Removing the fear of government

May 14 marks the one year anniversary of a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report detailing the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) inappropriate targeting of tea party groups seeking tax exempt status from the agency.

During the year since the TIGTA report, former IRS official Lois Lerner, who headed the unit responsible for the IRS's mistreatment of conservatives, has testified and then refused to answer questions before Congress, about the targeting, and was found last week in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about this abuse of power.  We also learned last week that contributors to targeted tea party groups whose donor lists were kept by the IRS were personally audited at a rate 10 times greater than that of the general population.

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These revelations provide more than a disturbing picture of the IRS. It’s a frightening story of how our government operates to punish perceived political opponents of the Barack Obama administration. America has become a nation in which those who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights are subject to systematic government intimidation and where citizens face harassment and threats based on their beliefs.

But there is a way in which this nation can begin returning to one in which people are free to speak their minds without fearing their government.  It begins with the Department of Justice (DOJ) conducting an authentic investigation into what Lerner and other officials in the IRS, and elsewhere in the Obama administration, knew and did to create this ongoing pattern of intimidation of citizens based on their beliefs.

Whether this will happen remains an open question, particularly since we also now know that employees at the Justice Department were communicating with IRS employees contemplating the arrest of tea party leaders for simply utilizing their First Amendment rights.  

The May 7 vote by the House of Representatives finding Lerner in contempt of Congress means the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia now has a “duty” to take the case to a grand jury.  The Department of Justice can also appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate but this is another unknown and the pattern of the Obama DOJ is to circle the wagons to protect political allies and punish opponents.  

Democrats in Congress complain that the action against Lerner is politically motivated, a breathtaking display of hubris by those who appear to believe that it’s perfectly fine for the IRS to target conservative groups and that it is appropriate for a government agency to single out select citizens for intimidation simply because of their beliefs.  If there is anything about this IRS scandal that is politically motivated, it is the Democrats' efforts to silence those who oppose their policies.

Defenders of Lerner argue that she is entitled to her Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, an ironic situation given her efforts to trample the First Amendment rights of others. But those who understand the law know that she waived her right not to testify once she testified - not only before the House but also in private with and to the DOJ.  It is a twisted state of affairs to be sure but black letter law and legal precedent are clear; one waives the right to not testify when one starts testifying.

The IRS did agree last week to provide all the remaining Lois Lerner emails to House investigators that have been withheld for the past year. But given the dishonest proclivities of the IRS and the passing of a full year since the TIGTA report on the targeting effort, one can be forgiven for being skeptical of whether the IRS will finally and fully cooperate in the House investigations.

Whichever course of action is taken, it must lead to the truth about what the IRS did to conservatives.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny.”  People are already fearing their government; whether tyranny results is up to the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and a determined commitment by Congress to see this investigation through to the end, no matter how long it takes. 

Martin is co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.