Lois Lerner: The Impossible Ingénue

Following the administration's well-worn template, the Obamaites' response to scandal is to savage their enemies and lionize their friends. Gregory Hicks, former deputy chief of mission in Libya, has been effectively demoted for, among other things, daring to talk to a U.S. congressman about the Benghazi debacle without a State Department lawyer present.  A registered Democrat who twice voted for Obama, he was returned to Washington as a desk jockey and told he could expect a "good level of assignment."  He's still waiting.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Mr. Hicks is Lois Lerner, the IRS lawyer who apparently let slip last Friday before an audience of lawyers that the group she oversees, which grants tax-exempt status to "social welfare" organizations, was discriminating against conservative groups.  I'll get to the "apparently" in a minute.  An article by Elizabeth Williamson on Ms. Lerner in the Wednesday Wall Street Journal, p. A4 of the dead-tree edition, paints her as just short of sainthood, a wide-eyed ingénue completely out of her depth in the sordid world of political intrigue.  (Note that this article is not an op-ed -- i.e., it purports to be news.)

The article is sourced from fellow lawyers, who offer up the shrewd insight that Ms. Lerner "isn't the political type -- and that may be what got her into this mess, several of her colleagues say."  An editorial in the Thursday Journal notes that "IRS Exempt Organizations Director Lois Lerner has years of experience that include 20 years at the Federal Election Commission, including as Acting General Counsel."  Gee, Ms. Good Government goes to Washington, and after 30 years as a federal lawyer, she's still a doe-eyed innocent in matters political.

If Ms. Lerner is not political, she does not appear to be the managerial type, either, for as Ms. Williamson reveals, Ms. Lerner discovered in mid-2011 that her staff was improperly subjecting conservative groups to stringent scrutiny and told them to stop doing so -- yet the practice continued until when, exactly?  Friday?  Did she follow up and see if they had ceased and desisted?  Let us hope that some congressperson will ask.

According to her friends, "[s]omebody asked the question" at the conference on Friday, "and she answered it."  As they further explained, she "is forthright and occasionally blunt." In other words, just too darned honest for her own good.

Let's look for a moment at what she actually said on Friday:

They used names like Tea Party or Patriots and they selected cases simply because the applications had those names in the title. That was wrong, that was absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate - that's not how we go about selecting cases for further review.

Insensitive is especially cute: someone's feelings were hurt?  Groups were denied the ability to operate as a nonprofit for as much as three years, and that was insensitive?  Here's another i word you might add, Ms. Lerner: illegal.

She went on to say, "The IRS would like to apologize for that."  What a clever lawyer, parsing her words so carefully.  The non-apology apology has become an art form in recent years.  Ms. Lerner, in the name of her employer, does not apologize per se, but merely opines that that benign arm of government "would like to apologize."  Nixon's "modified limited hangout" sounds positively straightforward by contrast.

But to return to "[s]omebody asked the question."  Just "somebody"?  Kevin Williamson at National Review Online shines a bright light on "somebody":

The question at the ABA conference came from Washington-based tax lawyer Celia Roady, a lobbyist in the firm of Morgan Lewis. Roady is certainly well-versed in the issue at hand: She was named to the influential Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities in 2010 by Douglas Shulman, at that time commissioner of the IRS. Lerner is the director for tax-exempt organizations at the IRS. Roady was serving on the Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities while tea-party groups and other conservative organizations were being targeted by the IRS. Not exactly a question out of the blue - Capitol Hill sources described the question as "planted" and say the IRS has informally admitted as much.

Of course, Ms. Roady said it was an innocent question, not a plant -- before, that is, she refused to make any more comments on the incident.  With any luck, she will have a chance to elaborate on that under oath to Congress.

And there's this:

While Lerner's remarks have since been referred to as a "slip" by lawmakers and media reports, several people in the audience on Friday said they saw Lerner refer to notes when answering the question, as if she'd prepared the response in advance.

Yet according to one of the sources for Ms. Williamson's article in the Wednesday Journal -- namely, Kenneth Gross, who hired Ms. Lerner to work at the Federal Election Commission in the early 1980s -- "[s]he absolutely didn't understand the implications. She's been hurled into the maelstrom, without any foul-weather gear."  I wonder, does Ms. Williamson feel as though she's been played?

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona.  He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.

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