By any fair measure, the IRS “scandal” evaporated quite a while ago. Right around the time we learned that the tax agency targeted groups on the left, right, and center over their tax-exempt status and political activities, the “controversy” that fascinated the political world for about a week in 2013 was rendered meaningless.
But with Republicans and reporters crying foul – loudly – the Justice Department launched a lengthy and thorough investigation. As the Washington Post reported, that probe is now over.
No criminal charges will be filed in the two-year investigation into whether any Internal Revenue Service officials, including Lois Lerner, committed crimes in connection with the handling of tax-exemption applications by conservative groups, the Justice Department announced Friday. […][Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Peter J. Kadzik] said that the Justice Department’s criminal and civil rights divisions, working with the FBI and the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, conducted an “exhaustive probe,” interviewing more than 100 people, collecting more than 1 million pages of IRS documents, analyzing nearly 500 tax-exemption applications and examining the role and potential culpability of “scores of IRS employees.”
In a letter (pdf) to the House Judiciary Committee’s leadership, the DOJ official explained, “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. But poor management is not a crime, We found no evidence that any IRS official acted on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.”
The same letter added, “We also found no evidence that any official involved in the handling of tax-exempt applications or IRS leadership attempted to obstruct justice.”
The investigation, which turned up nothing, cost American taxpayers roughly $20 million, leads to two broader questions.
The first is, where’s the accountability for everyone who got this story completely wrong? It was just two years ago that quite a few pundits characterized this non-story as “Obama’s Watergate,” despite the fact that President Obama had nothing to do with the story, and despite the fact that there was never any real evidence of wrongdoing.
GOP lawmakers, in particular, got a little hysterical and raised some striking allegations. The then-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee said the controversy “started with the White House.” The then-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee insisted the IRS was guided by “the enemies list out of the White House.” The then-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 these powerful congressional Republicans were completely, demonstrably wrong, as were scores of Beltway pundits, who’ve been reluctant to acknowledge the fact this entire “scandal,” despite the hype, was a mirage from the start.
Indeed, take a moment to compare the volume and the magnitude of the coverage raising the “controversy” in 2013 to the realization in 2015 that the entire brouhaha was meaningless. Which do you suppose the typical American heard more of?
As for the other question, that’s simple: what happens now? According to GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, they intend to continue to focus on the IRS “scandal,” indefinitely, the findings from the Justice Department and the FBI notwithstanding.
I guess it’s easier than trying to govern?