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The desperate bid to keep the IRS 'scandal' alive

GOP lawmakers are still looking for ways to revive the discredited IRS "controversy." It's really not going well.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the inaugural Freedom Summit meeting for conservative speakers in Manchester, New Hampshire April 12, 2014.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the inaugural Freedom Summit meeting for conservative speakers in Manchester, New Hampshire April 12, 2014.
Back in November, a group of House Republicans talked up the idea of impeaching Attorney General Eric Holder. It was never altogether clear why, in their eyes, Holder deserved to impeached, but the half-hearted effort no doubt served as the basis for some nice fundraising appeals.
At the time, U.S. senators had the good sense of avoid the nonsensical anti-Holder nonsense, but that's apparently changed. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Sean Hannity that as far as he's concerned, impeaching the Attorney General would be a good idea. Why? Because of the IRS "scandal" that was discredited months ago.

"Among other things, Congress should impeach Eric Holder because Eric Holder is defying Congress and defying rule of law," Cruz said on Sean Hannity's radio show. [...] The Justice Department is already investigating both Lerner and the agency, but their efforts have not gone far enough, Cruz said Thursday. "In the eight months that have transpired, not a single person has been indicted."

It's hard not to admire the logic. Holder launched an investigation to determine if the IRS violated the law, and so far, the Justice Department probe hasn't pointed to any wrongdoing. And if because Republicans just know the IRS did something wrong, it must be Holder's fault that no one's facing charges.
The possibility that this was always a trumped-up controversy based on nothing is never actually considered. If there's an investigation that turns up nothing, by definition, the investigation must have been wrong.
Making matters slightly more outlandish, Republicans believe they've uncovered a smoking gun that proves the IRS "controversy" is legitimate, but as is too often the case, the gun is shooting blanks.
As of Thursday, Republicans and others desperately trying to keep this story alive had an entirely new line of attack: former IRS official Lois Lerner, they said, had raised questions about Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, which proves the tax agency was playing favorites.
Except, that's not really proof of anything. For one thing, as has been well documented, progressive groups were subjected to comparable scrutiny and some groups on the left were even denied tax-exempt status. For another, as Alec MacGillis explained, Rove's Crossroads GPS claimed to be a "social welfare" organization under the tax code, and given the group's obviously partisan operations, it was only natural for IRS officials to take a closer look.

Imagine that: an official tasked with overseeing the awarding of tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status to groups claiming to be engaged in promoting "social welfare" was urging that her division take a closer look at the large group that was most flamboyantly flouting the rules governing such groups. Crossroads GPS is an offshoot of American Crossroads, the original group co-founded by Rove. The key difference between the two groups is that American Crossroads is explicitly a "SuperPAC" geared toward spending on elections, and as such must disclose its donors. Crossroads GPS is set up as a 501(c)(4) "social welfare" group that, under IRS rules, does not have to disclose its donors, as long as less than half of its spending is devoted to elections. Not surprisingly, the more secretive Crossroads GPS spent a lot more on the 2012 elections than American Crossroads—while the regular Crossroads group raised spent $50 million on the 2012 campaign, GPS spent $123 million, $22.5 million of which came from a single anonymous donor. In fact, Crossroads GPS has been spending so much on elections that it appears it may have broken even the very lenient rules governing "social welfare" groups.

In other words, the smoking gun in the IRS "controversy" is this: the former head of the IRS's tax-exempt division had doubts about a tax-exempt group that appeared to be brazenly flouting the law as it relates to tax-exempt organizations. Indeed, the legal staff of the Federal Election Commission concluded that Crossroads GPS "probably violated campaign finance rules" with its campaign activities. (The FEC did not move to punish the group because its Republican members blocked additional action.)
If, after a year of looking for any shred of evidence, this is the best Republicans can do to show the IRS "scandal" is real, it's a striking reminder of just how weak a story this really is.
* Postscript: In related news, Michael McAuliff noted on Friday that even the most ardent conspiracy theorists have effectively given up trying to connect the IRS story to the White House, because there's just zero evidence to support the claim. When Republicans made these allegations last spring and summer, they were wrong.