Something about the continuing brouhaha over the Internal Revenue Service's missing emails sounds familiar ... what could it be?
Oh, right. It's the 2007 missing email saga involving then-Gov. Matt Blunt of Missouri, Ed Martin, his chief of staff, and a low-ranking lawyer in the governor's office named Scott Eckersley. Space does not permit a thorough re-airing of that episode, but suffice it to say that then-Attorney General Jay Nixon appointed an outside investigating team to look into it.
This was the right call by Mr. Nixon, a Democrat who, of course, went on to to succeed Mr. Blunt, a Republican, as governor. It's also what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder should do in the case of the missing IRS emails.
If ever there was a case for a special prosecutor — someone whose credentials are sniper-proof — this is it. Absent a special prosecutor, the IRS scandal will continue to play out in Congressional investigating committees, which these days specialize in shedding heat, not light.
Here's why we agree with House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., that a special prosecutor is needed: The IRS scandal is inherently political. It cannot be dealt with in today's hyper-political cauldron.
The basic question is whether the IRS office in Cincinnati charged with reviewing the applications for tax-exempt status by would-be 501-c-4 "social welfare" organizations singled out conservative organizations for special scrutiny.
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that it did. IRS officials claim that they were agnostic, that both conservative and liberal groups were scrutinized. But indications are that groups with words like "tea party" or "patriot" in their names found the application process more arduous than those with words like "progressive" in their names.
Was this official policy or just "two Dilberts in Cincinnati?" as President Barack Obama tossed it off. That question should be investigated by someone who hasn't already decided what the answer is.
You don't have to have "tea party" in your name or an "R" behind it to find it suspicious that the computers of IRS officials suffered a startling outbreak of hard-drive crashes when efforts were made to find email records.
The tape backups also had been erased before anyone got around to wondering what was on them.
Who better to illustrate the futility of expecting Congress to find the truth than House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif.? IRS Commissioner John Koskinen appeared before Mr. Issa's circus/committee on Monday evening and got hammered. "We have a problem with you and you have a problem with credibility," Mr. Issa told his witness.
Mr. Koskinen gave it right back, only more politely, when he pointed out that continual budget cuts under a Republican Congress meant the IRS was using an antiquated computer system that has seen 2,000 hard-drive crashes.
The Government Accountability Office reported in April that the IRS has taken a $900-million budget hit since 2010. If you believe, as Republicans in Congress do, that taxes are bad, then by all means whack the agency that collects the taxes.
Two key points:
— The use of 501-c-4 organizations for political fundraising is an outrageous scam. The names of donors to 501-c-4s don't have to be made public, but that designation meant for real "social welfare" groups like the Rotary Club. It's not to enable political operatives to hide the source of money that is influencing elections. Sure, two out of three of them are conservative, but we would have thrown them all out, left and right alike. But now, because of the controversy, vital new rules governing their use have had to be postponed.
— It is absolutely critical that the agency that collects taxes be above reproach. There are huge inequities in America's tax system, but that's because a legally corrupt Congress put them there. The IRS must be better than Congress. It must operate without any suspicion of fear or favor.
If it takes a special prosecutor to make that happen, then let the special prosecuting begin. Ideally this person would be an old-school Republican, someone from the era before the party lost its mind. It will take someone with a solid reputation for integrity to get the job done fairly.
Reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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