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Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, said the IRS hassling and prying into hundreds of conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status is outrageous but may have actually been legal, so he is introducing legislation to criminalize such activity.
"Unfortunately, it currently isn't a crime if a political appointee or a faceless bureaucrat gets up as a supervisor and walks over and instructs a bunch of employees to begin targeting the American public. That's wrong. It should be a crime," said Turner, who adds this was a crime if the directive to make life miserable for conservative groups came from the White House.
Turner's legislation, the Taxpayer Nondiscrimination and Protection Act of 2013, would make it a crime for anyone else to do it. The bill calls for five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for anyone found to be targeting organizations as a result of their political ideology.
"By making it a crime, we hope to stop it," he told WND. "When that supervisor walks in that employee's office and gives him that direction when they know it's a crime and that they themselves could go to jail for five years and pay a $5,000 penalty, they're going to think twice and hopefully stop."
In addition to forbidding the IRS from targeting those of a particular political persuasion, the bill affords the same rights to religious organizations.
"This covers the gamut," Turner said. "Although they have targeted conservatives this time, we want to make sure that it's all inclusive. If that is undertaken, then they have committed a felony."
The House Ways and Means Committee will hold the first hearings on the IRS abuses Friday. Turner said there are a lot of questions that still need answers.
"We need to to find out where was this initiated, who started it, who directed it, who participated in it and also who knew about it. Those people are all complicit and bear responsibility," he said. "In addition, now we're getting information that some of the confidential information that was solicited from these groups may have been leaked to other political organizations. Now that is a crime, and these investigations should include that and people need to be pursued and held accountable."
Turner isn't ready to accuse President Obama of any involvement in the scandal at the this point, but he said Obama's reaction to the IRS scandal has been underwhelming.
"The president's reaction is also appalling because we hear from the White House not the the type of outrage that you would hear if these were groups that were supportive of President Obama. So it sort of sets a tone that I think everyone should be very concerned about," Turner said.
The IRS apology did not impress him, either.
"When the IRS apologized, I remember thinking, 'That's it? That's all they have to do is apologize?'" he said. "The fact that they used an investigative arm of the government to target the American people based upon their political beliefs, it is outrageous and it's the type of activity that can weaken our democracy."
The congressman does not buy the explanation that just a few rogue IRS staffers got carried away and are responsible.
"This is so systematic and it's not just, 'Let's send somebody a letter.' They had a very systematic process by which they investigated these groups and persecuted these groups and individuals. This doesn't sound to me like a handful or certainly doesn't sound like people who are low down on the chain," said Turner.
Turner said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is trying to attach Turner's legislation to pending Senate bills. He hopes to see quick House action as well and expects broad bipartisan support whenever the vote comes.
The bad press for the IRS comes at a politically critical time, since it will be the primary enforcer of Obamacare starting next year,
"I think everyone should be concerned about that," Turner said. "Now that you see what has happened with the IRS and their political bias, to trust them now with your medical records certainly would cause everyone to have some concern and a pause."
House Republicans recently announced their latest efforts to repeal Obamacare. Turner said this new scandal is a perfect example of why the law has to go.
"I think that goes right to the heart of it. The moment that government steps in between you and your doctor and also between you and private and confidential information, I think we all know that there is a possibility that information could be misused, and it shouldn't be in the government's hands," he said.