May 15, 2013 9:17AM

The IRS Scandal: Hiding In Plain Sight

If you had asked me who would actually try to defend the behavior of the IRS employees, I would have guessed, “Oh, maybe someone at the New Yorker.… Jeffrey Toobin?” Bingo

ABC News reports on the bewildering experience of Marion Bower after she sought exempt tax status for her Tea Party group, not expecting the process to drag on for two years:

The Ohio woman also did not expect that providing information about the books her group read would be part of the application process.

“I was trying to be very cordial, but they wanted copies of unbelievable things,” Bower told ABC News today. “They wanted to know what materials we had discussed at any of our book studies.” …

“They wanted a synopsis of all the books we read,” Bower said. “I thought, I don’t have time to write a book report. You can read them for yourselves.”

The thing is, the essentials of the IRS scandal were clear to anyone with eyes to see more than a year ago — before the intervening false denials by IRS officials, the more recent admissions and apologies, and the promises of house‐​cleaning from the President and leading Democrats. Here’s an AP story from March 2012 citing “instances in which the IRS has asked for voluminous details about [Tea Party] groups’ postings on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, information on donors and key members’ relatives and copies of all literature they have distributed to their members, according to documents provided by some organizations.” Here are more reports on IRS demands for transcripts of speeches and radio shows, donor lists, and the like. It is perhaps needless to add that many other groups seeking 501 (c)(4) status were not subjected to overbearing demands of this sort. 

Regarding Jeffrey Toobin, it seems to me that there are two main possibilities. Either he is unaware that the IRS’s scrutiny of politically dissident groups has included these sorts of crushingly burdensome demands, in which case he has not made much of an effort to get up to speed on the story. Or he is aware of it, but sees nothing wrong enough with such demands to give him pause in his defense of the agency’s conduct.

Incidentally, Mrs. Bower of Ohio eventually figured out how to respond to the IRS’s demand for synopses of the reading materials provided to her group’s members. She sent them a copy of the U.S. Constitution.