Issa: Special prosecutor needed for uncompromised IRS probe
Author: Rep. Darrell Issa
In May 2013, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered an investigation into efforts of an Internal Revenue Service division, which under the supervision of former Director Lois Lerner, systematically selected organizations with conservative sounding names for delay and enhanced scrutiny. But despite evidence of wrongdoing and criminal acts, more than a year later there have been no indictments. Media leaks from the investigation have even pointed to a predetermined outcome that no one will end up facing criminal charges. Amid concerns that numerous factors have compromised the investigation, top U.S. Department of Justice officials continue to rebuff bipartisan calls for a special prosecutor.
This past Thursday, the Department of Justice’s number two official, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, testified before Congress about his department’s criminal investigation of the IRS targeting scandal. What little the Justice Department would share about what it says is an ongoing effort raised more concerns that the current investigation suffers from political interference, conflicts and a stunning lack of competence.
In February, President Barack Obama declared on national television that there is not “even a smidgen of corruption” behind IRS efforts to target conservative nonprofits that legally engage in political speech. For Justice Department attorneys looking at evidence, this creates a dilemma: asserting a belief that there is evidence of serious wrongdoing is effectively calling their boss — the president of the United States — a liar. We have seen from past examples that Justice Department prosecutors are far from immune from the reverberations of politics — unsuccessful challenges to powerful Washington officials are considered very bad for one’s career. The attorneys who prosecuted and secured a corruption conviction of former Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens found themselves under investigation after evidence came to light resulting in an acquittal. Senators of both parties excoriated the prosecutors — one attorney eventually took his own life.
The president’s public declaration of no corruption follows the pattern of his very public campaign against conservative nonprofits following the Supreme Court’s affirmation of political free speech rights in the Citizens United Supreme Court case in 2011. Investigation has shown that the president’s repeated efforts to publicly attack conservative organizations were taken to heart by IRS officials who would help direct targeting efforts that commenced shortly thereafter. When the president speaks, even career employees in the federal government listen.
The current investigation of IRS targeting has also been exposed for numerous conflicts of interest. One lead Justice attorney working on the targeting investigation donated nearly $7,000 to President Obama’s political campaigns and the Democratic National Committee in recent years. Back in 2010, the leader of a division working on the current investigation directed a prosecutor to contact Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the controversy, to discuss the possibility of prosecuting applicants who engaged in political speech.
But the most damning revelation about the Justice Department’s supposed investigation came Thursday. Deputy Attorney General Cole testified that the Justice Department only learned last month from media reports that more than two years of Lois Lerner’s emails had gone missing. Either the Keystone Kops were assigned to this case and just missed such significant evidence after more than a year of investigation or the most politicized Justice Department in our nation’s history is slow-walking the effort to give the Obama administration the cover of an “ongoing investigation” to hide evidence and refuse to answer questions.
If the Obama administration really wanted the truth and to sweep aside appearances of impropriety, they would do what a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives has already asked for: appoint an independent prosecutor of unquestioned integrity. A special prosecutor, given a mandate and necessary independence to pursue the facts wherever they lead, would have public protection from President Obama’s efforts to prejudge the case’s outcome and an ability to wall off attorneys that appear compromised or simply inept. But this Justice Department’s leadership appears determined to resist the bipartisan clamor for a credible and independent criminal investigator, whatever the political price. Perhaps they know more than we realize.