The Internal Revenue Service under the Obama administration – described by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., as the "most feared government agency" – admitted Friday it targeted conservative and tea-party groups during last year's election because of their politics.
Bachmann, a former tax attorney, told WND in an interview the IRS admission means the credibility of the 2012 election is in doubt.
Americans, she said, should be wondering whether Obamacare, which is to be enforced by the IRS, will target conservative voices opposed to President Obama with delays or denials of medical care.
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But why would an administration ever confess to such a flagrant misuse of politics and power?
Bachmann, who chairs the House Tea Party caucus, said it's the Benghazi scandal.
"There's no doubt this was not a coincidence that they dumped this story today, a Friday dump day," Bachmann told WND. "This is when they put their negative stories out."
But she said the looming storm cloud called Benghazi is the "soft underbelly" of the Obama administration and likely will keep Hillary Clinton from fulfilling her dream of occupying the Oval Office.
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That would make it logical to release an IRS story that, while embarrassing, also could be cubbyholed as another "conservative" dispute with the White House.
She was referring to the ongoing hearings on the administration's handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack by al-Qaida-linked terrorists on a U.S. foreign service post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the ambassador.
House Republicans allege the U.S. government knew of a terrorist threat but ignored it. After the attack, critics charge, the administration blamed the deaths on reaction to an obscure anti-Muslim video, despite evidence from the beginning that it was a premeditated terrorist attack.
Locked in a tight presidential race, a deliberate assault on American assets and the murder of Americans by al-Qaida on a date as significant as 9/11 would have damaged Obama's campaign claim that his administration had al-Qaida under control.
Bachmann said the IRS announcement of misbehavior was intended to provoke conservatives and draw their anger and attention.
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"I was in that Benghazi hearing," she told WND. "I think the Obama administration is desperate to spin Benghazi, and they can't. I think they saved this story up for a day like today so that conservatives would focus on this admission."
It won't work, she insisted.
"Conservatives can handle two shocking stories at the same time," she said. "Both are equally unconstitutional and call into question the very president."
The Benghazi investigation has been getting worse for Obama, with witnesses testifying to a House panel Wednesday that military troops were prepared to come to Benghazi but were told to stand down. Today, the White House was grilled about the elimination of references to terrorism in the talking points officials used in the aftermath of the attack.
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The IRS confirmation that it misbehaved came from Lois Lerner, chief of the unit that oversees tax-exempt organizations. She confirmed the claim of people dismissed as "conspiracy nuts" that groups that include the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their applications were put in a political bull's-eye.
The American Center for Law and Justice under Jay Sekulow's leadership already has been fighting the battle.
"We knew from the very start that this intimidation tactic was coordinated and focused directly on specific organizations," said Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ.
"This admission by the IRS represents a significant victory for free speech and freedom of association. There was never any doubt that these organizations complied with the law and applied for tax exempt status for their activities as Americans have done for decades. And for the many tax-exempt groups we represent, this is an important day – and underscores the need to stand-up and defend your constitutional freedoms."
The ACLJ has been representing nearly 30 tea party organizations that had been the target of intimidation tactics by the IRS under the Obama administration.
The federal government demanded information that was outside the scope of legitimate inquiry and violated the First Amendment, the ACLJ explained.
The Obama IRS demanded that groups reveal the internal workings of their organizations, he said,"including the identification of members, how they are selected, who they associate with, and even what they discuss."
The agency also demanded the names and contact information of relatives.
Sekulow said it took the threat of legal action from his organization "to get the IRS to make this admission."
"And while many of the organizations we represent have finally been granted tax-exempt status, we demand the IRS immediately approve the pending applications for the remainder of our clients," he said.
Sekulow, who served as a trial lawyer with the office of the chief counsel for the IRS earlier in his career, said many questions were inappropriate and well outside the scope of legitimate IRS inquiry.
For example, IRS agents demanded:
- "Have you attempted or will you attempt to influence the outcome of specific legislation? If so, provide the following … all communications, pamphlets, advertisements, and other materials."
- "Have you conducted or will you conduct candidate forums? If so, provide the following details… The issues that were discussed. Copies of all handouts provided."
- "The names of persons from your organization and the amount of time they will spend on the event. Indicate the name and amount of compensation that will be paid to each person."
- "All copies of your corporate minutes from inception."
- "Please identify your volunteers."
- "The names of donors, contributors, and grantors."
- "Do you encourage eligible voters to educate themselves, register to vote, and vote? Explain in detail how you do this."
- "You were formed 12/28/10. Provide actual financial information for 2010 & 2011, and a budget for 2012. Provide details regarding each item listed."
The ACLJ also has called for congressional hearings on the problem, and more than 50,000 Americans have joined in that call. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the White House should do a review to assure "the American people that these thuggish practices are not under way at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views."
Bachmann told WND it's stunning that the Obama administration used "the federal agency feared most by Americans to intimidate conservative and tea party organizations during an election year."
Since the IRS also is the chief enforcer of Obamacare requirements, she asked whether the IRS's admission means it "will deny or delay access to health care" for conservatives.
At this point, she said, that "is a reasonable question to ask."
She said her proposal to repeal Obamacare in its entirety will be introduced in the House next week. She said given the circumstances of the IRS admission, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a longtime advocate for the Obamacare plan, should hold a Senate vote on the same repeal plan.
And she said Obama should sign the law to repeal Obamacare.
Bachman said, as a former tax attorney, the government's explanation that some "low-level" workers in the IRS targeted for invasive questioning conservative groups is unreal.
"A low-level functionary in Ohio would have zero jurisdictional authority to intimidate an applicant from New Mexico, or California or Georgia," Bachmann told WND.
The move, she said, had to come from the highest levels of the government.
"We learned to our horror in Benghazi it appears that every move that was made was based on politics," she said. "Now it appears the president was willing to use the most feared agency in the U.S. for his own political purposes."
Regarding the 2012 election, she wondered, if Obama is willing to use the IRS for political purposes, what agency would he not use?
"We learned that during an election, [Obama] interfered with the First Amendment rights of conservatives and tea party members by intimidating and harassing these organizations," she said.
That not only is shocking, it will require congressional hearings to determine the exact level of rot, she said.
"The Obama administration wants us to believe low-level functionaries are the ones responsible for making this decision," she said. "That is impossible, laughable. I can tell you within the IRS, the agency is very sensitive of jurisdictional authority.
"Once again, it appears the Obama administration is blatantly lying to the American people," she said. "People can right ask questions [about[ the credibility of the elections."
And regarding Obamacare, should Americans fear their government may try to harm them if they are conservative?
"It now is an entirely reasonable question for the American people to ask," she said. "Will Obamacare be so politicized and misused?"
Richard Nixon threatened to send the IRS after his political opponents, and Bill Clinton actually did.
Among Clinton's targets was WND founder and CEO Joseph Farah.
"As someone whose organization was a victim of this kind of illegal harassment and intimidation and political retribution during the Clinton administration – and who blew the whistle on it – my question is, 'Who is going to be fired and prosecuted as a result of this admission?'" he said.
"Apologies are nice. But they don't excuse people of crimes. When government officials abuse their power and break laws, they need to be punished as certainly and severely as ordinary citizens. In fact, to maintain trust in government, we need to ensure they are held to a higher standard. So what happens now? Who's going to take the rap? Which law-enforcement agency is going to investigate? It would seem that an independent prosecutor is necessary unless the Congress is willing to take the lead."
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said: "Although I am happy that it has finally admitted to placing politics over policy, the IRS owes conservative groups far more than a mere apology for their unfair treatment. It is crystal clear that additional safeguards are in order to prevent this obtrusive behavior in the future. This overt and excessive harassment of groups targeted for their political beliefs is despicable, and many questions remain. How were 'low-level workers in Cincinnati' able to initiate practices that completely undermine the IRS's promise to treat all groups with an even hand? Even more, what were they hoping to do with the copious personal information they obtained from these groups?"
Portman last year, along with Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, urge the IRS to stop politics from interfering in its activities.
"It is critical that the public have confidence that federal tax compliance efforts are pursued in a fair, even-handed, and transparent manner – without regard to politics of any kind," the senators said at the time. "It is imperative that organizations applying for tax-exempt status are able to rely on a consistent and foreseeable review structure from the IRS. Any significant changes to the IRS review process should be implemented only after appropriate notice and opportunity for comment from the public and affected parties."
Hatch said: "While I’m glad to see the IRS apologize for unfairly targeting conservative groups, this frankly isn't enough. We need to have ironclad guarantees from the IRS that it will adopt significant protocols to ensure this kind of harassment of groups that have a constitutional right to express their own views never happens again. "
He continued: "There can be no tolerance for the IRS being turned into a political weapon; it has a chilling and, frankly, Nixonian effect on those who wish to speak their mind. I will be discussing this further with the head of the IRS and expect a full briefing and report as to how this happened. The American people deserve to know who at the IRS learned about this unlawful activity, when they learned about it, and what they did, or did not, do when they did learned about it."
One year ago, as WND reported, the ACLJ represented tea party organizations when the IRS was making "unconstitutional" demands of tea party organizations.
Stephanie Scruggs, who works with The912Project and United in Action, said, for example the IRS demanded copies of every single post to every single organization website page, Twitter feed and Facebook feed.
The IRS also requested contact information for family members of each board member. And yet another demand was for the name and contact for every person who ever had attended one of the group's meetings.
The ACLJ said the intimidating letters violated both free speech and free association rights.
IRS officials earlier defended their demands, telling Fox News: "When determining whether an organization is eligible for tax-exempt status, including 501(c)4 social welfare organizations, all the facts and circumstances of that specific organization must be considered to determine whether it is eligible. … To be tax-exempt … they must be primarily engaged in the promotion of social welfare."
The spokesman continued, "Career civil servants make all decisions on exemption applications in a fair, impartial manner and do so without regard to political party affiliation or ideology."
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio., had cited the possibility of political retaliation against conservatives last summer.
"The fact that Americans were targeted by the IRS because of their political beliefs is unconscionable," he said.
The IRS said it singled out groups that referenced "tea party" or "patriot."
The IRS did not explain how "low-level workers" were able to single out and target 300 groups the IRS admitted were involved.
Jenny Beth Martin, of Tea Party Patriots, didn't buy the government's latest story.
"It is suspicious that the activity of these 'low-level workers' was unknown to IRS leadership at the time it occurred," she told AP. "President Obama must also apologize for his administration ignoring repeated complaints by these broad grassroots organizations of harassment by the IRS in 2012, and make concrete and transparent steps today to ensure this never happens again."