Strassel: The IRS Scandal Started at the Top
Was the White House involved in the IRS's targeting of conservatives? No investigation needed to answer that one. Of course it was.
President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an "independent" agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.
But that's not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn't need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he'd like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.
Mr. Obama now professes shock and outrage that bureaucrats at the IRS did exactly what the president of the United States said was the right and honorable thing to do. "He put a target on our backs, and he's now going to blame the people who are shooting at us?" asks Idaho businessman and longtime Republican donor Frank VanderSloot....
...The Obama call for scrutiny wasn't a mistake; it was the president's strategy—one pursued throughout 2012. The way to limit Romney money was to intimidate donors from giving. Donate, and the president would at best tie you to Big Oil or Wall Street, at worst put your name in bold, and flag you as "less than reputable" to everyone who worked for him: the IRS, the SEC, the Justice Department. The president didn't need a telephone; he had a megaphone.
The same threat was made to conservative groups that might dare play in the election. As early as January 2010, Mr. Obama would, in his state of the union address, cast aspersions on the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, claiming that it "reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests" (read conservative groups).
The president derided "tea baggers." Vice President Joe Biden compared them to "terrorists." In more than a dozen speeches Mr. Obama raised the specter that these groups represented nefarious interests that were perverting elections. "Nobody knows who's paying for these ads," he warned. "We don't know where this money is coming from," he intoned.
In case the IRS missed his point, he raised the threat of illegality: "All around this country there are groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity, who are running millions of dollars of ads against Democratic candidates . . . And they don't have to say who exactly the Americans for Prosperity are. You don't know if it's a foreign-controlled corporation."...
Big Government Loses Control
What to make of the political scandals that are dominating the headlines and forcing the Obama administration into Nixonian damage control? Technology is finally doing to big government what it has done to big business, big media and other institutions that once could operate with nearly full control over information. The government is losing the ability to manipulate information to avoid accountability.
Consider how the news broke that the Internal Revenue Service has been targeting conservative groups. The admission by IRS official Lois Lerner came in response to a question from the audience at a low-profile meeting of the tax section of the American Bar Association. For a week, perplexed reporters quoted her supporters saying she was apolitical and must not have meant to make news this way.
Then reports online cited lawyers who had been at the ABA event saying they saw her consult prepared remarks as she answered the supposedly impromptu question. On Friday, the acting IRS commissioner confessed to Congress that the question was planted. Its purpose was to give Ms. Lerner a chance to minimize IRS wrongdoing before the release of the Treasury inspector general's report early last week.
The attempt to spin the story worked for a time. Ms. Lerner blamed everything on low-level IRS employees in the Cincinnati office and said that the targeting of conservative groups ended when higher-ups learned about it. But as targeted groups went online to reveal the communications they had received from numerous IRS offices, it became clear that abuses were widespread, including at headquarters, and that the targeting went on for years....