When it comes apoplexy surrounding the imaginary IRS "scandal," there's an interesting pattern of events that serves as a template for every development. It starts with an alarming report, which is followed by scrutiny, which leads to details that make the original report appear meaningless.
The "controversy" began with reports that the IRS targeted conservative groups, there was a natural reaction: that's unacceptable. But then the relevant details came out and in reality the tax agency scrutinized
liberal, conservative, and non-ideological groups, effectively ending the story. Every allegation, including conspiracy theories about White House involvement, evaporated into nothing.
More recently the "scandal" produced headlines about the IRS destroying important email messages, which again led fair-minded people to a simple conclusion: that's outrageous. But then the relevant details came out, the allegations fell apart
, and it was again time to move on.
Yesterday, however, Republicans made new allegations: the IRS's Lois Lerner went after Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Swing by Google News for a remarkable series of headlines
that suggest a real scandal: "Lerner Asked IRS to Audit Republican Senator," "Lerner Set IRS Sights on Sen. Grassley," "Lois Lerner's Threats To Investigate Grassley Should Terrify You."
[Grassley] wasn't "targeted" at all. Instead, Lerner asked a colleague if it made sense to examine whether an outside group had made Grassley an inappropriate offer. Her colleague dismissed the idea, and that was the end of it. The reasoning is specious however you interpret her email, though. One could just as easily argue that the existence of an email "targeting a sitting GOP senator" undermines the case for a coverup. Why leave anything incriminating behind? But the right can't justify its outrage without begging the question. Presumably, if the emails the IRS did hand over included nothing noteworthy, the right would treat it as evidence of a coverup as well.
Behold, yesterday's blockbuster that set the right's hair on fire. Lerner questioned whether a group had done something wrong, talked to a colleague, and then dropped the whole thing.
Republicans treated this like a four-alarm fire, and for whatever reason much of the media went along, but the pattern holds true: a serious allegation, followed by questions, resulting in answers that produce a nothingburger.
Dave Weigel, who posted images of all the relevant emails, added
Lerner is ridiculously quick on the trigger to suggest referring the invitation to "exam," but even there, it's not clear that she wants Grassley referred as much as she wants an invitation that appears to be flouting rules. After she gets an explanation of everything it would take for Grassley to be at fault, Lerner shrugs and adds that she wouldn't want to share a stage at the event, the details of which, again, are obscured. That's a "push to audit" the senator?
Well, no, it's not, and media professionals who told the public otherwise were mistaken. In fact, much of yesterday's uproar appears to have been caused by an AP headline
that was plainly misleading: "Emails: IRS Official Sought Audit of GOP Senator."
That's simply not what happened.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) called Lerner's actions "unbelievable." In this rare instance, Camp is literally correct.