Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Milbank: Panel turns IRS probe into a circus
First Published Apr 10 2014 10:17 am • Last Updated Apr 10 2014 10:17 am

Dave Camp had a secret.

The House Ways and Means Committee chairman was ready to send the panel’s files on former IRS official Lois Lerner to the Justice Department for a possible prosecution, a handover that could have been accomplished with a simple phone call to the attorney general. Instead, Camp put on a show.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The Michigan Republican invited the press and the public to the committee’s storied hearing room Wednesday, only to call an immediate vote to kick them out. This way, the panel could meet in a closed session to debate Lerner’s fate — a dramatic but meaningless gesture because the sole purpose of the secret meeting was to authorize releasing the committee’s files on Lerner to the public.

Republicans said the closed session was required to make the information public, but the panel’s ranking Democrat, Michigan’s Sandy Levin, said the debate should be held in the open.

"Mr. Chairman?" he inquired after the plan to go into secret session was announced.

Camp ignored Levin. "The clerk will call the roll," he said.

"Mr. Chairman?"

"The clerk will call the roll."

"Mr. Chairman?"

"The clerk will call the roll."


story continues below
story continues below

Levin pressed on, patiently raising a point of order.

"Just chill out," the 60-year-old Camp finally snapped at his 82-year-old colleague.

"I’m very chilled out," Levin replied.

This was true. Levin hadn’t raised his voice at all. Camp, on the other hand, was agitated — for good reason. The lawmaker, who is retiring at the end of this term, has built a solid reputation over the years, and he recently won plaudits for releasing a thoughtful proposal to overhaul the tax code. Camp was on course to retire with dignity, at least until he allowed his committee room to be turned into a circus tent Wednesday. It was a folly wrapped in a charade and shrouded by farce.

Folly: There was no need to have a formal hearing to convey the information to the Justice Department, which is already investigating the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups.

Charade: The committee made a big show of having its secret hearing, even though it was a foregone conclusion that the members would vote along party lines to release its "secret" information — including the transcript of the secret hearing — to the public.

Farce: Camp said Lerner could be prosecuted for releasing private taxpayer information. Yet in making public its Lerner files, the committee used its authority to do legally the same thing it accused her of doing illegally: releasing confidential taxpayer information. That hadn’t been done in at least 40 years.

Of course, the taxpayers whose information was released — mostly related to Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS group — may not mind, because they have an interest in seeing somebody pay for the IRS’ targeting of a disproportionate number of tea party groups for extra scrutiny.

The IRS scandal didn’t come close to the "culture of corruption" Camp promised or the "targeting of the president’s political enemies" and cover-up alleged by Darrell Issa, R-Calif., whose committee is holding a contempt vote. Instead, the investigations didn’t go beyond Lerner, a civil servant who led the agency’s tax-exempt division. "This was a career employee in the IRS potentially who did all these things," Camp said after Wednesday’s secret session. "So we have to make sure that the signal goes out that this doesn’t happen again."

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.