About a year-and-a-half ago, the "scandal" involving the Internal Revenue Service looked like it might be a real story. It wasn't, and the whole thing evaporated into nothing soon after, but for Republicans, the prospect of the IRS coordinating with the White House to punish conservatives was so enticing, they believed it -- reality be damned.
And so, in the summer of 2013, some prominent GOP lawmakers got a little hysterical. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said the controversy "started with the White House." The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee insisted the IRS was guided by "the enemies list out of the White House." The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee alleged, without proof, that the IRS engaged in "criminal behavior" that can be traced back to "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."
All of this was completely wrong.
An 18-month congressional investigation into the Internal Revenue Service's mistreatment of conservative political groups seeking tax exemptions has failed to show coordination between agency officials and political operatives in the White House, according to a report released on Tuesday.
Imagine that. House Republicans spent a year and a half investigating a controversy, making all kinds of wild-eyed allegations publicly, they carefully scrutinized 1.3 million documents, and they conducted lengthy interviews with literally dozens of IRS officials under oath.
They've turned up no evidence of official wrongdoing -- unless you consider Republicans falsely accusing the White House of a cover-up as an official misdeed.
The Associated Press' report included a detail that shouldn't be overlooked too quickly.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said Issa did not share the report with Democrats before releasing it, "bypassing the normal congressional vetting process designed to distinguish fact from fiction.""It is revealing that the Republicans, yet again, are leaking cherry-picked excerpts of documents to support their preconceived political narrative without allowing committee members to even see their conclusions or vote on them first," Cummings said in a statement.
Revealing, indeed. House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was apparently so worried about scrutiny that he released a report to the media before allowing members of his own committee to even read the document.
Best of all, let's not forget that it's not necessarily over. Issa is moving on to a new committee, but it's entirely possible that Republicans will continue to hunt for evidence of a scandal in the new Congress, unsatisfied with their findings thus far. One might think that sounds like a ridiculous waste of time, but remember, House Republicans have created an eighth committee to investigate the 2012 attack in Benghazi, so there's a track record with these guys for taking discredited conspiracy theories seriously -- long past their due date.
Postscript: There is, for what it's worth, a real IRS scandal underway: the degree to which congressional Republicans are gutting the agency, weakening it to the point that it will struggle to function. It's not a sexy political controversy that generates headlines, but it's real and the policy consequences are significant.