We’re going to do our jobs as the representatives of the people, you know, the legislative branch of government doing our Constitutional duty of conducting oversight of the executive branch. The executive branch has clearly overreached. This seems more like a pattern than a couple of one-off events that a couple of rogue people in Cincinnati. It clearly goes bigger than that. And we’re going to painstakingly go through this system and find out just how deep this is. But I would say at the core of the system is a government that is spending beyond its reach.
HH: Now many hearings have you set aside? And how far into the summer are they scheduled?
PR: Well, we’re in the middle of planning all of that. And so we’re just trying to collect as much information as we can right now in the Ways And Means Committee. There’s a lot of people we’ve got to talk to, a lot of people that have to be deposed, and a lot of evidence that has to be gathered. And so just like a good investigation, you go where the evidence shows you. And here’s the point we’re trying to get at. We need to restore accountability, trust and transparency to government. And that means you have to get answers. That’s what Benghazi is all about, getting to the actual answers so things like this do not happen again.
HH: Speaking of Benghazi…
PR: Tomorrow, we’re holding a hearing in the Ways and Means, we’re going to hold the IRS accountable, we’re going to ask tough questions, but we’re going to keep going. And we also need to ask deeper questions. I hope we don’t lose the moment to ask deeper questions. What is the government’s role? What should it be doing? And what shouldn’t it be doing? We can get this right, and people deserve a government that supports them. Families deserve real security. They deserve a government that treats them equally, and that’s not what we’re getting right now.
HH: Now Congressman, speaking of Benghazi, John Hinkeraker of Powerline is coming up after this, and he’s gone through the emails. They’re a MacGuffin. They reveal that they intended at the White House to mislead Congress in the election narrative, but they don’t tell us where this, the video narrative came from. You were living in the middle of that campaign. As you look back at this, how great a degree of deception was being practiced and organized at Team Obama concerning Benghazi?
PR: Well, I mean, now what I know, I didn’t know this then, of course, but what I know now is that there was clearly an attempt to dissuade the country from thinking this was terrorism. The question is who made the decision to tell our U.N. ambassador to go on the Sunday shows and say this was just some spontaneous mob, there’s nothing to see here, don’t worry about it, it’s not terrorism. And then there are the issues, the even bigger issues, which is what could have been done to save these lives that evening, especially the two guys who were killed later on, and what wasn’t done, and why were those decisions made. And then who’s decision was it to basically put out information that they knew not to be true? We heard that from the campaign. I don’t want to sound like some sore loser about the campaign, but I don’t want my government, as an American citizen, telling me things that they know aren’t true. I don’t want my government picking winners and losers for IRS oversight to harass people because of their political views. That’s what a banana republic does. That’s not what the United States of America should be doing. And so if we want to make sure that this kind of banana republic thuggish behavior doesn’t continue, then we in the Congress are going to do our jobs and hold people accountable.
HH: I’m not asking you to be sour grapes here, and I heard you say that. But do you believe the manipulation of the Benghazi story resulted, impacted the election outcome?
PR: Well, I think, of course, I think it had impacts. I can’t say whether this was, I don’t know that anybody could say that it was the factor. I don’t think that you could say that. But if people knew all of these facts that we now know, and there’s more to find out, then, if we knew then what we know now, do I think that could have changed some opinion? Do I think that would have changed the direction of public opinion? Sure. Of course. But I can’t, I have no idea whether it would have changed the outcome or not.
HH: Your colleague, Devin Nunes, was on the program yesterday, and brought to my attention what I had not realized, which is the extent of this snooping on AP reached the House of Representatives.
HH: And he used the wrong term. He said wiretapping. He meant snooping, because they just swept up the phone records. Does that shock you that the DOJ without a court order and on their own initiative, swept up the phone records of the House of Representatives?
PR: Well, it’s the Cloak Room, excuse me, it’s not the Cloak room where members of Congress used the phones. They call it the Press Gallery, which is not far from the Cloak Room. It’s in the same House floor, it’s off the House floor. But my understanding is they took the records of the House Press Gallery AP. Members of Congress use the phones in what we call the Cloak Room. I don’t think they took those records. So I don’t think you could say they swept up the records of members of Congress’ phone calls. They took the records of AP reporters in the House Gallery who were doing, were reporting on Congress.
HH: But if they can do that, if they can go into the House, can’t…
PR: Yeah, look, I’m not making an excuse. I’m just trying to make sure that we’re accurate here.
HH: Does it trouble you?
PR: Of course it troubles me. Are you kidding me? Look, this is why, again, the point I’m trying to make here is let’s not think of this as just, oh gosh, some bad people at the IRS did those dumb things, and then oh, some overzealous prosecutor at the Justice Department did that, and oh, gosh, you know, some low level person at the State Department did this. We should not be thinking like that. We should be thinking this is what you get with big government in practice. This is what you get when you have a government that just has gone beyond its moorings, that has gone beyond its scope, and this is the kind of government you get with progressive politics. And that’s just not in keeping with our Constitution. That’s not what we deserve. We want equality under the law, and that’s not what we’re getting, whether we’re a reporter, a taxpayer, or a citizen.
HH: Congressman Paul Ryan, we will be watching the Ways And Means Committee hearing tomorrow with great, great interest. Thanks for joining us.
End of interview.