The Treasury IG’s Report: Hand Me Another Can of Whitewash
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This is a terrible report. Just begin reading it and you will quickly realize that you are in the the swamp of obfuscation and CYA.
On the “Highlights” page there are more questions raised than answered –questions such as who ordered “donor information received in response to a request destroyed” and who at the IRS, specifically, rejected some of the IG’s recommendations and “alternative corrective actions?” Mixed into the first page of sanitized disclosures is the “request that social welfare activity guidance be developed by the Department of the Treasury,” an invitation to Obama Administration appointees and senior bureaucrats to issue regulations that include or exclude groups from tax exempt status –from the very same agency that has been unable to stop a campaign of intimidation against Tea Party groups that reached far and wide and which extended back to “[e]arly in Calendar Year 2010.”
What is most remarkable about the report is the wholesale lack of detail about who, what, where and when? Take page 3, for example, when the report states “During the 2012 election cycle, some members of Congress raised concerns to the IRS about selective enforcement and the duty to treat similarly situated organizations consistently.” There is no footnote citing which members or to copies of their complaints or to transcripts of hearings at which such concerns were voiced. Readers are thus unable to judge if the report is referring to a couple of complaints that arrived via form letter from low level Congressional staffers or if this reference is intended to cover the willful deceiving of Senator Hatch.
On page 4 the report states that this “review was performed at the EO function Headquarters office in Washington, D.C., and the Determinations Unit in Cincinnati during the period June 2012 through February 2013.” No detail is provided on the IG personnel who conducted it, who was interviewed by those personnel and when those interviews occurred, and who was kept informed of the progress of the report. No list of interviews, no record of transcribed depositions –if any occurred– and no schedule of meetings between investigators and IRS personnel is included. No one can read this and conclude whether the investigation is a complete whitewash and cover-up or a bureaucratic exercise in carefully calibrated CYA.
No one can read it and say “Well, they certainly got to the bottom of that!”
Beginning on page 5 comes the maddening use of non-specific terms like “the Determinations Unit.” This is creepy, Orwellian cant, and instead of learning “that on June 21, 2010, Joe Bag-of-Donuts in the Cincy office ordered Sally Slow-starer to make a pile of all the Tea Party apps,” we learn instead that the “Determinations Unit developed and began using criteria to identify potential political cases for review that inappropriately identified specific group…”
More of the same follows:
“EO function officials stated that, in May 2010, the Determinations Unit began developing a spreadsheet that would become known as the “Be On The Look Out” listing (hereafter referred to as the BOLO listing), which included the emerging issue of Tea party applications.”
Who in the “EO function” stated that? When did the EO function become aware of this spreadsheet? Did anyone at anytime realize this was at a minimum wrong and quite possibly a federal crime? Did anyone in the “EO function” call the DOJ and blow a whistle?
On page 31 we learn that on April 1-2, 2010 (!) the “new Acting Manager, Technical Unit, suggested the need for a Sensitive Case Report on Tea Party cases. The Determinations Unit Program Manager agreed.” Who was this “new Acting Manager,” and was he or she a long-time IRS GS 10 employee with a stellar record promoted to fill a vacancy, or a new hire from the non-federal workforce, and if the latter, why was he or she hired and by whom? This April 1-2, 2010 sequence appears to be the “original sin” and it is astonishing that no detail is provided on this incident and people involved with it. Imagine not knowing who broke into the Watergate Hotel and not caring?
The heart of this mostly meaningless exercise in CYA is on pp. 6 and 7, which gives the barest of outlines of what happened within the IRS, and the announcement of the most cursory of inquiries into political motivation:
We asked the Acting Commissioner, Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division; the Director, EO; and Determinations Unit personnel if the criteria were influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS. All of these officials stated that the criteria were not influenced by any individual or organization outside the IRS. Instead, the Determinations Unit developed and implemented inappropriate criteria in part due to insufficient oversight provided by management.
Right. No names, no dates, no transcripts of the questions. Nothing to worry about, just imprecise guidance. No record of whether senior IRS management told anyone outside of IRS about the “low-level” practices in Cincy, and no details on who developed the policies in the first place and whether those people were lifers in the IRS or relatively recent hires.
What we know from this report is that the IG of IRS labored a long time at a very slow pace to produce a nearly worthless report. We also know that the Congress has a lot of work ahead of it, and that lawyers from the DOJ will conduct an investigation into a very old crime scene long after the elections impacted by the suppression of legitimate political activity have passed, and long after the stories have been straightened out and files dumped and emails deleted.
We need a Special Prosecutor, period. Congress should insist and hammer Eric Holder and President Obama until they consent. Use all tools to accomplish this, as the American people understand the threat posed by a politicized IRS and they understand why the Chicago gang cannot be trusted to investigate this. The IRS is an enormously powerful agency and one that causes quite a lot of fear in Americans. It went badly off the rails, and credibility has to be restored. It won’t be restored by the Obama-Holder DOJ. If Speaker Boehner has to use the debt limit to force this, it is a show down worth having. The vast majority of IRS employees are hard-working, ethical civil servants and they will rally to any genuine effort to clear their own names and restore the agency’s credibility. If the agency has been infiltrated by political hacks, they will be quick outed by the serious career people if the career folks are protected along the way.
On Friday the House Ways and Means Committee holds the first of what will be many Congressional gearings into this scandal. The House GOP members need to tamp down their desire for some air time and YouTube video, and ask very specific questions about the conduct of the IG investigation, getting into the details about who knew the investigation was underway and why it took so long, who was interviewed, by whom, and under what circumstances. Crucially, we need the names of the people who came up with the criteria, and dates on when they were interviewed and answers on whether those interviews were recorded.
The Democrats want this to be a story of bad management and incompetent front-line staff “that did not consider the public perception of using politically sensitive criteria when identifying these cases.” (p. 7) Perhaps that is all it is —that is how the New York Times is spinning it this morning— but it could be much, much more sinister, and getting to the answer of what it was and what went on will never emerge if this pace and these techniques are used as the cover-up ball is lateraled to DOJ.