Report: Obama Rhetoric Prompted IRS Targeting of Conservatives

Monday, 16 Jun 2014 08:57 PM

By Jason Devaney

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President Barack Obama prompted the IRS targeting of conservative groups, a new House report says.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a report Monday that details what it says is a deliberate attempt by the president to pressure the agency into scrutinizing tea party and other conservative groups.

"When the President speaks, people listen," the report begins. "The Presidential Bully Pulpit is a unique and indisputably powerful tool available to the President alone to persuade Americans and shape a national agenda. President Barack Obama — a highly celebrated speaker noted for his oratory — exerts this power with uncommon vigor. President Obama's ability to command the rapt attention of the national news media, and by extension the American people, has become his most effective and favored rhetorical tool.

"With his Bully Pulpit, President Obama wields the power to single-handedly shape the national dialogue. In this case, President Obama's Bully Pulpit led to the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative tax-exempt applicants."

The report concludes that Obama's "rhetorical assault" on the conservative groups led the IRS to examine them when they applied for tax-exempt status.

"IRS employees read and acted upon the news reports," the report reads. "Put simply, as the president's political rhetoric drove the national dialogue and shaped public opinion, the IRS received and responded to the political stimuli."

The committee, chaired by California Republican Darrell Issa, titled the report, "Pressure from the Left Led the IRS and DOJ to Restrict Freedom of Speech." It contains about 100 examples of how Democrats allegedly pressured the IRS to take action.

It began, according to the report, in Obama's 2010 State of the Union address. One week before the annual speech, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that the First Amendment prohibits the government from setting certain arbitrary limits on political spending.

Obama took issue with the decision and mentioned it during the State of the Union.

"With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said. "I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems."

The report says Obama continued to press the issue in the following months.

"In these speeches, the President called conservative groups 'shadowy' entities with 'innocuous' and 'benign-sounding' names that 'are running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates'" the report reads. "Calling them 'phony' and 'front groups,' the President urged a 'fix' to the Citizens United decision, which he believed allowed these nefarious groups to 'pose' as nonprofits."

"The defenders of the Obama Administration claimed that the absence of a direct order to target conservatives necessarily meant that there was no political element to the IRS targeting," the report continues. "The Committee's investigation shows that the IRS targeting was political. It was political in both its genesis and its effect. The IRS targeting was the result of political pressure on the agency to 'fix the problem' of nonprofit political speech."

The report's release comes on the heels of the news that thousands of emails from a two-year period (2009-2011) were lost after the computer assigned to IRS official Lois Lerner crashed.

Lerner, who retired last fall, directed the agency's Exempt Organizations Division. She is at the center of the scandal involving the IRS' targeting of political groups, and last spring she refused to answer questions during a congressional hearing about the matter, saying she was invoking her Fifth Amendment right.

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