Tough talk or real action? John Boehner held a press conference earlier today that emphasized the IRS scandal’s potentially criminal nature. Rather than wondering whether heads should roll, Boehner said the real question is whether butts should land in jail (video via Gateway Pundit):
The admitted targeting of conservative groups applying for tax exempt status is grounds for some Internal Revenue Service employees to lose their jobs, House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday.
“The IRS has admitted to targeting conservatives, even if the White House continues to be stuck on the word ‘if,'” Boehner said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “Now, my question isn’t about who’s going to resign. My question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
“There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse,” Boehner continued. “Someone made a conscious decision to harass and hold up these requests for tax exempt status. I think we need to know who they are, whether they violated the law. Clearly someone violated the law.”
This has already generated plenty of skepticism in our comment threads regarding Boehner’s resolve on the matter. However, it’s worth remembering our civics classes and realizing that Boehner can’t really put people in jail, at least not directly. He can’t even make heads roll in the executive branch. (You can look this up, as Casey Stengel used to say.) Nor is he promising in this instance to do any of the above — he’s just saying that’s what should happen, challenging the White House to take this seriously.
Did it work? Not so far:
“The federal government must conduct itself in a way that’s worthy of the public’s trust, and that’s especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity,” [Barack Obama] said. “This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.”
Obama ordered Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to ensure that each of the inspector general’s recommendations are implemented soon, “so that such conduct never happens again.”
In other words, mistakes were made, and let’s change a few of the internal rules to keep it from happening again. Otherwise, “some” of the IRS’ employees may fail in the next test, too.
So what can Boehner do? He can make sure that House committees start subpoenaing IRS and Treasury officials to determine under oath what actually transpired for the 27 months that the IRS blocked conservative groups’ tax-exempt applications while approving dozens for progressive groups. The House can file contempt charges against Douglas Shulman and Steve Miller, the former and current IRS Commissioners, for either lying to Congress in testimony or misleading Congress over these practices, although those would have to be pursued in court by the Department of Justice. And on that point, USA Today’s editorial hits the nail on the head:
As for the IRS revelation, Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a criminal investigation to determine whether anyone at the agency broke the law. That’s a start. But the Justice Department’s decision-making in the AP case doesn’t inspire confidence in the result.
Given all we have seen over the past week, Boehner’s best chance to see his perspective prevail is to call for a special prosecutor in the IRS probe. That would probably sideline the House committees, though, and that might create even more problems for Boehner, at least politically among his caucus. We might just have to settle for exposing whatever crimes took place in hearings, and let that exposure create its own pressure on the White House to make heads roll.