Think the IRS targeting scandal had dissipated? So did the IRS, but it got a very unpleasant surprise on Thursday in federal court. Judge Reggie Walton ordered the agency to start identifying the employees who took part in the targeting of conservative non-profit groups and to provide specific explanation for the delays in approval of that status for dozens of them. “Why hide the ball?” Judge Walton asked (via TaxProfBlog):
A federal judge on Thursday ordered the IRS to name the specific employees the agency blames for targeting tea party groups for intrusive scrutiny and said the government must prove it has ceased the targeting.
Judge Reggie B. Walton also said the IRS must explain the reasons for the delays for 38 groups that are part of a lawsuit in the District of Columbia, where they are still looking for a full accounting of their treatment.
Judge Walton approved another round of limited discovery in the case and laid out six questions that the IRS must answer, including the employees’ names, why the groups were targeted and how the IRS has tried to prevent a repeat.
The IRS had hoped to close off demands for more discovery, arguing that too much time had elapsed and that there were no indications that further searches would be fruitful. In short, they argued that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were merely on a fishing expedition. “The United States should not be held to respond to far-reaching inquiries,” the Department of Justice argued.
That’s a rather gutsy statement, considering that the IRS admitted just a few months ago that it had suddenly discovered seven thousand undisclosed documents relating to the scandal. The problem in this scandal is that the inquiries clearly haven’t reached far enough. But it raises an interesting question: why is the DoJ still siding with the IRS in the case of conservative targeting by the agency? For that matter, why is John Koskinen still the commissioner of the IRS?
The standard answer to the first question is that the DoJ routinely represents the government in lawsuits. (That’s why the refusal of Sally Yates to do so in relation to Donald Trump’s executive order on the so-called “travel ban” amounted to insubordination.) However, one would think that the Trump administration would have wanted to get to the bottom of this targeting scandal too, in order to “drain the swamp.” Nothing has been swampier than the alleged collusion of the IRS with the Obama administration to silence its political opponents, so … why is Trump’s DoJ helping the IRS keep the lid on it?
The larger issue here is the continued presence of Koskinen at the head of the IRS. He has repeatedly misled the public and Congress about the scandal and the investigation of it. Judge Walton might be ordering a better level of compliance and transparency, but Koskinen could have done this himself without conservatives having to plead their case repeatedly in court. He’s choosing to stonewall. Koskinen should have been fired on Day One of Trump presidency, and replaced by someone with a commitment to draining the swamp at the IRS.
In the meantime, Walton now has ordered the IRS to broaden their searches, both in time and in scope, in order to get this scandal fully resolved one way or the other. He gave them until October 16th to comply. Trump could act long before then to work the problem from the inside, a move that is long overdue.