Lois Lerner. Hero. Servant. Brownie-baking puppy lover. Sister of the Blessed State.
This is about all a person reading Politico’s new exclusive “interview” with the former head of the I.R.S. division that oversees tax-exempt groups, might take away. “I didn’t do anything wrong” claims Lerner, who, like any innocent person, is flanked by a major law firm’s partner, two personal attorneys and her husband – a lawyer. “I’m proud of my career and the job I did for this country.” And in around 3,700 obsequious words, Politico seems to agree.
What exactly did she do for her country, you ask? Well, sitting in her $2.5 million house in Bethesda, Maryland, this question, like most others, goes unanswered. But even before Lerner fails to respond to queries about corruption or cover-ups, the most obvious problem with the piece is the lack of perspective. A few very obvious things to remember:
Lerner is already guilty
It’s worth noting that this humble servant of the American people worked for an organization that – like many others in Washington after the election of Barack Obama in 2008 – found a renewed purpose. From fiscal 2009 to 2013, the IRS averaged around 3,500 criminal referrals a year, a 38.4 percent increase over the past administration, according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2013, the Justice Department prosecuted 30.6 percent more than in 2012 and the most it had since 1997.
Lerner was an activist tasked with regulating free speech. And more. She has already admitted and apologized for the practice of targeting conservatives groups with terms like “Tea Party” or “patriots” in their titles. She claims that it was done in an effort to deal with the surge in applications for tax-exempt status asking for permission to participate in the political process. Yet, she didn’t aim at groups with the “climate change” or “fairness” in their names to mitigate this alleged crush of work she was facing. Even Eric Holder called the behavior, whether criminal or not, “outrageous and unacceptable” and launched a criminal investigation into Lerner and the IRS. (And, for all the wrong reasons, it’s doubtful anything will come of it.) Lerner isn’t a political punching bag in a dueling Red-Blue narrative, she is already culpable for misconduct, which is something you may not take away from the Politico interview.
Of course, Lerner is political
In addition to spending a thousand words highlighting Lerner’s humanity and professionalism, Politico also makes it a point to indicate that many people believe that she isn’t particularly political. A woman who calls conservatives “crazies” and “assholes” in government emails might be doing exemplary and impartial work – she may even have a point – but one thing she is not is apolitical.
Lerner’s husband continued on this theme in the piece, asserting that under “both Republican and Democratic administrations, she got these amazing ratings and bonuses.” What isn’t mentioned is Lerner’s history of harassment and inappropriate ideological inquiries during her tenure at the FEC. But, even if she had an perfect history, so what? A near-lifetime of exemplary service does not excuse wrongdoing. Moreover, Lerner targeted conservative groups as the administration made a huge political issue of the Citizens United decision, which became the centerpiece of a political effort that accused conservatives of buying elections. Lerner agreed with the administration, according to the emails we do have, cheered on those who tried to work around the decision and then put her beliefs into practice. Of course it was political.
Of course, Lerner is hiding something
“I was the person who announced it,” she says,” I assume the other part of it is because I declined to talk, and once I declined to talk, they could say anything they wanted, and they knew I couldn’t say anything back.”
No, you were not the person who announced it, you were the person confronted by it. You didn’t decline to talk, you are benefitting from a clause in the Constitution that allows a person to shield themselves from self-incrimination. This fact certainly doesn’t make you a criminal, but it almost surely means you’re hiding something pretty important.
Did she have any hand in destroying evidence? That’s the most important question now. This is what Rachael Bade had to say on the topic regarding Republican efforts to find out:
They’re also suspicious that two years’ worth of her emails disappeared in a 2011 computer crash, a huge kerfuffle the IRS only revealed to Congress in June — a year after the saga began.
Are they the only ones who are suspicious? Shouldn’t every journalist, including the one lucky enough to have an exclusive interview with Lerner, be at least somewhat skeptical about the IRS’s story? (Wouldn’t it be nice to hear the tape of this two-hour discussion Politico had with Lerner? What was asked? What did Lerner refuse to answer?)
Remember: A U.S. District Court judge had to force the IRS to tell the court what happened to Lerner’s hard drive. It was only then that the IRS told investigators that Lerner’s hard drive – with most of her emails – had crashed in 2011. With no way to retrieve them. Then, only after the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and groups like Judicial Watch used FIOA were pushing to find Lerner’s emails – which we’re to believe are completely innocuous – a deputy associate chief counsel of the IRS, said (in an affidavit) that Lerner’s Blackberry had been “wiped clean” and thrown our as “scrap for disposal in June 2012.” This, after everyone knew what had happened.
Lerner scoffed at the notion that she would crash her own computer to hide emails: “How would I know two years ahead of time that it would be important for me to destroy emails, and if I did know that, why wouldn’t I have destroyed the other ones they keep releasing?”
Perhaps, and this is just a guess, being a lawyer you understood that illegal – or possibly just unprofessional and hyper-political – contents were in those emails. Why didn’t you destroy them all? Maybe you couldn’t destroy everything. Maybe you’re lazy about cover-ups. Maybe you missed some. Maybe you’re incompetent. Surely, Congress and media suspicious reporters could come up an array of questions that might illuminate the situation. The only conceivable reason, after all, that Lerner won’t talk to Congress or the media is because she is faced with the unenviable choice of lying or fessing up to something. Not that you’d know any of that reading Politico’s puff piece.
What I did learn, though, was that Lerner gets revolting emails from some random people. So please reserve your empathy for her, dog-lover and public servant, rather than groups that were denied the right to participate in the political process because of her actions.