IRS scandal closes in on Obama

By: The Gazette editorial
July 20, 2013 Updated: July 20, 2013 at 8:40 am
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Drip. Drip. Drip. Few sounds are more annoying than a water faucet that won't stop dripping in the night, particularly for those desperately trying to nod off from reality.

One sound that is likely far more annoying for President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress and on the left side of the mediasphere is the steady drip of the IRS scandal. More drips fell Thursday as Rep. Darrell Issa's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee continued to unravel the backstory of the federal tax agency's illegal harassment and intimidation of conservative, evangelical and tea party groups applying for non-profit status between 2010 and 2012.

The president and his backers initially dismissed the harassment as merely the work of two rogue IRS agents in Cincinnati. Then the cover story became a little bit wider but still contained the scandal in Ohio.

The scary tactics evidenced by demands for lists of donors and descriptions of the political views of applicants were nothing more than overzealous public servants trying to "manage more efficiently," in the words of former acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller. Nothing to see here, so move along, folks, move along.

But the drips grew steadily more irritating after career bureaucrat Lois Lerner stiffed the committee by invoking the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions and former IRS head Douglas Shulman dissed the House panel by citing the Easter egg roll by way of explaining his more than 160 visits to the White House during the harassment period. Shulman's sneer notwithstanding, at least the president and his supporters could still credibly claim that nothing linked the illegal harassment to anybody in the White House.

That assertion went down the drain Thursday when two career IRS employees - the recently retired Carter Hull and tax agent Elizabeth Hofacre - said they acted at the behest of higher-ups, and not just those in the hinterlands. Hull's testimony was especially important because he is a 48-year veteran of the IRS and before his retirement was one of its most trusted experts on tax exemption issues.

Hull said he was told to forward the targeted applications to, among others, one of only two political appointees in the IRS, Chief Counsel William Wilkins. The chief counsel's office apparently was the black hole into which hundreds of the targeted applications disappeared for months at a time, according to Hull.

The president's defenders can dismiss the Wilkins involvement until they are blue in the face, but it won't change the fact that political appointees serve at the pleasure of one person and one only - the president.

Presidential appointees are frequently among the chief executive's most devoted disciples, having worked long hours to get their man elected, and their loyalty is solely to him and his political agenda. Many Cabinet-level departments have hundreds of political appointees; the IRS is unique in having only two. They must be loyal indeed. The drips won't stop anytime soon.

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