Via the Standard, let’s approach the question this way: If it wasn’t the prospect of Precious losing the election that kept the lid on this until November had safely come and gone, what was it? As Lisa Myers notes below, lots of people knew that something smelly was going on and yet no one said a word. Not a single whistleblower could muster the courage to go to the media with this in 2012, despite (or because of) the fact that tea-party complaints had proliferated last spring to the point where Republican congressmen had gotten involved. There was visible smoke, but no one from the agency itself would confirm the existence of a fire until last week. Why?
Three possibilities. One: They were holding their breath in hopes that the IG’s report wouldn’t be that bad. Only last week, after discovering that it would indeed be pretty harsh, was it finally in their interest to pretend to be stand-up guys by apologizing. Why cop to wrongdoing before you know for a fact that you’re in trouble? Such is the ass-covering mindset of the fine, civic-minded employees at the IRS, apparently. Two: They wanted time to undo what they’d done, in order to make themselves appear contrite when the IG’s bombshell finally dropped. That’s super if true, but according to the IG’s timeline, less partisan criteria for processing 501(c)(4) orgs were instituted last May. They could have spent three months trying to clean up their mess and still come clean long before election day. There’s no obvious reason to wait until November, let alone May 2013. Three: It’s just what it looks like. The IRS’s higher-ups were all in the tank for another term of Hopenchange. There’s circumstantial evidence to believe that’s true, but if you’re feeling slightly more charitable, you might conclude that it wasn’t Obama himself that they were invested in so much as their own careers. If they blew the whistle on what was happening and O ended up winning the election anyway, then they’re in deep trouble for having tried, but failed, to derail their boss’s chance at history. Not a happy place to be if you’re a time-serving tax apparatchik. So they kept quiet to stay on Obama’s good side. If that’s what happened, it tells you a lot about what they think of their superiors’ capacity for politically-motivated retaliation.
Update: The NYT sees a very bad narrative developing…
The Treasury Department’s inspector general told senior Treasury officials in June 2012 he was investigating allegations that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted conservative groups, disclosing for the first time on Friday that Obama administration officials were aware of the matter during the presidential campaign year.
At the first Congressional hearing into the I.R.S. scandal, J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that he informed the Treasury’s general counsel of his investigation on June 4, and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly thereafter.” The new information came as part of a routine briefing of the investigations that the inspector general would be conducting in the coming year, and he did not tell the officials of his conclusions that the targeting had been improper, he said.