The Republican Party smells blood in the water. And scandal politics are sweeping through the corridors of Capitol Hill and the White House.
Last Friday, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) admitted that employees in the Cincinnati IRS office singled out conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for extra scrutiny. The groups were looking to register for 501(c)(4) status, which requires IRS approval. To qualify for (c)(4) status, a group must not engage in political activities as its “primary purpose.” Of the 298 groups singled out for extra scrutiny, 72 had “Tea Party” in the name, 13 had “Patriots” and 11 had “9/12,” a reference to Glenn Beck’s “9/12 project.” To date, however, none of the conservative groups singled out for extra scrutiny had their tax-exempt status revoked because of the heightened scrutiny.
According to a report from the IRS’s inspector general released Tuesday, “The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention.” Moreover, “ineffective management” at IRS “1) allowed inappropriate criteria to be developed and stay in place for more than 18 months, 2) resulted in substantial delays in processing certain applications, and 3) allowed unnecessary information requests to be issued.”
Then on Monday evening, The Associated Press disclosed that the Justice Department secretly collected its reporters’ phone records. The probe was related to information in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a CIA operation that prevented a Yemen-based al Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb on an airplane headed to the United States. After the story was published, in June 2012, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered two U.S. attorneys to pursue separate leak investigations. Holder recused himself from the investigation into the AP. After more than 550 interviews and reviewing tens of thousands of documents in the probe, the Justice Department subpoenaed the records for more than 20 phone lines assigned to the AP and its reporters, covering April and May of last year.
In the fallout from the APs disclosure, the Justice Department remained adamant that those involved acted appropriately. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, for example, wrote a letter to the AP on Tuesday arguing that the subpoenas “were limited in both time and scope.” Similarly, Eric Holder said that he was “confident” that “the people who are involved in this investigation who I’ve known for a great many years and who I’ve worked with for a great many years followed all the appropriate Justice Department regulations and did things according to DOJ rules.”
These controversies appear to represent genuine scandals, for which Congress and the American people must demand answers and accountability. For this reason, it is important to remain skeptical and vigilant. It is also important, however, to recognize that the full details of both controversies will be revealed in time, and to avoid rushing to judgment.
Further investigation is absolutely necessary.
Perhaps this is where Republicans in Congress can prove their mettle. As Politico notes, “roughly one-third of House committees are engaged in investigating some aspect of the Obama administration.” If the right questions are asked, and the appropriate issues are targeted, we may see meaningful change and accountability for the alleged wrongdoings. But if these issues are handled similar to Benghazi, we are likely only to be met with thuggish political attacks.