Issa’s shifting goal posts on the IRS scandal

Remember when Darrell Issa said the White House was involved? Neither does he

Topics: Darrell Issa, IRS scandal, IRS, Tea Party, Conservatives, nonprofits,

Issa's shifting goal posts on the IRS scandalCongressman Darrell Issa (Credit: © Jose Luis Magaua / Reuters)

It’s been three months since the IRS scandal broke and the media has largely lost interest as most new evidence undercut the initial scandal narrative, rather than proved it, but House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is still trying to breath new life into it. His latest attempt is an Op-Ed in the Washington Post co-written with Rep. David Camp, the chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Titled, “The IRS Scandal’s Inconsistencies,” Issa and Camp write that nothing has changed since the peak of the scandal:

Interview after interview of IRS employees by congressional investigators, however, began to expose the inconsistencies in the administration’s narrative. There were no “rogue” agents, only employees who followed the implicit or explicit directions of more senior IRS officials in Washington. When Washington told Cincinnati IRS employees to “hold” other tea party cases while officials in Washington scrutinized early “test cases” concerning the group, they did it. When Washington told them to assign a tea party case coordinator, they obliged.

It’s ironic that they fret about the administration’s “inconsistencies” since their narrative has changed so much. Remember, Republicans’ initial contention was not merely that IRS agents targeted Tea Party nonprofit groups for extra scrutiny, but that the White House directed the effort. In July, Issa made a big splash about promising some new evidence that would tie the scandal directly to the president’s staff. “He can get it right, all the way up into the White House,” Fox News host Carl Cameron, who broke the news of the new evidence the night before, told Bill O’Reilly. Conservative bloggers were positively giddy.



Of course, the new evidence proved underwhelming and Republicans have abandoned the attempt to say the White House was involved. It’s completely absent from Issa’s Op-Ed. As Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan wrote yesterday, “The evidence to date of disparate IRS treatment of groups on different ends of the political spectrum is not consistent with the initial coverage (which frequently suggested conservatives were targeted exclusively) or with the early hype from Obama’s opponents (who intimated IRS inquiries might be part of a politically motivated effort directed by the White House).”

But the damage was still done. Nearly half of Americans believed the White House targeted Tea Party groups, according to a June CNN poll. The media deserves much of the blame for this as well, jumping to conclusions before the facts were in.

As for the rest of Issa’s Op-Ed, it reads like a time capsule to the early weeks of the scandal. The best he can do is find inconsistencies with the administration narrative? Sure there were inconsistencies, but that proves nothing and is typically the opening move digging into a scandal, not something you roll out three months later. He’s rehashing controversy that was stale by late May.

The fact that he has nothing new to write about suggests he has no new information to prop up a scandal narrative that has already been suffering from a lack of evidence.

And he ignores all the evidence that’s emerged since the scandal broke that doesn’t confirm his narrative: The IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; and many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line.

Yesterday, Wired further undercut the notion that the kinds of questions asked of Tea Party groups were unusual by reporting on a nonprofit organization that aims to make open-source voting machines. The group waited six years for the IRS to approve its application, and faced an intrusive and arduous screening process.

Interestingly, Issa also doesn’t mention a much-cited National Review story from last week positing that the FEC colluded with the IRS to target Tea Party groups. The report, based on emails obtained by his committee, was thin (practitioners say there’s not much to see here) and the fact that Issa doesn’t promote it in his Washington Post Op-Ed — it’s one of the few bits of new information supporting his narrative to emerge in the past month — suggests he may not have much confidence in its veracity.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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