FreedomWorks' Kibbe: IRS Move to Dump Lerner 'Clearly the Tip of the Iceberg'

Thursday, 23 May 2013 09:48 PM

By Paul Scicchitano and Todd Beamon

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FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe tells Newsmax that Thursday's decision by the embattled IRS to replace Lois Lerner over the agency's targeting scandal is "clearly the tip of the iceberg" along with other administrative casualties that have been offered up thus far by the Obama administration.

"It doesn't go far enough and whenever you see government officials lawyering up and pleading the Fifth, you know the crisis and the scandal go far deeper than what appears to be on the surface," Kibbe said in an exclusive interview.

Urgent: Is Obama Telling the Truth on IRS, Benghazi Scandals?

On Wednesday, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, refusing to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which was investigating whether the division that Lerner oversaw targeted tea party and conservative groups for added scrutiny through the 2012 election and as far back as 2010.

"Clearly the IRS is in a state of crisis right now. But I don't think this story is about any individual within the IRS and their bad behavior," Kibbe explained. "I think the real scandal is a culture of intimidation that appears to be a widespread and accepted practice within the IRS."

Other conservative groups targeted by the IRS also told Newsmax that they too believe the scandal goes beyond Lerner.

"We need to continue the independent investigation, and I don't believe that Mrs. Lerner is the only one responsible for it," said Everett Wilkinson, a founder of the Tea Party Patriots.

Wilkinson, chairman of the National Liberty Federation, described Lerner's suspension as "a first step."

"We're seeing that the White House knew and, perhaps, elements of the administration may have called for or promoted the idea of using the IRS as a political tool," he said. "We think this chain of abuse goes all the way up to the commander in chief."

Lori Lowenthal Marcus, president of Z Street, a conservative Jewish organization that has a federal court hearing on July 2 in a lawsuit against the IRS for viewpoint discrimination, said Capitol Hill legislators might want to offer Lerner immunity in exchange for her testimony.

"It is certainly disappointing that Ms. Lerner is apparently not going to testify," Marcus said. "There has to be other people in the IRS who knew what happened, when, and why."

Susan Martinek, president of the Coalition for Life of Iowa, a pro-life group based in Cedar Rapids, agreed that "clearly, something was very wrong at the IRS."

Her organization's tax-exempt status was held up when the group balked at attempts by the IRS to obtain a pledge that the group not picket a local Planned Parenthood office.

The Thomas More Society countered that it believed such a request from the agency to be illegal. Three months later, the coalition's nonprofit status was granted.

"We found it very troubling that the head of this critical federal agency believed that telling the whole truth before Congress could subject her to criminal penalties," said Martinek on Lerner's refusal to testify.

"She had her opportunity," Martinek told Newsmax. "She chose not to tell the whole story."

Ultimately, President Obama must be held accountable for the actions of his agency, according to Kibbe.

"I think the accountability has to start at the top. And it's not really about who talked to who, or who know what when, but this whole notion that we would use the executive power of the federal government to choose winners and losers and intimidate people based on their political philosophy," he asserted. "That's rotten to the core. And I think we need to get at that fundamental problem that stems from too much government power and too much discretionary authority acceded to unelected bureaucrats."

Kibbe, whose organization started a web page — irstarget.com — to collect the stories of groups and individuals that believe they were unfairly targeted by the IRS, said FreedomWorks has been "overwhelmed" by the response.

Urgent: Is Obama Telling the Truth on IRS, Benghazi Scandals?

"It’s both stories from mom and pop tea party leaders who are trying to comply with federal law, but also a number of individuals who feel they were targeted individually by audits -- and that’s a bigger challenge for us to vet their stories and sort through what’s legitimate and what may not be," he said. "I really think that as this investigation goes on we’re going to discover a broad pattern, but that’s going to take time."

The damage has already been done with respect to the 2012 elections.

"It clearly made a difference. Would it have made a defining difference? We’ll never know, but the fact that this was broadly known within the IRS, and the Treasury Department, and even within the West Wing of the White House before the election."

While Kibbe stopped short of accusing the Obama administration of attempting to cover-up alleged IRS abuses, he said: "It looks like a cover-up because all of this conveniently comes out after the election."

He believes that the IRS targeting of conservative groups had a "stifling effect" on potential donors.

"I think there was an unspoken, but clear understanding amongst our potential donors that they could potentially be targeted either by the IRS or the executive branch," Kibbe added. "I don’t believe that as many people -- either donors or activists -- participated as would otherwise because they were afraid of retribution and that is the scandal here."

Kibbe insisted that Obama must "come clean" with the American people if he wants to restore confidence in his administration.

"But the evolving story coming out of the White House is leading to a fundamental lack of confidence that anyone's in charge, that anyone is willing to take responsibility," he charged. "Stop stonewalling and let congressional investigators get to the facts, and only then do we know what the real problem is. But right now there's a lot of circular finger pointing. Everyone is trying to blame someone else for something that was clearly a widespread practice within the Obama administration."

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