The Internal Revenue Service's handling of the Lois Lerner scandal looks increasingly like a brazen cover up that the agency thinks it can get away with.
Lerner was head of the IRS's Exempt Organizations unit, which scrutinizes non-profits to determine charitable status. Tea party themed non-profits have alleged, with evidence that has been endorsed by the inspector general, that she gave them a politically-charged hassling.
Tea partiers and Republicans allege that Lerner took marching orders from the White House. Lerner herself has refused to shed light on this. She invoked her Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination before Congress and fell silent.
The IRS has proven about as cooperative as Lerner. The agency said it couldn't recover her emails because of a computer crash. Congress may not examine that hard drive to see if something can be salvaged because it was thrown out, reports Politico.
But hey, at least they recycled!
There's more. The collection arm of the Treasury is refusing to turn over the official emails of a half dozen of Lerner's colleagues. Again, same excuse. Their hard drives conveniently crashed, and there went the emails. Best of luck with your investigation.
Liberal journalist Dan Froomkin still calls this a "phony scandal" and Ezra Klein's Vox gets extra hack points for blaming it on the IRS's "underfunding."
With each new revelation of obstruction, it becomes that much harder maintain the Obi Wan Kenobe Jedi mind trick position. Typically, when someone insists, "There is nothing to see here. Move along," there is something to see there, and we should stay right there and take a closer look.
The whole IRS seems determined to thwart the oversight of Congress. This is constitutionally unacceptable behavior. How to deal with the defiance is a serious problem. It's not like the House can just hold the whole agency in contempt.
In National Journal, Ron Fournier suggested President Barack Obama appoint a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of it, since the president has insisted there was "not even a smidgeon of corruption" on the part of the White House.
It's a happy thought but the independent counsel law has long since expired. No sane president of either party will ever want to go there again after the Clinton circus of the 1990s.
One of the more creative ideas for getting at the emails came from Texas Republican Congressman Steve Stockman. He wrote a letter to the National Security Agency requesting all the metadata it had on Lerner, so Congress could see what calls and emails she was sending, when, and to whom, and then go ask those people to cough up the emails.
Most House Republicans will probably get behind a proposal by Ander Crenshaw, chairman of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Crenshaw's proposal would bar the White House from having anything to do with tax exemption deliberations going forward and bar spending on things that the IRS has been dinged for recently - including throwing lavish conferences and giving bonuses to thousands of its own agents who still owe back taxes.
Most importantly, Crenshaw's proposal would reduce the overall IRS budget by $341 million, to $10.95 billion. So that's the size of the stick responsible Republicans are willing to wield - so far. Considering that the figure will undoubtedly be reduced in negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate, it doesn't seem nearly large enough.
As the IRS's nose grows longer with excuses, one suspects House Republicans will bid the figure up much higher. Obama requested over a billion dollars in new funding for the tax collectors. There is little downside for the House in going at least that far in the other direction.
That strategy would cut not just fat from the IRS, but muscle. If Republicans go there, don't be surprised to hear that a whole bunch of emails have been miraculously rediscovered.
Jeremy Lott is an editor for rare.us and author of several books.