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The Right Stuff: Lois Lerner and the “smidgen” conundrum

Tom Jackson’s conservative opinion column is published each Sunday. The Right Stuff blog is updated throughout the week at tbo.com/tomjackson/

While former IRS official Lois Lerner remains silent on Smidgengate, Rep. Darrell Issa — chairman of the U.S. House committee she twice has spurned — is seeing to it the incriminating words she typed into her government-issue computer have begun fairly shouting from the rooftops.

And if Lerner doesn’t want to attempt to explain them, well, that’s her business.

Meanwhile, just the extremely limited email correspondence grudgingly surrendered by the Internal Revenue Service reveals a pattern of abusive, politically bent targeting that assaults all the senses with the reek of corruption, President Obama’s blithe dismissal during his Super Bowl Sunday interview with Bill O’Reilly notwithstanding.

“Not even a smidgen of corruption”? Tell it to the tea party and 9/12 groups frozen out through the entire 2012 campaign while the IRS’ Exempt Organizations division invented onerous hoops through which perceptibly anti-Obama forces had to jump, while most left-leaning applicants breezed.

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A 141-page report published Tuesday by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform delivers far more than the modest title — “Lois Lerner’s Involvement in the IRS Targeting of Tax-Exempt Organizations” — suggests.

Its conclusions are — and here we rely on no less an authority than the Washington Post — “scathing.”

“She created unprecedented roadblocks,” the report says, “for tea party organizations, worked surreptitiously to advance new Obama administration regulations that curtail the activities of existing 501(c)(4) organizations — all the while attempting to maintain an appearance that her efforts did not appear, in her own words, ‘per se political.’ ”

Among the report’s more chilling findings is that under Lerner, officials in Washington “directed IRS employees in Cincinnati to isolate tea party applicants even though the IRS had not developed a process for approving their applications.” So much for the “rogue agent” narrative.

Moreover, Lerner “and other senior officials,” preoccupied with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United and worried about the “hugely influential Koch brothers,” considered tea party cases to be “very dangerous.” Accordingly, she was deeply involved in overseeing them, “from directing the review process to receiving periodic status updates.”

Regarding this last, says the report, “Other IRS employees would later testify that the level of scrutiny Lerner ordered for the tea party cases was unprecedented.”

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The report readily concedes Lerner’s long-standing animosity for right-leaning organizations. While with the Federal Elections Commission, she “engaged in questionable tactics to target conservative groups ... often subjecting them to heightened scrutiny” while giving Democratic groups a pass. Alert observers are free to detect a pattern.

In short, she arrived at the IRS predisposed to carry on her work making life difficult for conservatives eager to expand their political footprint. But the report darkly hints Lerner was emboldened by forces beyond:

“She was keenly aware of acute political pressure to crack down on conservative-leaning organizations.” Lerner was a high-ranking official at the IRS, an independent agency — according to the White House — the bare mention of which shoots icy shivers down the spine of any rational American. Who would be in a position to pressure such a hotshot?

Presumably, that would be among the questions committee members would pose if Lerner agreed to emerge from her shield against self-incrimination, although that pony appears to have fled the barn. Thinking she willfully shed her immunity, Issa’s committee is moving toward charging Lerner with contempt of Congress.

In the interim, George Will is on the money. As noted by the Washington-based syndicated columnist on last week’s “Fox News Sunday,” “The fact is Lois Lerner has the perfect right to take the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination and the rest of us have a perfect right to draw rational inferences for what she’s done.”

And so we shall.

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