On Monday, The Hill and others carried a story that seemed to strongly change the narrative of the IRS “targeting scandal.” In testimony before the House Ways and Means committee, acting IRS head Danny Werfel said that the targeting had gone on longer than originally thought –into 2013– and that it had included liberal and progressive groups:
But Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said that the IRS told Congress for the first time on Monday that “progressive” was also a term used on BOLO lists.
In a release, Ways and Means Democrats stressed that liberal groups were among almost 300 groups seeking tax-exempt status that Treasury’s inspector general for tax administration reviewed for the May audit outlining the targeting of Tea Party groups.
Levin said Monday that the audit left that information out, and called for Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) to bring Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Russell George back for more testimony.
“The audit served as the basis and impetus for a wide range of Congressional investigations and this new information shows that the foundation of those investigations is flawed in a fundamental way,” Levin said in a statement.
This would seem to weaken at least one aspect of what has been a major scandal for the Obama administration, that conservative and Tea Party groups were singled out inappropriately for special attention that amounted to political harassment and a denial of equal treatment under the law, based on their political views. If left-liberal groups were given similar treatment, then the charge becomes one of mere bureaucratic incompetence, rather than political persecution. And it would tie in with the administration’s favorite defense in scandals: “We’re not evil. We’re just stupid.”
But… Not so fast.
Writing for National Review, Eliana Johnson looks at this new revelation and finds yet another smokescreen:
Acting IRS commissioner Danny Werfel on Monday told reporters that the now-infamous “Be On The Lookout” list was far broader than was originally disclosed in the Treasury Department inspector general’s report. Reports from outlets including the Associated Press, which I cited in my original report, and now Bloomberg News, confirmed Werfel’s account, indicating that various versions of the list not only included terms like “tea party,” but also “progressive,” “Occupy,” and “Israel.”
A November 2010 version of the list obtained by National Review Online, however, suggests that while the list did contain the word “progressive,” screeners were in fact instructed to treat “progressive” groups differently from “tea party” groups. Whereas screeners were merely alerted that a designation of 501(c)(3) status “may not be appropriate” for applications containing the word ”progressive” – 501(c)(3) organizations are prohibited from conducting any political activities – they were told to send those of tea-party groups off IRS higher-ups for further scrutiny.
That means the applications of progressive groups could be approved on the spot by line agents, while those of tea-party groups could not. Furthermore, the November 2010 list noted that tea-party cases were “currently being coordinated with EOT,” which stands for Exempt Organizations Technical, a group of tax lawyers in Washington, D.C. Those of progressive groups were not.
In other words, “Nice try, Representative Levin, but you might want to contact the White House to find out what’s next on the list of distractions.”
This does raise several questions, though. First, Acting Commissioner Werfel surely had to know of the disparate treatment of conservative and liberal groups and its significance in this scandal. Why bring this up as if it was exculpatory? A little “suggestion” from the White House? It may be time for him to come back to testify under oath to explain himself.
Second, this scandal has been known for weeks, and there have been days of testimony by various Right-wing groups complaining about mistreatment by the IRS. If lefty groups were similarly picked on, where were they? Why didn’t they demand to be heard? Why didn’t the Democrats produce them as witnesses? Surely they deserve justice, too, don’t they?
As Johnson’s research shows, they weren’t at the hearing because they had no complaint. The bureaucracy wasn’t interfering with the exercise of their constitutional rights.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)