Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 17, 2013

Editorial: Obama must set tone for IRS, Justice Dept.

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — President Obama’s efforts to salvage his credibility on colossal errors of judgment by two of the nation’s most powerful bureaucracies can’t stop with the firing of Steven T. Miller as acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Wednesday accepted Miller’s resignation in the wake of revelations that IRS agents asked tea party groups inappropriate questions about their donors, their political affiliations and their positions on political issues, resulting in delays averaging nearly two years in their applications for tax-exempt status.

Three congressional committees are investigating and the FBI is looking into potential civil rights violations at the IRS.

The IRS has admitted it was “overly aggressive” in its handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status going back to 2011. Miller personally knew about the delays a year ago but failed to disclose that information to Congress.

The agency said it targeted for extra scrutiny groups seeking 501(c)4 non-profit status as “social welfare” organizations that had “tea party” or “patriot” in their name. The IRS reviews requests from all such groups to ensure they are not also enganged in politics and election work.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Cititzens United ruling, the IRS was flooded with requests from new groups - left and right - for non-profit status. The agency said the sorting was a way to “increase efficiency. What hogwash. Now, the IRS claims it has identified two “rogue” employees in its Cincinnati office as being principally responsible for what the harassment.

That’s not Obama’s only hot-button issue. He must also deal forcefully with the Justice Department for secretly seizing telephone records for an Associated Press office in Washington as part of its investigation of a national security leak.

This is as basic as it gets. There it is, right in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ...”

That does not include fishing expeditions for phone records of one of the most respected press organizations on the planet because it is engaged in aggressive reporting about the government. Ours is not some banana republic where the press operates at the whim of government.

Obama’s must set the tone: These kinds of activities and these kinds of attitudes are unacceptable, period. President Harry Truman knew where the buck stopped. Obama must show he does, too.