We can breathe easier now. That chilly wind we mistook for political persecution turns out to be a big misunderstanding. In today’s lead editorial, the New York Times assures us that
The Internal Revenue Service, according to an inspector general’s report, was not reacting to political pressure or ideology when it singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny in evaluating requests for tax exemptions. It acted inappropriately because employees couldn’t understand inadequate guidelines.
Thank goodness for inspector generals. And I’m glad this is now all cleared up. But for those of you that might still have some reservations about this matter, maybe a look at some excerpts from the inspector general’s interview with the two agents — oops, now four agents (and a deputy director, several other high-ranking IRS officers and, various members of Congress and, for all we know, Butch Cassidy and the Hole-In-The-Wall Gang) involved in this tempest in a teapot :
IG: What exactly did you find confusing in your guidelines? Can you be specific?
Agent 1: Well, sure. Our supervisor told us that the head honchos wanted us to identify, investigate and deny tax-exempt status for Tea Parties involved in political fundraising.
IG: Well, we have a copy of the guidelines she read to you, and it actually says “”the parties involved,” not “Tea Parties.”
Agent 2: Whoops.
IG: Then there was a second briefing, in which she clarified specifically that you were not to focus on conservative organizations. Yet you added new names, almost all of which were conservative politically. How did that happen?
Agent 1: She did?
IG: Yes — the new guidelines gave you said — let me read the exact language — “it is essential that in any such investigation, the highest priority shall be to stick to the right thing.”
Agent 1: Oops.
Agent 2: We thought she said “the right wing.”
IG: Okay. But then there was yet a third redefinition of the guidelines that — frankly — I don’t think left any room for ambiguity here, where she specifically said: “Let me make this clear. A single-minded focus on conservative social welfare organizations is intolerable and you have to include more liberal applicants even if you endorse their objectives.”
Agent 1: Well, I thought she said “We need to hound these cracker enemies of the administration, their children, their neighbors and their pets until they scream for mercy and sign a pledge to vote Democratic for the rest of their lives.”
Agent 2: That’s what I heard.
IG: Gentlemen, I am having a very big problem here.
Agent 1: Actually, sir that’s a small problem.
IG: It is?
Agent 2: Yes sir. A big problem would be that your father has been deducting $13,000 a year from his gross income for a “home office” when he’s been retired for the last seven years, and lives off his pension and Social Security.
Agent 1: And an even bigger one is your sister’s failure to declare $120,000 a year in rental income from her villa in Acapulco.
IG: I’m sure it’s just a case of their confusion about tax laws….
Agent 1: Yes sir.
Agent 2: You see how easily this can happen.
IG: Well, gentlemen, I think this concludes my investigation. I see this as a simple case of ‘inadequate guidelines’.
Agent 1: I’m glad you see it that way, sir.
IG: Let’s hope the New York Times doesn’t get hold of this story. There’ll be hell to pay.