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A look inside the IRS spin shop

USA Today has a lengthy article about a report from the Democrat-controlled Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that’s supposed to dissipate the IRS scandal by demonstrating that “mismanagement, not political bias, was responsible for the targeting.”  It does nothing of the kind, and it’s downright surreal that Democrats think this little ploy is going to make the scandal go away.  

As USA Today describes it, the argument presented by this report and accompanying documentation is that the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations unit couldn’t have done anything wrong, because its director, Lois Lerner, put a lot of effort into spinning investigators and the media.  If you’re scratching your head after reading that sentence, you read it correctly.  The case being made here is that the presence of a cover-up means there couldn’t possibly have been a crime.  

And Lerner once said she was “willing to take the blame for not having provided sufficient direction initially, which may have resulted in front-line staff doing things that appeared to be politically motivated, but I am not on board that anything that occurred here shows that the IRS was politically motivated in the actions taken.”  So that’s that.  Sure, she wrote that email to Treasury inspectors after they’d investigated her unit, but never mind the timing – the woman who took the Fifth to avoid testimony says the unit that shredded a couple of dozen subpoenaed hard drives didn’t do anything wrong, so that’s that.

As you read all this, remember that Senate Democrats – some of whom were involved in the scandal, having given Lerner lists of conservative groups to target – think it somehow proves the IRS was not politicized:

Lerner told her bosses that auditors focused too much on the “be-on-the-lookout” list, which included conservative and liberal buzzwords that IRS screeners should send to a specialist, “as a ‘bad’ thing without looking at the entire program.”

As the audit progressed, it became clear that it would paint the IRS in a bad light.

The idea for a public apology to head off the audit came at least a month before. Lerner was set to give a speech at Georgetown University and was “begging” for some newsworthy information, IRS chief of staff Nikole Flax said in an e-mail.

“We may want to use it to burst a bubble,” said then-acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller in response. He later joked that Lerner could use the speech to “apologize for undermanaging.”

Speechwriters at the IRS started working up a draft of an apology Lerner could give at the Georgetown conference: “The IRS should have done a better job of handling the review of c4 applications. We made mistakes, for which we deeply apologize. But these mistakes were in no way due to any political or partisan reason.”

It was “an error, not a political vendetta,” the draft of the speech said.

Lerner never gave that speech. Instead, she spoke at Georgetown about an IRS review of colleges and universities.

Two weeks later, Lerner spoke at another conference. She planted a question with a friend in the audience and used that question to deliver the apology.

So there you have it!  Lois Lerner knew the audit of her unit would lead people to believe they were almost exclusively targeting conservative groups, because they had lists of criteria that…um… exclusively targeted conservative groups, so they eventually…er… changed the lists to include some non-conservative Be On the Lookout criteria, even though they never actually got around to targeting anyone except conservative groups, and then when she got caught, Lerner whipped up a speech that would have said it was all a mistake instead of a political hatchet job, but she… uhh… never got around to giving that speech, because she decided to plant a question at a conference to break the news before the bombshell investigative report was released, and then she went to Canada on vacation, and…er… that proves she didn’t do anything wrong!

The IRS wanted to tell The Washington Post’s editorial page that “organizations from all parts of the political spectrum received the same, evenhanded treatment.” Lerner insisted that line come out of a draft statement because that would imply that the IRS kept track of the ideology of groups applying for exemptions. “It sounds like we track it, and we don’t,” she said.

Over at the inspector general’s office, officials were annoyed that Lerner had “jumped the gun” with the apology, spinning the contents of the audit report before it was released.

“This is a brilliant pre-emptive strike by the IRS,” wrote David Holmgren, the deputy inspector general for Inspections and Evaluations. “When we release next week, it will be old news.”

In response, the inspector general worked to move up the release of the audit.

See, nobody who could plot a “brilliant pre-emptive strike” could possibly be a corrupt official who knew she was in deep trouble.  I guess Lerner took the Fifth because she didn’t want to give away her brilliant pre-emptive strike strategies, or something.

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