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The IRS ‘Scandal’ Disintegrates into Wild and Unproven Republican Accusations

The press is reporting both that IRS chief (the Bush appointee) who was running the IRS in May of 2012 knew about what the IRS was doing in their Ohio office and that the now acting commissioner also knew in May.

This narrative presumes that the IRS was guilty of targeting conservatives, which has actually not been proven yet. What is established is that the IRS was investigating some conservative groups. But since Citizens United, the vast majority of groups founded requesting tax exempt status are conservative groups. Thus, mathematically, conservative groups are more likely to be investigated.

Who told the press that the Bush appointee knew in May? It turns out that is the interpretation of Republican congressional aides, who were not named in the Washington Post (my bold):

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Moreover, details of the IRS’s efforts to target conservative groups reached the highest levels of the agency in May 2012, far earlier than has been disclosed, according to Republican congressional aides briefed by the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration ­(TIGTA) on the details of their reviews.

Then-Commissioner Douglas Shulman, a George W. Bush appointee who stepped down in November, received a briefing from the TIGTA about what was happening in the Cincinnati office in May 2012, the aides said. His deputy and the agency’s current acting commissioner, Steven T. Miller, also learned about the matter that month, the aides said.

This would seem to suggest that Republicans would be upset with then-Commissioner Douglas Shulman, the Bush appointee, as thanks to Republican obstruction regarding Obama’s appointments, the IRS has no official leader currently. There is an acting Commissioner of the IRS, Steve Miller, who took that position on November 9th of 2012. Republicans refused to allow Obama to appoint an IRS chief before the election, because they thought the “next president” should get to do that. The position of IRS Commissioner is appointed by the President with Senate confirmation. It’s mid May now, and the post remains empty.

But Republicans are calling for the now acting Commissioner to step down. This makes no sense, as in January 2012, the IRS changed their target criteria for groups claiming “social welfare” status from “tea party” and “patriot” to “political action-type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform/movement.” By the time the now acting commissioner was told about the actions, the policy had already been revised. At the time of the policy, the Bush appointee was in charge.

Steve Miller, the acting commissioner of the IRS, wrote an op-ed in USA Today Monday in which he concedes that while mistakes were made, they were not due to political or partisan motivations, “they were in no way due to any political or partisan motivation. We are — and will continue to be — dedicated to reviewing all applications for tax-exempt status in an impartial manner.”

Miller explained that the IRS was going after tax exempt organizations who claim social welfare as their agenda:

Because the law limits and in some cases prohibits political intervention by exempt organizations, the IRS must carefully review applications based on the facts of each case. While centralizing cases for consistency made sense, the way we initially centralized them did not.

These are factually complex and sensitive cases, and it’s challenging to separate out political issues from those involving education or social welfare. It’s not always a clear area, and there are no bright-line tests for what constitutes political intervention. Yet, the IRS is tasked with monitoring and enforcing this difficult area.

Here’s the deal. Steve Miller was not appointed as acting commissioner until November 9th of 2012, when the Bush appointee stepped down. Republican Congressional aides told the Washington Post that the Bush appointee and Miller knew that conservatives were being targeted. Republicans and their dark money groups are making all kinds of allegations about the IRS targeting conservatives.

But we haven’t seen any proof that the IRS did more than badger these groups for documentation – so far, the claims that they targeted conservatives for political reasons are not proven, although those are serious charges. It should require more than anonymous sources and unnamed Congressional aides to create a narrative that is taken on its face. It should also require proof, such as was provided by the secret tapes in which Nixon called for the IRS to target his enemies. That is called a smoking gun, and it differs wildly from making unproven accusations, especially from a party that has repeatedly demonstrated the weakness of paranoia. These are not rational people looking for facts.

Being “targeted” for political reasons is not the same thing as the IRS reacting awkwardly to a proportionally larger number of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status after Citizens United. One thing is clear: The IRS needs to clarify their rules regarding non-profits, as liberal groups who were “targeted” under the Bush administration requested. Their failure to do so is a long standing issue.

There are three “Obama scandals” currently running — Benghazi, the IRS, and the AP, and only one of them is an established fact, and that is the DOJ going after the AP journalists’ phone records. (It should be noted that no one has been able to tie this to Obama, so technically it is not an Obama scandal, but rather looks to be a scandal between the CIA and DOJ regarding what the CIA sees as “leaks”.)

Republicans need to stop their hysteria — calling for the chief to step down when he was their guy, and he has been out of office since November of 2012, and he presided over the alleged “targeting”. They need to stop calling for the acting chief to step down, as he was told about this after the fact, and before he was acting chief. Republicans claim that he did not tell Congress, but Miller claims that there was nothing to tell, so why is the press running with the notion that there was a cover up? Facts matter.

Republicans need to stop making wild accusations until they get the facts. At some point, the press should weary of being used, but the truth is, nothing sells like a good scandal. Expect the press to ride the Republican narrative until it’s debunked, as “Benghazi!” is currently being. (Will they apologize for getting fooled again?) Conservatives are giddily calling Obama “Nixon”, which is in and of itself an absurd accusation that only demonstrates the agenda behind their accusations.

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