By now, Americans know the Internal Revenue Service unjustly scrutinized conservative organizations that applied for tax-exempt status.
By now, Americans know the IRS division responsible for this was headed by Lois Lerner, a career bureaucrat who has since retired from the agency and has refused to cooperate with investigators per her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
By now, Americans should know who else was involved in this wretched conspiracy to use the force of the federal government to bludgeon political opponents. But we don’t.
That’s because the key evidence that would reveal this has – conveniently, coincidentally – been “lost” by the IRS.
Yes, the agency notoriously unforgiving to taxpayers who can’t produce documentation now says two years’ worth of Lerner’s e-mails – evidence it had promised to deliver to congressional investigators for the past year – supposedly were destroyed by a hard-drive glitch in 2011.
Oh, and one other thing: The backup tapes for those files have since been erased.
One can almost picture an IRS official telling Congress: “Oops, sorry! I guess there’s nothing else to show you. Are we done with your ‘investigation’ now?”
The IRS made the disclosure late Friday – perfect timing for the weekend news dump.
Worse, the IRS announced Tuesday that they can’t locate sensitive e-mails from six more staffers at the agency.
This is beyond farcical. We won’t apologize for belaboring the point, because this is a point that deserves belaboring.
After all, we are talking about the IRS, an entity whose entire reason for being hinges on data collection and record retention, an entity that can pull up sensitive and detailed information on any taxpayer within a few keystrokes.
Yet somehow it irrevocably and irretrievably loses an entire two years’ worth of data?
And not just any data – employee e-mails.
And not just any employee emails – the e-mails of seven employees, including a top administrator.
And not just any top administrator – Lois Lerner.
And not just any of Lerner’s e-mails, but e-mails she specifically sent to recipients outside the agency between 2009 and 2011, the precise period her division was singling out conservative groups for extra scrutiny. They’re the very e-mails that would have shown who directed her, whom she directed, and which other agencies were involved.
“Instead, because of this loss of documents, we are conveniently left to believe that Lois Lerner acted alone,” said U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Sorry, we’re calling balderdash on this one.
The IRS has groused that more than 250 of its employees have spent more than 120,000 hours to produce documents for investigators at a cost of nearly $10 million, figures that were breathlessly parroted by the major networks that gave scant coverage to the story over the weekend.
Could they not have taken a moment to ask the IRS why it can produce every Lerner document except those most germane to the investigation?
It’s worth reminding people that some of Lerner’s e-mails that weren’t “lost” show the IRS coordinated its targeting with the Justice Department and shared information with congressional Democrats. They also show Lerner joking about leaving the agency to take a job with President Obama’s “Organizing for Action” political group.
One can only imagine what was in the e-mails that have supposedly disappeared.
The case of the evaporated emails is either an accident, or it’s not. If it’s an accident, it’s gross incompetence, and it shouldn’t be tolerated. If it’s not an accident, then it’s corruption, and more than just a smidgen of corruption.
Americans of all political stripes should be concerned – no, horrified – at the blatantly partisan use of a monolithic federal agency to silence political dissent. This entire affair reads like a chapter torn from a banana republic’s playbook.
Right now it’s conservatives that the government is attempting to muzzle. If America allows this to stand, who’s next? And where does it end?
Do we want to live in a society in which federal employees, from top administrators on down to the rank-and-file, swear their allegiance to whichever regime is in charge? Do we want nameless, faceless and untouchable bureaucrats making decisions about our lives based on their political whims?
The next president, whoever it is, should make de-politicizing the federal government a top priority.
In the meantime, it appears the Kabuki theater will continue on Capitol Hill. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has told Congress more than 1 million documents have yet to be produced.
“At this rate,” replied House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., “the IRS’ response to the committee’s subpoena will drag on for years.”
Sounds like a strategy to us.