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A Bombshell in the IRS Scandal: Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2013— The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office—that had been established—but to the office of the chief counsel. That is a bombshell—such a big one that it managed to emerge in spite of an unfocused, frequently off-point congressional hearing
Where Did Our ‘Inalienable Rights’ Go?: Max Frankel, New York Times, June 22, 2013— Now that we sense the magnitude of our government’s effort to track Americans’ telephone and Internet transactions, the issue finally and fully before us is not how we balance personal privacy with police efficiency.
Obama’s Dangerous Contempt for the Rule of Law: Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg, May 27, 2013— Whatever the investigation into misconduct at the Internal Revenue Service reveals, we already have all the evidence we need to understand President Barack Obama’s fundamental attitude toward the rule of law. That evidence is right there in the public record, and what it shows is indifference and contempt.
Poll: Obama’s Job Approval Plunges: David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau, July 22, 2013
IRS Scandal: One Step Removed From the White House: Arnold Ahlert , Front Page Magazine, July 23, 2013
Will IRS Scandal Lead all the Way to Obama?: Jay Sekulow, FoxNews, July 19, 2013
The Hollow Core of Obamaism: Jonah Goldberg, National Review, June 3, 2013
How Spying Will Sink the [U.S]Trade Pact with Europe: Patrick Smith, The Fiscal Times, July 22, 2013
Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2013
The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office—that had been established—but to the office of the chief counsel. That is a bombshell—such a big one that it managed to emerge in spite of an unfocused, frequently off-point congressional hearing in which some members seemed to have accidentally woken up in the middle of a committee room, some seemed unaware of the implications of what their investigators had uncovered, one pretended that the investigation should end if IRS workers couldn't say the president had personally called and told them to harass his foes, and one seemed to be holding a filibuster on Pakistan.
Still, what landed was a bombshell. And Democrats know it. Which is why they are so desperate to make the investigation go away. They know, as Republicans do, that the chief counsel of the IRS is one of only two Obama political appointees in the entire agency.
To quickly review why the new information, which came most succinctly in a nine-page congressional letter to IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel, is big news: When the scandal broke two months ago, in May, IRS leadership in Washington claimed the harassment of tea-party and other conservative groups requesting tax-exempt status was confined to the Cincinnati office, where a few rogue workers bungled the application process. Lois Lerner, then the head of the exempt organizations unit in Washington, said "line people in Cincinnati" did work that was "not so fine." They asked questions that "weren't really necessary," she claimed, and operated without "the appropriate level of sensitivity." But the targeting was "not intentional." Ousted acting commissioner Steven Miller also put it off on "people in Cincinnati." They provided "horrible customer service."
House investigators soon talked to workers in the Cincinnati office, who said everything they did came from Washington. Elizabeth Hofacre, in charge of processing tea-party applications in Cincinnati, told investigators that her work was overseen and directed by a lawyer in the IRS Washington office named Carter Hull. Now comes Mr. Hull's testimony. And like Ms. Hofacre, he pointed his finger upward. Mr. Hull—a 48-year IRS veteran and an expert on tax exemption law—told investigators that tea-party applications under his review were sent upstairs within the Washington office, at the direction of Lois Lerner.
In April 2010, Hull was assigned to scrutinize certain tea-party applications. He requested more information from the groups. After he received responses, he felt he knew enough to determine whether the applications should be approved or denied. But his recommendations were not carried out. Michael Seto, head of Mr. Hull's unit, also spoke to investigators. He told them Lois Lerner made an unusual decision: Tea-party applications would undergo additional scrutiny—a multilayered review. Mr. Hull told House investigators that at some point in the winter of 2010-11, Ms. Lerner's senior adviser, whose name is withheld in the publicly released partial interview transcript, told him the applications would require further review:
Q: "Did [the senior adviser to Ms. Lerner] indicate to you whether she agreed with your recommendations?"
A: "She did not say whether she agreed or not. She said it should go to chief counsel."
Q: "The IRS chief counsel?"
A: "The IRS chief counsel."
The IRS chief counsel is named William Wilkins. And again, he is one of only two Obama political appointees in the IRS.
What was the chief counsel's office looking for? The letter to Mr. Werfel says Mr. Hull's supervisor, Ronald Shoemaker, provided insight: The counsel's office wanted, in the words of the congressional committees, "information about the applicants' political activities leading up to the 2010 election." Mr. Shoemaker told investigators he didn't find that kind of question unreasonable, but he found the counsel's office to be "not very forthcoming": "We discussed it to some extent and they indicated that they wanted more development of possible political activity or political intervention right before the election period."
It's almost as if—my words—the conservative organizations in question were, during two major election cycles, deliberately held in a holding pattern. So: What the IRS originally claimed was a rogue operation now reaches up not only to the Washington office, but into the office of the IRS chief counsel himself.
At the generally lacking House Oversight Committee Hearings on Thursday, some big things still got said. Ms. Hofacre of the Cincinnati office testified that when she was given tea-party applications, she had to kick them upstairs. When she was given non-tea-party applications, they were sent on for normal treatment. Was she told to send liberal or progressive groups for special scrutiny? No, she did not scrutinize the applications of liberal or progressive groups. "I would send those to general inventory." Who got extra scrutiny? "They were all tea-party and patriot cases." She became "very frustrated" by the "micromanagement" from Washington. "It was like working in lost luggage." She applied to be transferred.
For his part, Mr. Hull backed up what he'd told House investigators. He described what was, essentially, a big, lengthy runaround in the Washington office in which no one was clear as to their reasons but everything was delayed. The multitiered scrutiny of the targeted groups was, he said, "unusual."
It was Maryland's Rep. Elijah Cummings, the panel's ranking Democrat, who, absurdly, asked Ms. Hofacre if the White House called the Cincinnati office to tell them what to do and whether she has knowledge of the president of the United States digging through the tax returns of citizens. Ms. Hofacre looked surprised. No, she replied. It wasn't hard to imagine her thought bubble: Do congressmen think presidents call people like me and say, "Don't forget to harass my enemies"? Are congressmen that stupid? Mr. Cummings is not, and his seeming desperation is telling. Recent congressional information leads to Washington—and now to very high up at the IRS. Meaning this is the point at which a scandal goes nowhere or, maybe, everywhere.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, finally woke the proceedings up with what he called "the evolution of the defense" since the scandal began. First, Ms. Lerner planted a question at a conference. Then she said the Cincinnati office did it—a narrative that was advanced by the president's spokesman, Jay Carney. Then came the suggestion the IRS was too badly managed to pull off a sophisticated conspiracy. Then the charge that liberal groups were targeted too—"we did it against both ends of the political spectrum." When the inspector general of the IRS said no, it was conservative groups that were targeted, he came under attack. Now the defense is that the White House wasn't involved, so case closed.
This is one Republican who is right about evolution. Those trying to get to the bottom of the scandal have to dig in, pay attention. The administration's defenders, and their friends in the press, have made some progress in confusing the issue through misdirection and misstatement. This is the moment things go forward or stall. Republicans need to find out how high the scandal went and why, exactly, it went there. To do that they'll have to up their game.
New York Times, June 22, 2013
NOW that we sense the magnitude of our government’s effort to track Americans’ telephone and Internet transactions, the issue finally and fully before us is not how we balance personal privacy with police efficiency.
We have long since surrendered a record of our curiosities and fantasies to Google. We have broadcast our tastes and addictions for the convenience of one-button Amazon shopping. We have published our health and financial histories in exchange for better and faster hospital and bank services. We have bellowed our angers and frustrations for all to overhear while we walk the streets or ride a bus. Privacy is a currency that we all now routinely spend to purchase convenience.
But Google and Amazon do not indict, prosecute and jail the people they track and bug. The issue raised by the National Security Agency’s data vacuuming is how to protect our civil liberty against the anxious pursuit of civic security. Our rights must not be so casually bartered as our Facebook chatter. Remember “inalienable”?
I envy the commentators who, after a few days of vague discussion, think they have heard enough to strike the balance between liberty and security. Many seem confident that the government is doing nothing more than relieving Verizon and AT&T and Facebook of their storage problems, so that government agents can, on occasion, sift through years of phone and Internet records if they need to find a contact with a suspicious foreigner. Many Americans accept assurances that specific conversations are only rarely exhumed and only if the oddly named Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allows it. Such sifting and warrants — in unexplained combination with more conventional intelligence efforts — are now said, by President Obama and his team, to have prevented several dozen potential terrorist attacks, with elliptical references to threats against New York City’s subways and stock exchange.
Even if true and satisfying, these assurances are now being publicized only because this huge data-gathering effort can no longer be denied. Whatever the motive for the leaks by Edward J. Snowden, they have stimulated a long-overdue public airing. Although the government’s extensive data-hauling activity was partly revealed by diligent reporters and a few disapproving government sources over the last seven years, the undeniable proof came only from Mr. Snowden’s documents. Until then, the very existence of the enterprise was “top secret” and publicly denied, even in Congressional hearings. Even now, the project remains a secret in every important respect. As those of us who had to defend the 1971 publication of the secret Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War have been arguing ever since, there can be no mature discussion of national security policies without the disclosure — authorized or not — of the government’s hoard of secrets.
How many thousands have access to these storage bins? Who decides to open any individual file and who then gains access to its content? Is there ever a chance to challenge the necessity of opening a file? And what happens to gleaned information that has no bearing whatsoever on terrorism?
Given the history of misused “secrets” in Washington, such questions are by no means paranoid. J. Edgar Hoover used F.B.I. investigations and files to smear the reputations of individuals — even to the point of intimidating presidents. Throughout the government, “security” monitors leaked personnel files to Congressional demagogues like Senator Joseph R. McCarthy to wreck the careers of officials and blacklisted citizens with claims of disloyalty. President Lyndon B. Johnson and other officials used secret files from the Internal Revenue Service to harass and intimidate political opponents. President Richard M. Nixon tried to use the C.I.A. to cover up his Watergate crimes. Information that is gathered and managed in secret is a potent weapon — and the temptation to use it in political combat or the pursuit of crimes far removed from terrorism can be irresistible.
President Obama and other defenders of the amassing of data insist that no individual conversation or transaction is ever examined without “court” approval, meaning a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But the court authorizes the scrutiny of more Americans than foreigners, and it is no court in the customary sense: it operates entirely in secret. Its members are federal judges from around the country, any one of whom may authorize the opening of files. Lacking any real challenge to the evidence, they function more as grand jury than court. Mr. Obama has conceded that only a handful of warrant requests have ever been turned down (a few have been modified), a success rate he attributes to government restraint.
Yet most federal judges are predisposed to defer to executive claims of national security. They are generalists with little experience in evaluating intelligence, and they are reluctant to hamper government operatives sworn to defend the nation. The same reluctance is evident among members of Congress, who pose as watchdogs but melt when they hear appeals to patriotism from the managers of the intelligence services.
In theory, Americans are in the habit of resisting government intrusions on their rights of free speech and association. Accordingly we should be skeptical of such overweening exertions. But the data-hauling has gone on for years without real challenge. When asked whether the government could not simply log individual suspicious calls without amassing a national database, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency, said he was open to discussing that approach, though it might delay work in a crisis. A delay of hours? Days? Weeks? Did President George W. Bush or Mr. Obama ever ask the question?
What ought to compound our skepticism is the news that there is money to be made in the mass approach. We are learning that much of the snooping is farmed out to profit-seeking corporations that have great appetites for government contracts, secured through executives who enrich themselves by shuttling between agency jobs and the contractors’ board rooms. We have privatized what should be a most solemn government activity, guaranteeing bloat and also the inevitable and ironic employ of rebellious hackers like Mr. Snowden.
Where then can we find the skeptical oversight that such a radical challenge to our freedom demands? Presidents beholden to their own bureaucracies seem disinclined to play the skeptic or even to create an elite independent commission, like the Warren Commission, which examined the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, to assess the conflict between liberty and security and point the way to reasonable balance.
Despite the predilections of federal judges to defer to the executive branch, I think in the long run we have no choice but to entrust our freedom to them. But the secret world of intelligence demands its own special, permanent court, like the United States Tax Court, whose members are confirmed by the Senate for terms that allow them to become real experts in the subject. Such a court should inform the public about the nature of its cases and its record of approvals and denials. Most important, it should summon special attorneys to test the government’s secret evidence in every case, so that a full court hears a genuine adversarial debate before intruding on a citizen’s civil rights. That, too, might cost a little time in some crisis. There’s no escaping the fact that freedom is expensive.
Max Frankel was The New York Times’s editorial page editor from 1977 to 1986 and executive editor from 1986 to 1994.
Bloomberg, May 27, 2013
Whatever the investigation into misconduct at the Internal Revenue Service reveals, we already have all the evidence we need to understand President Barack Obama’s fundamental attitude toward the rule of law. That evidence is right there in the public record, and what it shows is indifference and contempt.
The Constitution gives the president the power to appoint officials to fill vacancies when the Senate isn’t in session. In 2012, Obama made such “recess appointments” to the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — even though the Senate had stayed in session precisely to keep him from doing so.
Obama’s lawyers argued that the Senate wasn’t really in session even though it claimed to be: It was going through the motions to block Obama, but it wasn’t taking up bills or nominations. No previous president had ever tried this maneuver, and an appeals court has just ruled that it was unconstitutional.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the sweeping health-care law that Obama signed in 2010, asks state governments to set up health exchanges, and authorizes the federal government to provide tax credits to people who use those exchanges to get insurance. But most states have refused to establish the online marketplaces, and both the tax credits and many of the law’s penalties can’t go into effect until the states act.
Obama’s IRS has decided it’s going to apply the tax credits and penalties in states that refuse, even without statutory authorization. During the recent scandal over the IRS’s harassment of conservative groups, many Republicans have warned that the IRS can’t be trusted with the new powers that the health law will give the agency. They are wrong about the verb tense: It has already abused those powers.
Another provision of the health law authorized the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to require employers to cover preventive services in their insurance policies. She decided that almost all employers would have to cover contraception, sterilization and possibly abortion-causing drugs, such as Ella, whether or not the employers objected on religious grounds.
That edict flew in the face of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which stipulated that the government can override religious conscience only when it is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling interest. Republican senators had warned Sebelius of this issue before she imposed the rule. She has admitted that even after their letter, her department imposed it without either requesting a legal analysis from the Justice Department or producing its own memo. Most judges who have ruled on this issue, including some Democratic appointees, have found that the regulation does violate the law.
Last summer, Obama directed immigration agencies not to deport some illegal immigrants who were brought to America as children, and to give them work-authorization permits. In effect, he implemented much of the DREAM Act that Congress has long debated, but never enacted. Defenders of this action said he was merely prioritizing scarce law-enforcement resources, but that excuse won’t wash: It would mean that a future Republican president could announce, for example, that he isn’t going to burden the bureaucracy with collecting capital-gains taxes.
Even if Obama were right about these policies — and I’m sympathetic to the goal of the DREAM Act — he went about them the wrong way, disregarding laws he swore to execute. Complaints about Republican obstructionism are no excuse. Even if the Republicans are behaving badly, they have at least acted lawfully in opposing the president.
Obama is not, of course, the first president to flout the law. His supporters will surely respond to this litany by repeating the charge that President George W. Bush “shredded” the Constitution. The Bush administration claimed that the Constitution gave the president powers as commander-in-chief, trumping laws that tried to restrict his ability to protect national security. It was a debatable, but not frivolous, argument. Obama is making no similar constitutional claim, and his defiance of constraints on his power isn’t confined to one area of policy. Again and again, he has imposed liberal policy preferences rather than follow the law.
In 2011, Obama was asked why he hadn’t imposed the DREAM Act unilaterally. “America is a nation of laws, which means I, as the president, am obligated to enforce the law,” he responded. “There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.” That Obama was right.
The president’s routine violation of the law that he is supposed to uphold isn’t covered in the media as a scandal. It ought to be.
IRS Scandal: One Step Removed From the White House: Arnold Ahlert , Front Page Magazine, July 23, 2013—Last week, while much of the nation’s attention was turned toward the Zimmerman verdict and the antics of the racial grievance industry, the IRS scandal got far more intense. According to top IRS lawyer Carter Hull, the Chief Counsel’s office of the IRS, headed by Obama appointee William Wilkins, was instrumental in the agency’s campaign of harassment and discrimination against conservative and certain pro-Israel groups.
Poll: Obama’s Job Approval Plunges: David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau, July 22, 2013—Stung by Americans’ persistent worries about the economy and a capital gripped by controversy and gridlock, President Barack Obama is suffering his lowest job approval numbers in nearly two years, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
Will IRS scandal lead all the way to Obama?: Jay Sekulow, FoxNews, July 19, 2013—It took a mere two months and eight days for the Obama administration’s spin on the growing scandal of the IRS targeting Tea Party and conservative groups to completely collapse.
The Hollow Core of Obamaism: Jonah Goldberg, National Review, June 3, 2013—Longtime readers of mine will recall that one of my bugaboos is the liberal obsession with the “moral equivalent of war.” Ever since William James coined the phrase, liberalism has essentially become a cargo cult to the idea.
How Spying Will Sink the Trade Pact with Europe: Patrick Smith, The Fiscal Times, July 22, 2013—It is supposed to be the largest trade agreement ever forged between two countries. But the Trans–Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership never looked promising. And now that the US and Europe have completed a first round of talks, it is possible to predict with confidence that it will never see the light of day.
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