THE JACK LEW SHUFFLE
In his interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s statements concerning the IRS targeting of conservative groups and conservative politicians and their supporters were inconsistent and suggest his complicity in an effort to cover up or divert attention away from a scandal leading back to the White House.
When asked about the Treasury investigation of IRS targeting, he responded that he had no involvement in the investigation. But when pressed on whether political appointees were involved in the scandal, he responded that he knew of no evidence of political involvement. When asked about IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins’ involvement, he did not say that Wilkins had no involvement. He instead obfuscated, stating that the IRS Chief Counsel’s office is a large one and that the evidence did not specifically establish that Wilkins was personally involved.
Secretary Lew’s statements are inconsistent and unreliable. Either Secretary Lew is involved in the investigation and knows there is no political involvement, or he is not involved and has no knowledge of political involvement. He cannot have it both ways. Moreover, the House investigation and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration’s investigation are far from over, so it is presumptuous for Secretary Lew to rule out political involvement. In addition, the circumstantial evidence beats a path back to the White House, so there is ample grounds for members of Congress to be suspicious about and to pursue White House involvement.
Indeed, we should ask ourselves why Secretary Lew is so quick to dismiss the notion of political involvement before the investigations are completed? If you compare Secretary Lew’s statements with those given under oath by IRS tax law specialist Carter Hall, contradictions are apparent. Hall testified that the tax exempt division was ordered to transfer certain conservative group’s tax exempt applications to the Chief Counsel’s office. He testified that the Chief Counsel’s office devised a template containing intrusive queries that the tax exempt staff was ordered to pose to the conservative groups, intruding deeply into their organization, politics, and affiliations and delaying further the processing of their applications. Hall, a man with 40 years of IRS experience, said that at a time when the applications would ordinarily be granted, the political involvement of the Chief Counsel’s office together with that of Lois Lerner, head of the tax exempt division, forced those applications to be put on hold, resulting in discriminatory treatment.
Having worked as a lawyer in the federal government during the Reagan Administration, I find it impossible to believe that the IRS Chief Counsel had no knowledge of the service’s three year long, systemic discriminatory treatment of hundreds of conservative groups, of conservative candidates, and of conservative donors. I find it hard to believe that he was unaware of his own offices work with Lerner to achieve a delay in the processing of the applications and to produce a template of politically motivated inquiries. Those out of the ordinary actions, encompassing years of activity, are precisely the kind lawyers in the Office of the Chief Counsel would bring to the Chief Counsel’s attention. Virtually no one in the bureaucracy, and certainly not the lawyers in the Chief Counsel’s office, would proceed with this extraordinary (and unlawful) endeavor without a clear direction from the politically appointed boss.
Whole divisions don’t bolt from the reservation without the knowledge and approval of supervisors, division heads, and most especially political appointees. Government resources and manpower cannot be dedicated to achieve a political end without the political appointees’ direction so to do. A single overzealous government agent or a small group of them might engage in improper conduct for a time without the foreknowledge of superiors, but not an entire division within the IRS and not for years on end.
At first the Administration lied by saying that the targeting was a rogue move by a few tax analysts in the IRS’s Cincinnati office. That proved utterly false. The evidence plainly revealed the involvement of Commissioner Douglas Shulman, tax exempt division head Lois Lerner, the entire tax exempt division, IRS tax law specialists, and the Office of the Chief Counsel. In other words, this scandal involves far too many people and is far too systemic to have occurred without the knowledge and approval of the IRS Commissioner and IRS Chief Counsel.
The IRS, like the rest of the federal bureaucracy, is based on a system of layered review in which staff work does not go out the door until supervisors approve who in turn report to division heads who ultimately answer to political appointees. In the case of the IRS, the political appointees are the IRS Commissioner and the IRS Chief Counsel. Those two people are appointed by the President and are ultimately answerable to the President for their administration of the IRS. The Chief Counsel is also answerable to the IRS Commissioner.
The bureaucratic system proceeds along monotonously, largely consistent with precedent, until a political directive comes down from the political appointees. It is only then when entire divisions of the agency will implement systemic changes.
It strains credulity to think that the targeting of hundreds of conservative groups and of individual conservative candidates and their donors occurred without a political directive to do that very thing. That directive likely came from the Commissioner to the Chief Counsel and from the Chief Counsel to Lerner and from Lerner to the reviewers within the tax exempt division. That is how it works in the federal bureaucracy; very little is left to chance or free choice and certainly nothing as encompassing as this scandal could go on for years without political involvement.
Systemic change does not come from the bottom up in the federal bureaucracy. It always comes from the political appointees down. Every ear in an agency is largely deaf to the public and keenly tuned to what those who control advancement wish to have achieved, the political heads of the agencies.
Moreover, although it is possible that someone in the Chief Counsel’s office could go rogue. Such a person could not cause a whole division to change operations and proceed with that change for years. Supervisors and others would become aware and would stop the wayward course. Only if they were ordered by political appointees to allow that course to continue would it continue year after year.
To implement the systemic targeting, Commissioner Shulman, Chief Counsel Wilkins, and Tax Exempt Division Director Lerner all had to be in the know and all had to be confident that the political directive to do this dirty work came from on high, meaning the White House. To get so many people to implement such a large scale targeting operation, there had to be such a directive. That is why there is every reason to suspect that the Commissioner and/or the Chief Counsel received orders from the White House that condoned violation of the Hatch Act, civil rights laws, and IRS laws protecting the confidentiality of tax returns to harass the conservative groups. It is therefore essential that those investigating this scandal ask the penultimate question, what did the President know and when did he know it?
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I hope that none of us is so gullible as to believe Secretary Lew’s representation that there is no evidence of political involvement in the IRS scandal (certainly before the investigations are completed). The scandal is patently political (targeting groups on the eve of mid-term congressional elections and the presidential election). There is much circumstantial evidence of political involvement, the investigation is ongoing, and there is every reason to suspect that this political scandal was driven by political appointees within the IRS with directives coming from the White House, perhaps even the President himself.
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