Noonan: A Battering Ram Becomes a Stonewall
by PEGGY NOONAN, online.wsj.com
May 23rd 2013 7:25 AM
“I don’t know.” “I don’t remember.” “I’m not familiar with that detail.” “It’s not my precise area.” “I’m not familiar with that letter.”
These are quotes from the Internal Revenue Service officials who testified this week before the House and Senate. That is the authentic sound of stonewalling, and from the kind of people who run Washington in the modern age—smooth, highly credentialed and unaccountable. They’re surrounded by legal and employment protections, they know how to parse a careful response, they know how to blur the essential point of a question in a blizzard of unconnected factoids. They came across as people arrogant enough to target Americans for abuse and harassment and think they’d get away with it.
So what did we learn the past week, and what are the essentials to keep in mind?
We learned the people who ran and run the IRS are not going to help Congress find out what happened in the IRS. We know we haven’t gotten near the bottom of the political corruption of that agency. We do not know who ordered the targeting of conservative groups and individuals, or why, or exactly when it began. We don’t know who executed the orders or directives. We do not know the full scope or extent of the scandal. We don’t know, for instance, how many applicants for tax-exempt status were abused.
Lois Lerner, the director of the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) exempt organizations office, left, confers with her attorney William W. Taylor during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Lerner, the mid-level IRS official at the center of a controversy over treatment of small-government groups, invoked her right not to testify after reading a statement denying that she had committed any crimes. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
We know the IRS commissioner wasn’t telling the truth in March 2012, when he testified: “There’s absolutely no targeting.” We have learned the Lois Lerner lied when she claimed she had spontaneously admitted the targeting in a Q-and-A at a Washington meeting. It was part of a spin operation in which she’d planted the question with a friend. We know the tax-exempt bureau Ms. Lerner ran did not simply make mistakes because it was overwhelmed with requests—the targeting began before a surge in applications. And Ms. Lerner did not learn about the targeting in 2012—the IRS audit timeline shows she was briefed in June 2011. She said the targeting was the work of rogue agents in the Cincinnati office. But the Washington Post spoke to an IRS worker there, who said: “Everything comes from the top.
“We know that Lois Lerner this week announced she’d done nothing wrong, and then took the Fifth.
And we know Jay Leno, grown interestingly fearless, said of the new IRS commissioner, “They’re called ‘acting commissioner’ because you have to act like the scandal doesn’t involve the White House.
“But the most important IRS story came not from the hearings but from Mike Huckabee’s program on Fox News Channel. He interviewed and told the story of Catherine Engelbrecht—a nice woman, a citizen, an American. She and her husband live in Richmond, Texas. They have a small manufacturing business. In the past few years she became interested in public policy and founded two groups, King Street Patriots, and True the Vote.