Scandal Watch: Despite White House attempts to brush the IRS scandal aside as "irrelevant" or the work of rogue miscreants, huge questions remain about who ordered IRS agents to harass Tea Party groups, and why.
Every day, in fact, raises new and more disturbing questions that congressional investigators must get answers to. Among them:
1. Who told Internal Revenue Service workers to target conservatives? It's becoming increasingly clear these workers did not act on their own. Over the weekend, the Washington Post quoted an IRS staffer saying how "everything comes from the top."
The New York Times reported that IRS accountants got a "directive from their manager" in early 2010 to "be on the lookout" for Tea Party-type groups.
And Treasury workers union President Colleen Kelley told the Associated Press last week, "No processes or procedures or anything like that would ever be done just by frontline employees without any management involvement." So which manager issued the directive? And how far up the chain of command does it go?
2. Who knew what, when? Days after Obama emphatically stated that he learned about the IRS targeting only when it broke on May 10, we learn that Treasury officials told Obama's chief counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, about the targeting weeks before.
We also learned that Treasury itself had known about the targeting since last June — in the middle of the presidential election, and the IRS officials knew before that, but didn't stop the practice.
Did Treasury tell anyone at the White House? Did Obama's chief counsel? Was anyone talking with the Obama presidential campaign about any of this?
3. Why does Lois Lerner still have a job? Ever since Lerner, director of the IRS' tax exempt organizations unit, planted the "spontaneous" question that let her "inadvertently" reveal the IRS targeting, her false claims about the scandal have piled so high, the Washington Post fact checker called it a "bushel of Pinocchios." Since Lerner played a key role in this scandal, and since it is about public trust in the IRS, it's worth pondering why she hasn't been fired.
4. Will the White House stonewall investigations? Getting the bottom of the scandal will require access to communications within the IRS and between the IRS and other administration officials.
Obama last week promised he was "looking forward to working with Congress to fully investigate what happened," but his top adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, put a big asterisk next to that over the weekend, saying that "we're not going to participate in ... a partisan fishing expedition designed to distract from the real issues at hand."
This is not a promising start, since Obama could toss any request from Congress into that category.
5. Why did the IRS try to cover it up? If this really were a bureaucratic snafu, as IRS officials insist, why did they try so hard to keep it under wraps until after the election, then mislead the country about it once the story broke?
Until these and other questions are answered, this scandal is anything but "irrelevant."
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