June 28, 2014

EDITORIAL: Appoint a special prosecutor

You want the truth about whether the Internal Revenue Service investigated conservative (and other) groups at the behest of the Obama White House. We want the truth, too.

You want the truth about whether the Internal Revenue Service investigated conservative (and other) groups at the behest of the Obama White House. We want the truth, too.

It's important that we get to the bottom of this mess because one of the foundations of our democracy is that the people backed by the awesome power of government must treat the rest of us fairly and squarely.

Another principle — one that President Richard M. Nixon unsuccessfully tried to circumvent — is that the White House must not use the IRS to target its political enemies.

But our quest for the truth about the IRS' treatment of certain political groups seeking tax-exempt status, as well as about those missing IRS emails, has collided with our leaders' refusal to set aside their partisan theatrics and blinders.

After IRS officials admitted to targeting groups for additional scrutiny, President Barack Obama vowed to investigate and report the findings to the public. We are less than impressed with Obama's efforts — especially his exoneration of the IRS' actions with a blanket declaration that this is a "phony scandal."

Republican leaders, meanwhile, have conducted hearings that resemble circuses more than legitimate inquiries. This isn't unexpected: Generating soundbites and fodder for cable-television and its shrieking pundits seemingly has become more important for those in Congress than doing the people's business and moving our country forward.

It's time for a special prosecutor to sort out the facts on what high-ranking IRS officials did and didn't do. The political process is incapable of getting to the bottom of this. Let the prosecutor dig into the facts, and if crimes are uncovered, then aggressively prosecute those who acted illegally.

That said, it's a sad reflection of Washington, D.C.'s frenzied political partisanship and the apparent disdain that some in the IRS have for transparency that we need to turn to an independent prosecutor in this effort to know what happened.

Two House investigations have produced little beyond partisan grandstanding. After the scandal broke last year, a Treasury Department inspector general told Congress that IRS employees in the Cincinnati office who handled applications for tax-exempt designations were not cooperating in his investigation.

And there are the two years' of missing emails plus disgraced former IRS official Lois Lerner's invoking of her Fifth Amendment right and refusing to answer questions before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

We've waited too long for the truth already. Our San Joaquin Valley congressional delegation — including Democrats — should demand immediate action. And President Obama must order Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor.

It has been 13 months since the IRS admitted it targeted groups with words such as "tea party" and "patriot" in their names leading up to the 2012 election, and the public still doesn't know whether the White House was involved or if the extra scrutiny stemmed from bureaucratic incompetence. Nor do we know with certainty how those IRS emails came to disappear.

Put an independent prosecutor to work. Sooner the better.


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