One thing is clear about the current state of play on the IRS scandal — President Obama and his top appointees have now moved to a new phase of their Nixonian defense: The scandal wrought by IRS intimidation and harassment of Tea Party, conservative and evangelical groups seeking tax exemption during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns is “phony” because, as Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on Fox News Sunday, “there’s no evidence of any political decision maker who was involved in any of those decisions. And I think the attempt to try to keep finding that evidence is creating the kind of sense of a phony scandal that was being referred to there.” In other words, Congress and journalists seeking facts about the scandal makes it “phony.” Such logic makes Nixon’s dismissal of Watergate as a “second-rate burglary” sound almost reasonable.
Lew’s claim does not square with the known facts – because the revelation during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, the office of IRS Chief Counsel William Wilkins — one of the two Obama political appointees at the tax agency — was “apparently the black hole into which hundreds of the targeted applications disappeared for months at a time.” Wilkins not only qualifies as a “political decision-maker” that Lew would have everybody believe are nowhere to be found in the IRS scandal, he also fits the description of a member of the Obama inner circle, having defended the president’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, when he got into tax difficulties. The Wilkins office was also involved in the onerous IRS questionnaires that asked about the political views of the applicants, their religious activities and in at least one case how an individual prayed.
Something else the IRS scandal is not is “past.” It is an ongoing scandal because the tax agency continues to hold up tax exempt applications of hundreds of Tea Party, conservative and evangelical groups, including many as long as four years, and to make illegal demands of them under the guise of “settlement offers.” Those offers are premised on the agreement of the groups that they voluntarily limit their political expression, thus achieving the illegal purpose of the IRS and giving it a patina of legitimacy. There is no precedent or legal authority for the IRS to make tax exemption contingent on an applicant’s agreement not to exercise First Amendment rights as recognized by the Constitution. Even worse, what happens to those groups that decline to surrender some portion of their constitutional rights? Does the IRS then refuse them tax exemption because they wouldn’t cooperate with the tax bureaucrats’ gutting of political speech?
Obama’s Acting IRS Commissioner, Danny Werfel, has no authority to approve any settlement that requires some applicants to give up rights that continue to be enjoyed by other applicants. The Obama crowd notwithstanding, the First Amendment applies equally to all Americans.
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This editorial was published by the Washington Examiner.