No criminal charges.
That was the expected word from the Federal Bureau of Investigation following a lengthy investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt organization scandal.
There are a lot of words that could be used to describe the tenor of what happened. Incompetent. Flawed. Lazy. Confused. Mismanaged. I’ve heard quite a few – and chances are you’ve uttered a few of those yourself.
But the behavior didn’t rise to the level of what would be considered criminal. That’s the finding – to date – of the investigation.
And that has Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) hopping mad.
The Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been involved in the matter since 2012 when he formally requested a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) inquiry into allegations of unfair targeting and flagging of tax-exempt applications. The scandal came to a head in 2013 when now-former Director of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations office, Lois Lerner, brought the scandal public during a disastrous appearance at an American Bar Association conference calling it “absolutely incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate.” Lerner subsequently refused to testify in front of the Rep. Issa’s committee, instead invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Calls for the IRS to fire Lerner were unsuccessful (citing employment-related rules). Lerner has since resigned.
Lerner wouldn’t be the only IRS figure pulled into the scandal. One day after Attorney General Eric Holder announced an investigation into the scandal, Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller resigned. Both Lerner and Miller received significant bonuses for their employment.
Despite all of the really bad behavior, federal investigators have not been able to categorize any of it as criminal, a fact that Rep. Issa calls questionable. Rep. Issa and Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) responded to the reports that charges would not be pursued by blasting the offices of the FBI and Attorney General Eric Holder, saying, “Given the circumstances, there is little reason for the American people to have confidence in this investigation.”
It’s not the first time Rep. Issa has expressed a lack of confidence in the investigation. Last week, Reps. Issa and Jordan sent a letter to Attorney General Holder, expressing concern that Barbara Bosserman, a Department of Justice trial attorney tasked with leading the investigation, had been a donor to the Democrats. According to Rep. Issa, Bosserman “has donated at least $6,750” to the Democratic National Committee and President Obama’s election campaign over the past several years.
Rep. Issa has also been critical of the timing of the information released by the IRS as part of the investigation.
It’s a curious criticism since Rep. Issa’s Committee has not exactly been on fire to resolve the matter. After threatening to recall Lerner in July, Rep. Issa has not done so. Other Congressional inquiries have largely fallen flat or simply faded away as the public has grown weary of the scandal and it’s not heating up Congressional phone lines anymore. If taxpayers don’t seem to care, maybe Congress doesn’t care either. That’s kind of the sad state of our political affairs these days.
The reality is that so much of what happened was bad, inappropriate, ill-willed, lazy – all of those words that have been tossed about. But we don’t put people in jail for merely using bad judgment or acting inappropriately. If we did, we’d probably see many of the folks at the Golden Globes and the entire cast of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” in the clink, full time.
Bad behavior isn’t the same as criminal behavior. And you don’t throw someone in jail to make you feel better because you’re mad. And yes, we’re all mad. And yes, criminal behavior should never be tolerated and it should be punished. And at the agency level, even behavior that rises to the level of just bad shouldn’t be tolerated and it should be punished. But the punishments for both are not and should not be the same.
As for the FBI’s take on all of this? Despite the reports, they insist that they haven’t officially thrown in the towel. Last week, FBI Director James Comey said, about the matter, “It’s an investigation that we’re still working and that’s an important one for us.”