The Obama Justice Department dismissed the IRS political targeting scandal as no big deal, and the Trump administration hasn’t been any better. At least the judiciary is still trying to hold someone to account for this government abuse.
In a little-noticed decision last week, federal Judge Reggie Walton ordered the IRS to answer a series of questions by Oct. 16. Notably, the tax agency must finally explain the specific reasons for the specific delays in approving each of dozens of conservative nonprofit applications — delays that stifled free speech during a midterm and a presidential election. Walton is also requiring the IRS to name the specific individuals that it holds responsible for the targeting.
These are basic questions of political accountability, even if the IRS has stonewalled since 2013. President Barack Obama continued to spin that the targeting was the result of some “boneheaded” IRS line officers in Cincinnati who didn’t understand tax law. Yet congressional investigations have uncovered clear evidence that the targeting was ordered and directed out of Washington.
Former director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner was at the center of that Washington effort, but the IRS allowed her to retire with benefits. She invoked the Fifth Amendment before Congress. One of her principal deputies, Holly Paz, has submitted to a deposition in separate litigation, but the judge has sealed her testimony after she claimed she faced threats. The acting commissioner of the IRS at the time, Stephen Miller, stepped down in the wake of the scandal, but as far as anyone outside the IRS knows, no other IRS employee has been held to account. Even if the culprits were “rogue employees,” as the IRS claims, the public deserves to know what happened.
Walton’s ruling means that “the IRS must finally acknowledge its wrongdoing (and the reasons for it) in the context of a judicial proceeding in which the agency may be held legally accountable for its misconduct,” Carly Gammill told Powerlineblog.com. Gammill is an attorney at the American Center for Law & Justice who represents groups from the Tea Party movement in the litigation.
The Trump administration also has a duty to provide some answers. The Justice Department and the IRS have continued to resist the lawsuits as doggedly as they did in the Obama era. Attorney General Jeff Sessions can change that by ordering government attorneys to quickly and fully comply with Walton’s orders. Seven years is too long to wait for answers over abuses of the government’s taxing power.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL