- - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The House Ways and Means Committee will vote Wednesday to ask the Justice Department to file criminal charges against Lois Lerner for using the fright-making power of the Internal Revenue Service to hobble Tea Party groups and, in her words, “fix the problem” wrought by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision lifting restrictions on campaign finance.

We’re skeptical that Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. will do his duty, though we’re confident he will diligently look after the president’s political interests. Mr. Holder is a partisan with the dubious distinction of having been found in contempt of Congress. He shows every evidence that he is a part of the Democratic wagon-circling, doing everything possible to throw congressional investigators off the scent.

One of his the favorite red herrings is the claim that the IRS scandal is “not news” because liberal groups were mistreated, just as conservative groups were. (Why would he tolerate mistreatment of anyone?) President Obama asserted there was “not even a smidgeon of corruption” at the agency. The new IRS chief tells Congress it will take years to turn over Ms. Lerner’s emails — something any computer geek could accomplish in a few minutes with a simple thumb drive.

A new report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform shreds this defense. Thanks in part to the testimony of IRS agents and officials from the Treasury Department, we know that the official IRS policy was to treat conservative groups as different. J. Russell George, the Treasury’s inspector general, confirmed that liberal organizations were not mistreated. He said his office “found no indication in any of these other materials that ‘Progressives’ was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention.”

USA Today performed its own analysis and found that over two years, not one Tea Party application for tax status was accepted, while the agency approved applications by left-wing organizations. The administration’s apologists have seized on a handful of instances where liberal groups experienced some delay, but these exceptions prove the rule. “Only seven applications in the IRS backlog contained the word ‘progressive,’” the committee report noted, “all of which were then approved by the IRS, while Tea Party groups received unprecedented review and experienced years-long delays. While some liberal-oriented groups were singled out for scrutiny, evidence shows it was due to nonpolitical reasons.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa has scheduled a Thursday vote on a resolution holding Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress. Should the Ways and Means Committee’s criminal referral to the Justice Department produce no results — a likely outcome — the contempt process gives the House of Representatives another option to get justice.

Ninety years ago, the Justice Department was implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal when President Warren Harding’s cronies obtained preferential oil leases of government land in Wyoming. Evidence was carefully scuttled to make sure nobody would find out what really happened. But it wasn’t enough. Incriminating documents were discovered, anyway, and the Senate demanded that Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty arrest the conspirators.

Senate investigators wanted to talk to Mr. Daugherty’s brother, Mally, when his name appeared in the documents. He refused to cooperate with the Senate investigation, trusting that he would be protected by his brother. The Senate sent its sergeant-at-arms to Cincinnati to arrest Mally Daugherty and force him to testify. Though he was set free while the courts wrangled over the legitimacy of a congressional arrest, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in 1927 that the legislative branch can jail a recalcitrant witness as long as the subject of the committee’s investigation has a relevant legislative purpose.

It shouldn’t have to come to that at the IRS, but if Mr. Holder continues to play defense for his idol’s administration, it might well come to that. This scandal won’t go away.