Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called Friday for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS abuse-of-power scandal.
“Clearly, the president’s ability to manage the government of the United States, and the trust that Americans have for our government, have been very seriously eroded by the kinds of revelations that have come forward from the IRS,” Romney said on the Fox News program Your World With Neil Cavuto.
Romney told host Cavuto he is “not going to jump on the bandwagon of attacking the president for everything that’s going on in Washington.” But he reacted strongly when Cavuto asked for his reaction to the news that several major donors to his campaign, including businessman Frank L. VanderSloot, were singled out for major audits by several agencies that cost nearly six figures to defend.
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“This is a very dangerous and troubling development,” said Romney, “the idea that an agency that has our most personal information – I mean, they know how much money we make, what we make it in, what kind of assets we have, where all of our properties might be – they know all that about us financially. They have all that information, and they have used that information to pursue a political agenda. That should be a very frightening thing to people on both sides of the aisle.”
Romney blamed the IRS targeting of conservatives on “a negligent management.”
“It may be worse than negligence,” Romney told host Neil Cavuto. “We don’t know who all knew about it, who directed it. But it is a violation that the American people will not soon forget. It has to end.
“And in my view,” Romney added, “we have to put in place a special prosecutor to understand who knew what, and how that information was used, and we also need to put in place a structure that says in the future, these audits and these inquiries by the IRS or other agencies that carry out various kinds of audits, these things have to be viewed on a non-partisan, non-political basis, and assure that these institutions aren’t pursuing a personal agenda of one kind or another.”
Romney’s call for a special prosecutor leapfrogs the consensus of GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, who say the public glare of hearings can prove useful in ferreting out more information on who ordered conservative groups’ applications for IRS non-profit status to be placed under a microscope and held up indefinitely.
Once special prosecutors are appointed to explore criminal issues, officials at every level typically clam up, stating it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter under investigation. But House Republicans could later form a select committee, or call for the U.S. Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor.
Since the November election, Romney has been keeping a low profile. He returned to the public spotlight this week as part of the “Experts and Enthusiasts Summit” that he is hosting in Park City, Utah. It’s been billed as an “ideas summit” for friends and supporters of the Romney campaign.
In his interview with Cavuto, Romney indicated that the IRS scandal has hit a visceral nerve with the American people.
“This is what people across this country are afraid of: Big government becoming so large and so intrusive that no one can stop it from interfering in our lives, and punishing people without being required to go out into the public and demand that information on a legal basis,” he said.
Cavuto asked Romney to share his reaction to revelations that grass-roots supporters of his campaign were subjected to systematic harassment by the IRS.
“It’s infuriating,” said the former Massachusetts governor. “Look, I’ve got to tell you, it’s not fun to lose an election. But to hear that the government of the United States, and particularly an agency that has all the information about the American people, was using that power to help defeat me in one way or another is really quite upsetting, as you can imagine.”
Romney said he thought it was wrong to assume “a different outcome would have occurred” in the election had grass-roots groups been able to operate on an equal footing in November. But he added that the IRS targeting had a significant impact on turnout on Election Day.
“Oh there’s no question but that if some organization were being run through the mill, that they were less able to do the job that they put themselves in place to carry out, and therefore [it] had a chilling effect on their capacity to turn out voters, or to pursue the agenda that they might have. Of course that was the result.
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“But I don’t believe it was such a widespread and effective program on the part of the IRS or other agencies that it would have resulted in a different outcome in the election,” he said.
The former GOP standard-bearer made it clear, however, that the issues raised by the targeting of citizens by the IRS transcended the importance of any single election.
Said Romney: “What’s at stake is: Did the American people believe that the information they have is not being misused by our government, and that the government is not trampling on our rights as citizens of this country, and pursuing an agenda, a political agenda, at the expense of freedom in America.”
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