By A.B. Stoddard - 06/18/14 07:13 PM EDT
My parents didn’t spend much time warning us kids about vandalism, petty theft or mail fraud, but much was made of the attention and focus we would need as adults when it came to our finances, because the Internal Revenue Service could pounce at any time. “If you ever get audited” were chilling words that frightened me, as I was certain I could never, ever produce the requisite documentation to defend myself and would be mortally ashamed when I had to suffer the legal consequences. My mother, who ran her own business, lamented the time it took her to copy every receipt and invoice, which filled multiple filing cabinets in her small office past our laundry room, back when records were still kept only on paper.
Now electronic, all documents must be stored or destroyed — even in our federal government. The IRS’s own rules state: “IRS offices will not store the official recordkeeping copy of e-mail messages that are federal records ONLY on the electronic mail system, unless the system has all of the features of an electronic recordkeeping system.” The news that emails Lois Lerner, the central figure in the investigation into the agency’s targeting of conservative groups, wrote between 2009-2011 accidentally perished in a computer crash is once again asking us all to choose between laughing or crying.
John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner who took the job only six months ago with a pledge to restore the public trust, testified in March that emails were hard to find, but he never revealed any destruction of them resulting from “computer crashes.” That news came in a letter from him, of course, late last Friday — when revealing information is always released —and begs the question of whether Koskinen has any idea of what’s going on, lied then or is lying now. Fittingly, he has now been subpoenaed to testify before the House Oversight Committee to cough up some long overdue answers next week, but no one is expecting much.
President Obama called the allegations of targeting certain groups over tax-exempt status — which Lerner admitted to a long time ago — “outrageous” in May of 2013 and promised that, if it were proven true, employees at the agency “have to be held fully accountable.” Months later, he inexplicably changed his tune, calling the whole affair “a phony scandal.” Perhaps Obama wasn’t aware at the time that not all of Lerner’s emails would disappear and that the House Oversight Committee would turn up one she sent her boss after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s complaint against Americans for Prosperity, stating “We won’t be able to stay out of this — we need a plan!”
Even risk-averse Hillary Clinton knows not to write off the IRS investigation any more, telling FOX News Channel Tuesday night that the probe should continue because, “I think any time IRS is involved, for many people, it’s a real scandal.”
Someone should tell the president that what’s phony is the idea that what Americans are getting from its leaders in Washington is a public service. Most of the public has now come to accept that what is promised is not only never delivered, but that basic functions of government are now replete with blunders, mishaps and potentially malfeasance. That’s a real scandal.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.