A chance to get to the bottom of the IRS scandals

The Republican takeover of the Senate is rich in potential consequences. One such consequence is the opportunity to get to the bottom of the IRS targeting scandal.

Cleta Mitchell, the attorney who has led the charge to uncover the truth about IRS abuses, points out that Republicans now control key Senate committee’s with jurisdiction over the matter: Finance, Judiciary, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The new chairmen are, respectively, Orrin Hatch, Charles Grassley, and Ron Johnson.

Each, says Mitchell, has demonstrated attentiveness to the IRS targeting scandal. None is likely to shrink from forcing the agency to respond to the many unanswered questions about its behavior.

The stage is thus set for expanding the inquiry into unexplored areas of IRS misconduct. Mitchell identifies them:

• The full extent of targeting of taxpayers with personal and business audits based on their contributions to and involvement with conservative political candidates and organizations.

• The IRS seizure of taxpayer assets and bank accounts without due process, as has been widely reported in recent weeks.

• The illegal disclosure of confidential taxpayer information to the media, to other federal agencies and to state and local partisan political officials, as we saw in the cases of the National Organization for Marriage, Koch Industries, the Texas Public Policy Council, and the Republican Governors Association Public Policy Council, among others.

• The true story of how Catherine Engelbrecht, the founder of True the Vote, came to be audited and subjected to government attacks by multiple federal agencies after founding two conservative organizations in Houston.

Congress must also move beyond asking questions and requesting documents. Mitchell notes that “since 2012, House investigators have been subjected to an IRS rope-a-dope game by the refusal of the agency and various officials to respond to subpoenas or to answer questions fully and forthrightly.” Now, the House should reissue the subpoenas that will expire at the end of this Congress and move aggressively to enforce them in court.

Most importantly, says Mitchell, the House should ask the federal courts to enforce its contempt resolution against Lois Lerner:

It is clear that the Obama Justice Department has willfully failed to file an enforcement proceeding in federal court. There also are strong separation-of-powers arguments against allowing the executive branch to unilaterally disregard congressional disciplinary actions taken against an executive-branch official like Ms. Lerner for refusing to testify before Congress.

Finally, at the substantive level, Republicans are now in a position to push for an overhaul of the federal tax code. As Mitchell puts it, “the new Republican-controlled Congress will have a rare opportunity to overhaul a tax policy and a tax-collecting agency that both desperately need it.”

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