Attention: The IRS Scandal Is Still a Scandal

I continue to be trapped in The Hellish Process That Is Moving, so blogging has been lighter than I have wanted it to be. I am hopelessly behind in some of the stories that I have wanted to write about, which is why I haven’t written recently about how the IRS scandal has gone from bad to worse.

So, let me mention in this post the fact that the IRS scandal has gone from bad to worse. Anyone not living under a rock now knows that Lois Lerner and Friends have conveniently lost a bunch of e-mails. And yes, the IRS deserves blame for this sorry state of affairs:

The Internal Revenue Service did not follow the law when it failed to report a hard drive crash that destroyed emails belonging to a senior official at the center of a scandal over the agency’s treatment of conservative-leaning political groups, the nation’s top archivist said Tuesday.

“In accordance with the Federal Records Act, when an agency becomes aware of an incident of unauthorized destruction, they must report the incident to us,” said David S. Ferriero, the chief archivist at the National Archives.

Mr. Ferriero made his remarks at a congressional hearing examining the 2011 disappearance of emails sent and received by Lois Lerner, the former I.R.S. official who is accused of politically motivated mistreatment of Tea Party-aligned groups seeking tax exemptions.

Mr. Ferriero would not say that anyone at the I.R.S. committed a crime, only that the agency “did not follow the law.” He said he learned of the missing emails on June 13, when the agency made the disclosure in a filing to Congress.

Last I checked, “not follow[ing] the law” is very much like “commit[ting] a crime.” In fact, in many cases, “not follow[ing] the law” is exactly like “commit[ting] a crime.”

The good news is that some of Lerner’s e-mails remain accessible and discoverable. The bad news is that they paint her and her office in a horrible light:

Lois Lerner may have lost a lot of e-mails. But she didn’t lose all her e-mails; the House Ways and Means Committee is grinding through them, and the ones it has released do not shine a flattering light on Lerner’s judgment: She sought an audit over a speaking invitation to Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa that also offered to pay for his wife to accompany him.

Another Internal Revenue Service official put the kibosh on this, pointing out that there was nothing to audit, unless Grassley accepted the offer and then failed to declare the trip as income to his wife. So you can look at this in two ways: one, that nothing happened, which showed that the internal controls were working, or two, that this shows that Lerner was an ideologue who didn’t understand her job or the limits on her power.

Both points of view seem valid. The rest of the IRS didn’t go for it. But you still have to ask what Lerner was thinking. It is not illegal for nonprofits to offer to bring your spouse along for the ride. This might be a matter for the Senate’s ethics committee, but it wasn’t a matter for the IRS.

That’s a legitimate area of concern for a couple of reasons. This exchange suggests that Lois Lerner not only didn’t have a good, basic grasp of the tax law she was supposed to be administering, but also viewed her job as an extension of her work at the Federal Election Commission.

That’s not what the IRS is for. The IRS is not given power over nonprofit status in order to root out electoral corruption or the appearance of it. It is given power over nonprofit status in order to make sure that the Treasury gets all the revenue to which it’s entitled.

Remember as you read these and other blog posts highlighting IRS abuses that the Obama administration has assured us that there has been “not even a smidgen of corruption” found concerning the scandal. That assurance didn’t pass the laugh test before, and recent events have shown it to be an even more ridiculous statement than we initially believed it to be.