Congressional investigators are working to determine if other parts of the Obama administration were involved in the abusive and potentially illegal IRS targeting of conservative organizations, a probe that could cause problems dwarfing anything else the White House is facing.
Any knowledge, approval or direction of IRS abuses at senior levels of the administration would turn the rumblings of scandal into an earthquake. Any link to the president could be grounds for impeachment.
Let’s be clear, at the moment, this is speculative. There is absolutely no evidence that President Obama or anyone in the White House knew about the IRS targeting of conservatives. But investigators are taking a serious look at whether this goes beyond the IRS. And unlike Benghazi, where the issues are murkier, everyone in the United States understands clearly that the IRS must not be used for partisan purposes.
According to the New York Times, investigators are probing whether there are links between the IRS targeting and the Department of Treasury – which oversees the IRS – and from perhaps from there into other parts of the administration.
From the piece:
House and Senate aides said they were focusing on an Aug. 4, 2011, meeting in which the I.R.S.’s chief counsel appears to have conferred with agency officials to discuss the activities of a team in the Cincinnati field office that had been subjecting applications for tax-exempt status from Tea Party and other conservative groups to a greater degree of review than those from other organizations.
Under I.R.S. rules, the agency’s chief counsel, William J. Wilkins, reports to the Treasury Department’s general counsel, and investigators want to determine if Mr. Wilkins took the issue out of the independent I.R.S. to other parts of the Obama administration.
If the inquiry determines any new link to the administration, it could change the political equation for the White House, which has stressed the I.R.S.’s independence even as President Obama has castigated the agency over the allegations of political bias. A bipartisan investigation by the Senate Finance Committee built steam on Tuesday, and the House Ways and Means Committee prepared for the first hearing on the matter on Friday with an extensive request for documents from the I.R.S. The House Oversight Committee formally accused one I.R.S. official of misleading lawmakers on four occasions.
“What we don’t know at this point is whether it jumped the fence from the I.R.S. to the White House,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “But we do know this: we can’t count on the administration to be forthcoming about the details of this scandal, because so far they’ve been anything but.”
Washington is a very porous town. People talk casually and formally about all kinds of matters, great and small. It’s very hard to imagine that something as explosive as the IRS targeting of Obama’s most dangerous political enemies – conservative attack groups raising millions in political money – was kept solely within the IRS.
We’ve already been deceived on this by contentions the operation was based solely within Cincinnati. What else are they hiding?
How far it went beyond the IRS is anyone’s guess. But it has to be more than a guess. And if investigators are dogged and the press does its job – the latter a dubious assumption, but possible in the wake of DOJ’s targeting of the AP – facts will soon replace guesswork.