By 10/24/15 12:01 AM
"After stating that their investigation confirms that Tea Party and conservative groups were improperly targeted," Issa noted, "they dismiss it merely as a byproduct of gross mismanagement and incompetence -- ignoring volumes of evidence in the public record and efforts to obstruct legitimate inquiries." (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
If it's Friday it must be time for the Obama administration to announce a shabby decision to news media keen to turn their attention away from government affairs and toward football and other rewards of a relaxing weekend.
The Justice Department announced this Friday that it will not pursue charges against former IRS manager Lois Lerner or any other IRS official for targeting conservatives who applied to set up small non-profit groups.
In doing so, the department demonstrates its determination to make whistleblowers suffer even as bureaucratic malefactors go unpunished. Former House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa summed up the department's findings in his brief statement. "After stating that their investigation confirms that Tea Party and conservative groups were improperly targeted," he noted, "they dismiss it merely as a byproduct of gross mismanagement and incompetence — ignoring volumes of evidence in the public record and efforts to obstruct legitimate inquiries."
Indeed, the Justice Department's letter to Congress states that its probe of the IRS found "substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints. But poor management is not a crime."
First of all, it's more than a "belief" that the IRS targeted conservative and Tea Party non-profit applicants. In 2013, before she had invoked her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, Lerner publicly admitted to the targeting. She did so because she knew that an inspector general's report would soon reveal it, and she hoped to lessen its fallout.
That targeting occurred has never been the subject of any serious controversy. IRS officials deliberately dragged out non-profit applications from small Tea Party-related groups for years and placed illegal and unreasonable demands on them, obstructing them from exercising their rights under the law. From the very beginning, the only question was who had been responsible for this.
The assertion that "poor management is not a crime" is true. In government, poor management is not even a firing offense. But "poor judgment" often results in actual criminal activity, or at least gross workplace misconduct that should result in firing and the loss of pension. Not a single IRS official has been held to account for the misconduct that caused this scandal.
The decision to let Lerner off the hook is truly outrageous. Government officials who abuse their power should always be first in line for prosecution. Lerner surely expected as much when she invoked the Fifth Amendment in order to avoid testifying before Congress.
In a previous role at the Federal Election Commission, Lerner had used the power and resources of that agency to target conservatives as well. In the late 1990s, she revived an already-closed FEC case against a conservative candidate who refused the offer she made him over the phone — "Just promise us you will not run for public office again and we'll drop it." Lerner lost that case in court, but only after successfully harassing an innocent citizen with a meritless complaint.
The existing electronic record of Lerner's activities at the IRS, the part that the bureaucrats did not destroy in contravention of a court order, shows how she worked deliberately to avoid leaving a paper trail at work. In her own emails, she warned colleagues that anything IRS employees put in writing could be found through Freedom of Information requests. She also established through inquiries to her agency's computer staff that conversations over the bureau's instant message system would not be saved for posterity. That suggests intent, not just "poor management."
Lerner's division systematically harassed small and inconsequential conservative groups by denying them equal treatment under the law. Why? Because they could. This is how bureaucratic bullies behave.
If they can get away with it, then the no rule of law is traduced.