EDITORIAL: Slaying the IRS hydra

The scandals proliferate, and they’re not myths

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The Lernaean Hydra, the ancient serpent-like water beast with many heads, should be the symbol of the Internal Revenue Service. Every scandal at the IRS is followed by two more, like the hydra, that grew two heads for every one lost. The Hydra was a myth; the IRS, alas, is not, and it’s out of control.

Agents of the IRS, as reported by Dave Boyer and Ben Wolfgang of this newspaper, have been inspecting the tax records of political candidates and major donors. It’s illegal under U.S. law. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, was told by J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration, that in at least four cases unidentified government officials obtained “unauthorized access or disclosure of tax records of political donors or candidates.” He described one case as “willful.” He described the other three as “inadvertent.”

Mr. George is forbidden by federal law to disclose any details. We can think of several obvious possibilities. Three years ago Austan Goolsbee, at the time the White House economic adviser, held an off-the-record briefing with reporters in which he made the astonishing claim that Koch Industries paid no corporate income taxes.

Charles and David Koch have no fans at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They spend a lot of their money in support of libertarian and conservative causes. Austan Goolsbee spoke with the confidence of a man who had looked at the Koch tax returns.

Investigators are investigating whether the IRS audited the political opponents of the administration. Donors to Mitt Romney presidential campaign complained they were subjected to sharp scrutiny after they sent a check to Mr. Romney’s Restore Our Future super PAC. Frank L. VanderSloot, one of the top Republican contributors, was among those harassed. Though he did nothing wrong he had to spend $80,000 on accountants and lawyers to prove it. Mr. VanderSloot says others have had the same treatment but think silence is the better part of valor, or at least good sense.

This sounds like an “enemies list,” which would be a high crime among misdemeanors, if true. Among the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon was the allegation that his administration “endeavored to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.”

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. nevertheless declined to prosecute, even though the violation was identified as willful by the Treasury Department’s inspector general. Mr. Grassley wants to know why, and who made that decision.

The Hydra lurked in the swamps near Lerna, guarding the entrance to the underworld. The Internal Revenue Service has been acting as the political guardian of the Obama White House, working to damage its enemies. The Hydra was so powerful that even its breath and blood, left in its wake, were deadly. Sounds like a certain neighborhood in Washington to us.

The Washington Times

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