[This article now cross-published by Salon...]
During remarks at the White House yesterday evening, President Obama offered his opinions on the Treasury Department Inspector General's report [PDF] finding that the IRS used "inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status," in order to review those groups "for indications of significant political campaign intervention."
He described "the misconduct that is uncovered" in the report as "inexcusable". He said that "Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it," adding that he "will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives."
Obama then announced that his Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, had requested and accepted the resignation of the Acting Commissioner of the IRS --- the man who wasn't even in that role during the period in question at the IRS --- "because given the controversy surrounding this audit, it’s important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward."
That all sounds very tough and decisive(!), but after having slogged through the full IG's report, I'm not sure what "misconduct" the President is actually referring to. That word would seem to imply that someone at the IRS was purposely or criminally misbehaving. They may have been, and further investigation may uncover such behavior, but if there was purposeful or criminal misconduct by anyone in the office, the IG's report doesn't seem to offer any actual evidence of it.
The IG's report offers evidence of much confusion, poor training, unclear directives and what seems to be pretty lousy, or, at least, extremely ineffective management at the department of the IRS tasked with approving or rejecting tax-exempt status for 501(c)(3) "charitable groups" and 501(c)(4) "social welfare organizations". Members of Congress, as well as government watchdog groups have long argued that many of those tax-payer subsidized organizations have abused the privilege and violated the legal restrictions on political activity by such groups. The abuse has been particularly widespread, they argue, in the wake of the Citizens United decision and the flood of largely unrestricted, often completely anonymous money funneled to those types of groups for often purely-political purposes.
Further investigation, including a criminal investigation promised by the Dept. of Justice, may uncover the type of "misconduct" the President claims to be outraged by, but the evidence for it is not found in the IG's report, no matter how much Republicans are currently suggesting the opposite.
Also NOT found in the IG's report:
- Any evidence that "Tea Party" related groups were identified during this process for nefarious reasons;
- Any type of identification, political or otherwise, for the groups whose applications were similarly flagged and delayed ("Tea Party" related groups made up only a minority, approximately 1/3 of the groups whose applications were delayed and held for further examination);
- Any indication or evidence whatsoever that the White House, or anybody outside of the IRS units handling these cases, had anything to do with what happened;
- Any response to the other question the IG's office was tasked by Congress to investigate, namely: "whether existing social welfare organizations are improperly engaged in a substantial, or even predominant, amount of campaign activity."
Allow me to offer some quick details in support of each of the bullet points above...