The Justice Department won’t charge Lois Lerner, a former Internal Revenue Service official, over Tea Party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status, closing a nearly 2 1/2-year investigation with a determination that IRS officials bungled the matter but committed no crimes.
“Our investigation uncovered 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,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik wrote to Congress on Friday. “But poor management is not a crime.”
The announcement ends a major phase of the IRS controversy, angering Republicans and Tea Party activists who had pressed for prosecutions.
I guess it’s no surprise that the Obama Administration’s DOJ’s investigation cleared the Obama Administration’s IRS. But it’s important to note what the report does not say. It does not say that conservative organizations weren’t targeted. It merely concludes that this targeting was the result of incompetence rather than the result of criminal conspiracy.
The report is short. They interviewed a ton of people, looked over a few hundred thousand documents but could not find a smoking gun that indicated a deliberate political targeting of conservative organizations. What they did identify was a bumbling incompetent organization that took various shortcuts to do their job that resulted in targeting of political organizations.
(I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories for precisely this reason: government is too incompetent to organize a proper conspiracy. As Dave Barry once said regarding the supposed Roswell aliens:
It`s not that I don`t believe the government would TRY to hide dead aliens; it`s that I don`t think the government would SUCCEED, since every time the government tries to do anything secretly, as in the Iran-contra arms deal, it winds up displaying all the finesse and stealth of an exploding cigar at a state funeral. If there really WERE dead aliens, I figure, there also would be daily leaks about it from High Level Officials and huge arguments among influential congresspersons over whose district the multimillion-dollar Federal Dead Alien Storage Facility would be located in.
The Obama Administration is not exactly known for their airtight conspiring.)
The report notes that Lerner took action in stopping this. But her actions came very late in the game and could have come much earlier had she been properly supervising her agency. That’s … not exactly an exoneration. They also note that they found no evidence that she deliberately crashed her hard drive, destroying thousands of documents. That’s … not exactly an exoneration either. So even on its own terms, this report isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Lerner or the IRS.
But I’m not seeing why we should take this on its own terms, really. Its main conclusion is that no IRS employees would go on record saying there was political targeting and that no documentation they saw drew this conclusion. It takes a lot of pride in noting that some of the IRS employees it interviewed were critical of Lerner or openly admitted to being Republicans. It’s almost overboard in its effort to portray itself as fair. But this crosses me as a very surface-level investigation.
Furthermore, the conclusions are very caged in the inability to prove criminal intent. I’m not in favor of bringing charges that ruin people’s lives when there is no hope of conviction. But I should note that this standard is usually not applied to civilians. If you fail to pay your taxes, the IRS won’t let you off the hook because there’s no evidence you did it on purpose. And they certainly won’t accept that your hard drive mysteriously crashed. That would bring an obstruction charge.
I’m also reminded of the mantra that it’s not the crime that ruins politicians, it’s the cover-up. The IRS played smart here, granting unfettered access to their employees and documents (apart from the hard drive that mysteriously crashed). By not overtly obstructing justice, they kept themselves clear of criminal charges.
So in the end, this report can be summed up as, “The IRS cooperated and we didn’t any convincing evidence of criminal activity. It looks more incompetence to us.”
That’s … not exactly an exoneration.