A Barely Believable Tale About the IRS

There is still something fishy about the scandal at the IRS.

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You don't have to believe in the tooth fairy or that the U.S. government has hidden the bodies of space aliens at Area 51 to think something is fishy in the way the news broke that the Internal Revenue Service had been singling out conservative political groups for special, even extraordinary, scrutiny.

The IRS official who first revealed what had been going on in spite of months of agency denials did so at a public conference of tax lawyers in response to what has been deemed by the media as "a planted question." That it came just a few days before a report was to be issued by the IRS inspector general should come as no surprise. By making the story public in the way they did, the responsible officials in the Obama administration – if there are indeed any responsible officials in the Obama administration – were able to get out in front of the story.

When bad news breaks, it is almost always better to be ahead of it than behind it. Then you can control the way the story develops and limit the damage, which is just what the administration has been trying to do.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on Benghazi.]

Whether they've been successful is still up for debate. The major media seem unwilling to investigate much further and are seemingly taking the White House at its word. Since most of them are "in the tank" for Obama, that is not a great shock.

The American people, however, say they are still suspicious. A Rasmussen national poll of 1,000 likely U.S. voters released May 15 found 55 percent of those surveyed thought it was at least "somewhat likely President Obama or his top aides were aware that Tea Party and other conservative groups were targeted." Only 16 percent thought the investigations were just a "coincidence," while 57 percent wanted those responsible for the politically motivated actions by the IRS "jailed or fired"

These are not good numbers, even when one takes into account what radio commentator Rush Limbaugh and others refer to as "low-information voters," meaning people who do not follow or understand political issues with any degree of sophistication. If the high information voters see a scandal, it is going to be hard to push it into the background, especially as things get worse by the day. On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney was forced to admit senior administration officials knew about the IRS inspector general's report but elected not to tell the president. That may be true, but it is scarcely believable.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

What the IRS story has done, though, is push Benghazi onto the back burner after what, for Obama and his national security team, was a spectacularly bad week. Congressional hearings featuring federal whistleblowers who contradicted the "official" version of events at nearly every turn had some people thinking the administration was in for a rough ride. Now that Congress and the press are off chasing the IRS story and stories about the Department of Justice seizing the telephone records of news organizations, the Benghazi bunch is breathing a little bit easier.

The challenge for congressional Republicans is to let the facts drive the story. This requires additional hearings, the use of subpoena power and the discipline necessary to break through any stone walls that are being hastily erected. They may not be able to feed the 24-hour news cycle on a daily basis, but that does not mean they should surrender to its pressure.

They would do well to remember the climactic scene in "All the President's Men," when Jason Robards – playing Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee – tells Woodward and Bernstein that, according to the latest Gallup Poll, most Americans had never even heard of Watergate, even though the two reporters had finally linked the break-in to the highest levels inside the White House.

If events in Benghazi and at the IRS and the Department of Justice are as serious as some critics charge, then it is important to get to the bottom of them. To find out who ordered what, when and, if possible, why. That is going to take time so, even as the solons of the nightly news pronounce each scandal ended, those who are concerned should just keep digging. It's the only way to get to the truth, which is the most important thing there is.

  • Read Keith Rupp: Chaos Theory Takes Hold in the West Wing
  • Read Susan Milligan: In Marine Umbrella Incident, Republicans Still Deny Obama Is President
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