- - Thursday, December 5, 2013

With his trademark grin and natural charm, President Obama knows how to connect with an audience. So it was when he gave the commencement address to Arizona State University’s class of 2009, thrilling a crowd of 60,000 assembled in Sun Devil Stadium. Looking back on his remarks today, his words are much less amusing.

“Now, before I begin,” said Mr. Obama, “I’d just like to clear the air about that little controversy everybody was talking about a few weeks back.” The president was referring to the school basketball team, which had been knocked out in the second round of the NCAA March Madness tournament almost two months earlier.

“I have to tell you, I really thought this was much ado about nothing, but I do think we all learned an important lesson,” said Mr. Obama. “I learned never again to pick another team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA bracket. It won’t happen again. President [Michael] Crow and the Board of Regents will soon learn about being audited by the IRS.” Though that last line was said with a smile, threatening people with a government audit is no longer a laughing matter for some people.

Bill Elliot is a late-stage cancer patient who was happy with his insurance, his doctor and his coverage. He told his story to the nation on Fox News, describing how his insurance company was covering almost all of his needs, “including medication and medical devices” — until Obamacare came along. Thanks to the health care law’s new mandates, Mr. Elliot lost his plan, and the Obamacare replacement was seven times more expensive. Shortly after his appearance, the IRS started auditing Mr. Elliot.

The timing certainly could be a coincidence. The tax agency audits 1.4 million returns a year, which is about 1 percent of the number filed. Quite a few conservatives are showing up in that “1 percent” category. The tax man has paid a visit to many of Mitt Romney’s major political donors. The IRS has gone after retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben S. Carson, who also writes an op-ed column on these pages. Wayne Allen Root, a Columbia University classmate of Mr. Obama and a critic of the administration, has been targeted. Larry Conners, a news anchor at KMOV-TV in St. Louis, gained notoriety for asking Mr. Obama several hard questions during a one-on-one interview. “I don’t accept ‘conspiracy theories,’” Mr. Conners wrote on his Facebook page, “but I do know that almost immediately after the interview, the IRS started hammering me.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa is trying to find documents and witnesses that would shed light on whether these occurrences are just a coincidence, or whether the IRS, for instance, has been deliberately punishing Tea Party groups because of their hostility to White House policies. The administration has pulled out every trick in the book to frustrate the inquiry. Mr. Issa recently joined Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio in setting a Dec. 16 deadline for FBI Director James B. Comey Jr. to turn over requested documents. “Obstructing a congressional investigation is a crime,” the Republican members reminded Mr. Comey in a letter.

One of the top articles of impeachment against President Nixon was his use of subordinates to arrange “income-tax audits or other income-tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.” It is in Mr. Obama’s best interests to clear the air on this issue so that we can once again laugh with his punch lines.