The Wall Street Journal op-ed page continues to be a primary source of life support for the fizzling “scandal” involving the IRS's targeting of non-profit groups. Peggy Noonan writes in her July 19 column that a massive “bombshell” landed this week courtesy of House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa's latest hearing into the matter: “The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office -- that had been established -- but to the office of the chief counsel.” This new, shocking information, per Noonan, is a “bombshell” because “the chief counsel of the IRS is one of only two Obama political appointees in the entire agency.”
Noonan need not have waited for Darrell Issa to drop the “bombshell” news that the IRS chief counsel's office was linked to the targeting. She could have just re-read her own Wall Street Journal column from May 18:
It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake. Again, only conservative groups were targeted, not liberal. It is not even remotely possible that only one IRS office was involved. Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups for the IRS, was the person who finally acknowledged, under pressure of a looming investigative report, some of what the IRS was doing. She told reporters the actions were the work of “frontline people” in Cincinnati. But other offices were involved, including Washington. It is not even remotely possible the actions were the work of just a few agents. This was more systemic. It was an operation. The word was out: Get the Democratic Party's foes. It is not remotely possible nobody in the IRS knew what was going on until very recently. The Washington Post reported efforts to target the conservative groups reached the highest levels of the agency by May 2012--far earlier than the agency had acknowledged. Reuters reported high-level IRS officials, including its chief counsel, knew in August 2011 about the targeting.
So Noonan's “bombshell” exploded two months ago, but she's only now sensing the vibrations.
Here's the Reuters report Noonan referenced back in May: “Documents show the offices of the IRS's chief counsel and deputy commissioner for services and enforcement communicated about the targeting with lower-level officials on August 4, 2011, and March 8, 2012, respectively.” At the hearing, recently retired IRS employee Carter Hull detailed the 2011 meeting, recalling that three staffers from the Chief Counsel's Office were in attendance and discussed the creation of a template development letter for non-profit applications. The office of the chief counsel is a fairly large entity, with 1,600 employees. There's no evidence actually linking the chief counsel himself to the scrutinized applications, which Issa himself made clear at this week's hearing.
It's worth pointing out that it was in her May 18 column that Noonan declared the IRS foofaraw the “worst scandal since Watergate” and insisted that President Obama was involved. “He is not unconnected, he is not a bystander. This is his administration. Those are his executive agencies. He runs the IRS and the Justice Department.” Noonan is invested in having this scandal be a big thing, which is probably why she's crying “bombshell” over information she already knew.
Notably, she no longer seems to think the direct involvement of the White House, of which there is no evidence despite repeated and ongoing inquiries, is an important element in this scandal of Watergate-like proportions. She doesn't even seem to know precisely where this “scandal” is going or what it's even about anymore: “Recent congressional information leads to Washington -- and now to very high up at the IRS. Meaning this is the point at which a scandal goes nowhere or, maybe, everywhere.”
Again: we knew that two months ago. Peggy Noonan knew that two months ago. We've been at the point of going “nowhere or, maybe, everywhere” since then. By all indications, we've gone nowhere.