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EDITORIAL: Rotten fish at the IRS
Only Congress is likely to get to the source of the stink
If you’re a president under fire, it’s convenient to fire someone who’s about to leave anyway. The president on Wednesday threw acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller under the hot dog wagon, or whatever convenient cliche was waiting at the curb.
Mr. Miller doesn’t make a particularly satisfying fall guy, since he wasn’t actually in charge when the crimes were committed, and his tenure as acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service was to end early next month.
Given the gravity of the IRS misconduct, it’s going to take a lot more to make amends. In April 2012, the National Organization for Marriage asked the Department of Justice to investigate how the group’s confidential tax returns were leaked to gay activists at the Human Rights Campaign and to the Huffington Post, a left-wing website. The leaked returns were used to identify Mitt Romney as a donor to the pro-traditional marriage group and thus gin up outrage — and donations — from President Obama’s frenzied followers in the last days of the 2012 campaign. Disclosure of a confidential tax return is a felony.
Justice didn’t bother investigating or prosecuting this crime, so the House Ways and Means Committee will open its own wide-ranging inquiry into IRS misconduct on Friday. Rep. Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who chairs the committee, correctly says that Mr. Miller’s forced resignation “does nothing to change the culture of discrimination at the IRS.” That “culture of discrimination” could well have its roots in IRS functionaries taking their cues from Mr. Obama, who in October 2010 encouraged one group of allies to “punish our enemies.”
It wouldn’t be the first time. In June 1996, it was disclosed that onetime bar bouncer Craig Livingstone, director of the Clinton White House's Office of Personnel Security, obtained for political purposes FBI security-clearance documents on several hundred persons, many of them White House employees of previous Republican administrations. Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic presidential nominee, said it well in 1988, commenting on a scandal in a Republican administration: “There’s an old Greek saying. The fish rots from the head first. It starts at the top.”
It’s not enough that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has ordered a criminal investigation of the IRS. Mr. Holder told Congress on Wednesday that he will follow the evidence wherever it leads, but given his record in the Black Panthers case and his Fast and Furious gun-running scheme, that means it will lead nowhere. The inquiry must be truly independent.
The congressional inquiry promises to be bipartisan. The Senate Finance Committee, with Democratic Sen. Max Baucus holding the gavel, begins its inquiry on Tuesday. The National Organization for Marriage is also bringing a lawsuit at the U.S. District Court in Washington.
“Rogue, low-level” IRS employees will likely be next on the “fall guy” list. It’s essential that they have a public opportunity to explain whether they were acting under orders from above, and if so, from whom. That could be bad news for the administration. A fish, as Mr. Dukakis reminded us, doesn’t rot from the tail up.
The Washington Times
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