Magazine editor and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes has called for a special prosecutor to investigate the targeting of tea party, conservative and religious groups by the Internal Revenue Service.
“We need a special prosecutor who has subpoena powers, who has power to call grand juries, who can do a systematic investigation, who can start from people right on the ground and go up the chain — right into the White House,” Forbes told Greta Van Susteren on Fox News on Friday. “You have to do it in a systematic way.
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“I don’t like special prosecutors, but I think the abuse here — they just didn’t go after an ‘enemies list’; they went after citizens all around the country of a particular political persuasion — requires that we have to have that kind of special prosecutor.”
Forbes is president and CEO of Forbes Inc. He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000, urging the adoption of a flat income tax with a single tax rate. He makes frequent appearances on Fox News.
The IRS is under fire for singling out groups with such words as "tea party" and "patriot" in their names for additional scrutiny of its applications for tax-exempt status. The 501(c)(4) status allows the groups to keep their donors private.
The ousted head of the IRS, Steven Miller, has apologized for treating the conservative groups differently in testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, calling it "horrible customer service."
Miller, who had been a deputy commissioner whose portfolio included the unit that decided on tax-exempt status, was briefed about the practice by IRS officials after May 2012.
Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS division that targeted the groups, was placed on administrative leave because of the scandal. She invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination late last month, refusing to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating the matter.
The tea party and conservative groups were subjected to the additional scrutiny through the 2012 election and as far back as 2010. Twenty-five such groups have since sued the IRS in federal court over the additional scrutiny.
Forbes told Van Susteren on Friday that President Barack Obama “set the tone” for the IRS scandal during his re-election bid in 2010 when he attacked tea party groups, saying such organizations represented "a threat to democracy."
And, in response, “the IRS played politics on a scale that we’ve never seen before,” he said. “We’ve had abuses before, but never on such a systematic scale — and it came from the president.
“The amazing thing is, he didn’t have to use secret meetings to do it. He did it right out in public.”
The special prosecutor also is necessary because Congress, too, is culpable, Forbes said.
He cited last week’s admission by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois that he had written the IRS in October 2010 asking the tax agency to investigate the Crossroads GPS super PAC co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove.
Rove has since charged that other Democrats wrote similar letters about other conservative groups and most of them now are staying quiet about their role in setting off the IRS scandal.
“The House side is going to pursue a number of investigations, but a number of senators are guilty,” Forbes said. “Congress doesn’t have, sadly, effective oversight.
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“Congress can only do so much,” he added. “We need a special prosecutor to get through the whole thing, we have the whole record. I think it will go to the White House — not just the IRS — and then we can take real remedial action, including a drastic downsizing of the IRS.
“I’d be in favor of job retraining, but they can’t be in the positions they’re in today,” Forbes added, referring to the IRS employees charged with carrying out the scrutiny. “This thing has got to go.”
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