Putin and Obama: Brothers in Tyranny
In Moscow and St. Petersburg thousands protested when opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to five years imprisonment on the charge of embezzling from a state-owned timber company. The conviction, like that of other Putin opponents, seems fabricated to stifle opposition to the regime. The usual poseurs here and in Europe -- poseurs because they themselves regularly exercise as much tyranny as their existing state structures allow them to get away with -- condemned the verdict. Jay Carney, speaking for the White House, called it a "disturbing trend of government actions aimed at suppressing dissent in civil society in Russia."
While the charge is undoubtedly true, Carney might focus his attention closer to home where is it increasingly obvious that Obama's 2012 re-election was facilitated by widespread unlawful harassment of his opposition by the Internal Revenue Service. The increasing evidence of this flagrant misuse of the IRS was highlighted in this week's House Oversight Committee where Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat redoubled his efforts to deflect the testimony and cut off the hearing is proof that the hearings, despite the often pathetic performance by many of its members, are hitting pay dirt.
Peggy Noonan summarized the evolution of the administration's cock and bull explanations:
Ms. Hofacre of the Cincinnati office testified that when she was given tea-party applications, she had to kick them upstairs. When she was given non-tea-party applications, they were sent on for normal treatment. Was she told to send liberal or progressive groups for special scrutiny? No, she did not scrutinize the applications of liberal or progressive groups. "I would send those to general inventory." Who got extra scrutiny? "They were all tea-party and patriot cases." She became "very frustrated" by the "micromanagement" from Washington. "It was like working in lost luggage." She applied to be transferred.
For his part, Mr. Hull backed up what he'd told House investigators. He described what was, essentially, a big, lengthy runaround in the Washington office in which no one was clear as to their reasons but everything was delayed. The multitiered scrutiny of the targeted groups was, he said, "unusual."
It was Maryland's Rep. Elijah Cummings, the panel's ranking Democrat, who, absurdly, asked Ms. Hofacre if the White House called the Cincinnati office to tell them what to do and whether she has knowledge of the president of the United States digging through the tax returns of citizens. Ms. Hofacre looked surprised. No, she replied.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, finally woke the proceedings up with what he called "the evolution of the defense" since the scandal began. First, Ms. Lerner planted a question at a conference. Then she said the Cincinnati office did it -- a narrative that was advanced by the president's spokesman, Jay Carney. Then came the suggestion the IRS was too badly managed to pull off a sophisticated conspiracy. Then the charge that liberal groups were targeted too -- "we did it against both ends of the political spectrum." When the inspector general of the IRS said no, it was conservative groups that were targeted, he came under attack. Now the defense is that the White House wasn't involved, so case closed."
In such corrupt regimes the man at the top needn't dictate to his underlings specifically what they are expected to do to his opponents, The underlings are party loyalists who were picked for their hatchetman skills and get their direction from more generally-worded attacks on the opposition by their patron and leader. So it is no more likely that Putin called on the Navalny prosecutors and judges than that Obama called IRS General Counsel William J. Wikins and IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and Lois Lerner, head of the agency's exempt organization office, and told them to use the IRS to bedevil his opponents.
As for the IRS General Counsel William J. Wilkins, who (without precedent) took charge of tea party applications, Greta reports that before his appointment to the IRS General Counsel slot he performed pro bono tax work for the church headed by Obama's anti-American, anti-Semitic minister, the apparently well financed Reverend Jeremiah Wright when IRS challenged whether it had violated its non-profit status.
Who is this lawyer? As the President's appointee at the IRS what was his involvement in the targeting of conservative groups (if any?) It may be totally innocent or just a coincidence but it deserves scrutiny (remember, transparency?)
By the way, lawyers often do pro bono (free) work for POOR people or POOR organizations. I don't know the finances of Rev Wright's church but the Church does not appear impoverished to me and if a lawyer or law firm is looking to do pro bono work, I do know there are plenty of really impoverished people and organizations that could use free legal help from a big fancy Washington, DC law firm.
This is not to say lawyers don't do pro bono work when there is some fascinating or novel legal issue that is an intellectual challenge and thus fun, but I don't see the Rev. Wright legal issue in that category. Instead it looks rather mundane. So... I don't buy what Wilkins says below but I could be dead wrong.
Bottom line -- transparency is needed here. If there is nothing peculiar about Wilkins and the targeting, then it is only fair to him that it be made public. Yes, we need transparency... and sooner, not later.
It was not just his domestic political opponents that Obama's administration targeted with the IRS. Z Street, a pro-Israel group which takes a different position than the president on the occupied territories, was also given special treatment.
Z Street has provided a summary of the IRS documents related to its scrutiny of the organization. They show the rejection of its tax-exempt application was based on a series of very transparent ruses:
1. IRS created a special category for advocates of these territories in which Z Street and ONLY Z STREET was placed.
2. After it turned down Z Street's application and the organization sued the IRS, this category was dropped.
3. The IRS defended this Z Street ghetto indicating Israel was of special concern because of terrorism.
4. According to Z Street, however, not a single IRS document says one thing about terrorism.
The only reason Z Street was targeted is obvious: it's what the organization categorized as "viewpoint discrimination". Because Z Street's position countered that of Obama (and Rev. Wright), its application -- for the same exemption Rev. Wright got -- to the organization whose General Counsel served proudly as Wright's pro bono tax lawyer was delayed, their requests for explanation stonewalled, and their request denied.
The organization observes in its summary of the history of its treatment by the IRS:
In what was clearly an effort to prevent the growing scandal's political bulls eye being painted on the White House, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, Sander Levin (D-MI), released a series of documents produced by the Internal Revenue Service. Rep. Levin said he believed these materials proved the IRS had not only targeted conservative groups, but that it had also gone after "progressive" groups, i.e. liberal ones. Presumably, his goal was to prove that the IRS was not selective in its misbehavior, but had been an equal opportunity offender. Levin believed that the 14 IRS documents which he released on June 24, 2013, made this point, and he then went on the offensive, lambasting the Treasury's Inspector General, for failing to raise this "fact" in his report.
But the 14 IRS documents do reveal, and they do it categorically, and they constitute an admission on the part of the IRS, is that the Service was looking at certain "Israel connected" organizations and making a distinction based upon the organization's political/ideological viewpoint. And that is the very claim made by Z STREET in its lawsuit brought against the IRS in August, 2010, and in which there is a hearing in federal district court in Washington, D.C. this Friday.
Z Street argues in its application for judicial relief, "The creation for of a category for a purely ideological viewpoint is a violation of the IRS mandate, and its use to make decisions about whether to approve or deny tax exempt status on the basis of an applicant's viewpoint is unconstitutional;" I should think that assertion is incontrovertible, Elijah Cummings and Sandor Levin's deflection and obfuscation efforts to the contrary notwithstanding.
As an update to their original blog on the case, Z Street notes:
UPDATE: The Washington Post is now reporting that IRS officials and employees have testified that some applications for tax exempt status were sent to the IRS's Chief Counsel -- in Washington, D.C. -- for review. We note that the IRS agent who was initially responsible for Z STREET's tax exemption application told our tax counsel that some of the files of the "organizations connected to Israel" were sent to "a special unit in Washington, D.C. to determine whether the activities of the organization contradict the public policies of the Administration."
The administration's correct objections to the conviction of Navalny unfortunately are unlikely to carry any moral weight. These objections come from a regime whose disregard of its statutory and constitutional obligations to its political opponents in order to remain in power is historic and no longer a secret.
In the article I indicated that Elijah Cummings was one of the Black Congressional Caucus members who falsely alleged that tea party members had spit on him. He was part of the group that day but in reviewing all the contemporary articles of the incident I could find, it does not appear that he was among those members of the group that leveled these baseless charges. I apologize for mischaracterizing his role which was to fail to challenge the false account by his colleagues and correct the record.That failure does, however, suggest a political animus to the tea party and a disregard for the truth of the racism charges.