Even by the awful standards of Washington, where hubris and vindictiveness are standard operating procedure, the arrogance and malfeasance uncovered at the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Justice over the past few days is staggering.
May 10, when the IRS admitted improperly singling out politically conservative groups for scrutiny during the 2012 election, threatening their tax-exempt status and sometimes demanding that donors be identified. The agency said low-level workers inappropriately targeted entities with the words “tea party” and “patriot” in their names — groups that warned higher taxes and bigger government invited tyranny. How thoughtful of our tax collectors to prove their critics correct.
Actually, it turns out the IRS actions were much worse. Agents were making things difficult for a far wider range of conservative groups, including ones that address government spending, taxes and debt. And far from being a conspiracy involving a few low-ranking grunts, agency leaders were aware of the unconscionable shakedowns, yet they still misled Congress.
When the IRS becomes an arm of the political party in power, when it works to punish people for their beliefs and their associations, everyone has reason to fear. The tax men can take your freedom and your savings. Give the IRS the authority to crack down on speech — tax-exempt groups face limits on political expression and activity — and it’s only a question of time before agents base their investigations on the content of that speech.
But one Washington attack on the First Amendment wasn’t enough. On Monday, Americans learned the Justice Department had engaged in a full-scale assault on the press. Last year, the department secretly obtained two months of Associated Press telephone records, apparently to learn who leaked the details of a CIA operation in Yemen that foiled an al-Qaida plot to blow up a jetliner. The phone lines of an editor and reporters who worked on that story were among the records obtained by the government.
The Justice Department has the authority to subpoena the records of the press, but any subpoena is supposed to be a last resort, and a news organization generally is supposed to be notified. Such subpoenas must be approved by the attorney general and must be narrow in scope. Two months of phone records from more than 20 lines in three different cities — including reporters’ personal lines — isn’t a limited inquiry, it’s a fishing expedition.
All this over the reporting of information that was about to be made public anyway? The news organization simply stole the president’s thunder.
Such a broad, reckless demand for records clearly has a bigger purpose: putting journalists’ federal sources on notice that the Obama administration will come after them if they blow the whistle. This will do great damage to the media’s ability to report the kind of government wrongdoing that took place at the IRS.
There is no excuse for these abuses of authority. It justifies the worst suspicions of every person who distrusts Washington’s ability to oversee everything from elections to background checks on firearm purchases.
Heads should roll. Every IRS employee who participated in the targeting of conservative groups should be fired and, where appropriate, face prosecution for deprivation of rights under color of law.
The AP phone records obtained by the Justice Department should be destroyed. And for bullying the press for daring to report the public’s business, for his gross intrusion on constitutionally protected activities that are vital to the health of our republic, Attorney General Eric Holder should resign. Today.
— From the Las Vegas Review Journal