Eliana Johnson phrases her recent National Review Online article as if it nudges the controversy over the IRS’s Tea Party targeting in another direction, but I think it fills out the picture in exactly the way that most Tea Party types would expect. Consider:
The targeting of tea-party groups traces back to February of 2010 when a low-level employee in the IRS’s Cincinnati office flagged a single file for his superior. In an e-mail written on February 25, 2010, Jack Koester, a revenue agent, told his boss, John Shafer, that “recent media attention” made the application at hand a “high-profile” case. In doing so, he was following the Internal Revenue Manual’s directive to agency personnel to elevate to senior managers cases that fall into several categories, including those “that are newsworthy, or that have the potential to become newsworthy.”
In a comprehensive analysis, Step #1 wasn’t the low-level employee’s flagging of the application. Rather, it was the news media’s handling the Tea Party movement as a suspicious, controversial development.
Next, the flagged file worked its way up the ladder until it got to the political operatives at the top of the IRS. In D.C., the issue took another step:
Once in Washington, the applications landed with a group of attorneys known in the IRS as tax-law specialists. The Internal Revenue Manual directs tax-law specialists to create what is known as a “sensitive-case report” if, among other possible criteria, the application “is likely to attract media or Congressional attention.”
Such judgement is subjective, of course, but one suspects that any individual Tea Party group’s application would have fallen well short of national media or Congressional attention. Attention to a movement is quite different than, say, attention that might be paid to a specific charity created by a political family that has the potential to be used for laundering political donations.
That’s when the politics came into it:
Disgraced IRS official Lois Lerner didn’t become involved with the tea-party cases until May 13, 2010, when she received the sensitive-case report created by tax-law specialists in Washington. Then, in early 2011, Lerner ordered that the cases go through a “multi-tiered review” process, called the tea-party cases “very dangerous,” and reiterated, “Cincy should probably NOT have these cases.”
It may not be the case that the Obama Administration had the idea, one day, to disrupt the development of the Tea Party movement with the IRS. But when a biased news media had made backlash against President Obama’s policies a matter of national controversy, and when a Democrat-heavy bureaucracy had interpreted some individual manifestations of that backlash as “sensitive cases,” the idea arrived on the administration’s doorstep with ribbons and bows.
The partisan Democrats at the top of the chain (perhaps including the President) could have declined the opportunity in the name of freedom and the rule of law, but they didn’t.