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It’s been quite a while since we talked at length about the targeting of political adversaries by the IRS. The FBI, DHS, and DOJ, sure --- happens all the time --- but we associate IRS abuse specifically with Lois Lerner and conservative Tea Party groups. That was a decade ago, Lois Lerner is gone, but it seems to be happening again.
On March 9, the day independent journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger testified before Congress about what they’d found in Elon Musk’s “Twitter Files,” an IRS agent went to Taibbi’s New Jersey home. Since (surprise) Taibbi wasn’t there (he was TESTIFYING), the agent left a note for him on the door. The irony: Taibbi was appearing before the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
The note left for Taibbi weirdly told him they’d talk “after the weekend” -- March 9 was a Thursday --and said he should call the agent’s office in four days. When he did that, the agent told him his returns for 2018 and 2021 had been rejected because of concerns about identity theft.
Taibbi went to House Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan of Ohio and told him about the curious same-day IRS visit. He supplied Jordan with documentation indicating his 2018 return had been electronically accepted. In all this time, he has never heard of any problem about it from the IRS.
As for the 2021 return, it had been rejected, and when his accountants refiled it with an IRS-provided PIN, it was rejected again. But Taibbi said it wasn’t a question of money for either year -- that, in fact, the IRS actually owed him a “considerable” amount. For this, they knock on his door? Maybe it was supposed to be like Publishers Clearinghouse, and they’d wanted him to pose with a giant refund check! That must have been it. Even Avon stopped ringing people’s doorbells but now is the IRS going to compete with Jehovah’s Witnesses as the last of the door knockers?
Jordan has sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel on Monday, hoping to find out why the federal agent showed up at Taibbi’s house on the same day he was testifying. “In light of the hostile reaction to Mr. Taibbi’s reporting among left-wing activists, and the IRS’s history as a tool of government abuse, the IRS’s action could be interpreted as an attempt to intimidate a witness before Congress,” he wrote. Until Jordan gets an answer, Taibbi doesn’t want to comment further.
Taibbi, along with the other journalists tasked by Musk to go through the files, uncovered shocking political bias at Twitter and coordination with various government agencies to stifle what they labeled “disinformation” but that was often true, or else just someone’s opinion. It’s beyond doubt now that Twitter was meeting weekly with other Big Tech entities and government agencies. The journalists dubbed this collaboration the “Censorship Industrial Complex.”
The FBI advised Big Tech specifically about some sort of “Russian disinformation” about members of the Biden family, particularly Hunter Biden, that might show up in October, priming them to censor the laptop story when they’d KNOWN it was real since December 2019. Biden voters had no clue when they went to the polls, because they’d been hoodwinked. And later polling showed that enough of them would have changed their votes, had they known about this, to potentially sway the election.
Anyway, Jordan appeared Tuesday night with Sean Hannity to explain what most of us know: that the IRS does NOT typically visit someone’s home like that, whether they’re about to testify about the weaponization of government or not. The first contacts are by mail only. (Incidentally, that’s why those phone calls from someone saying, “I’m from the IRS and we have a question about your 2020 return; can you answer a few questions to identify yourself?” are ALWAYS a scam.) Taibbi had apparently received no mail contact about this from the IRS.
“Now, maybe this is one big coincidence; I don’t know,” Jordan said. “It sure doesn’t seem to be. But it’s pretty darn alarming when you think about it happening exactly while the Democrats were going after the First Amendment, asking him questions --- we had him in there testifying --- [while] the IRS pays a visit to his home. That is scary stuff.”
As for the weaponized IRS we remember under Lois Lerner, “Looks like they’re back,” Jordan said. So the committee looking at the weaponization of government got even more of a look at that than they had anticipated when Taibbi testified. Recall that agents under Lerner slow-walked applications from conservative groups for tax-exempt status, subjecting them to extra scrutiny and interminable waits --- before an election, of course.
Let’s flash back to the day when Lerner, the IRS’s director of Exempt Organizations, pleaded the Fifth. Recall that she had previously read a statement before Congress, which many experts said was a waiver of her Fifth Amendment right.
Still, she was able to refuse investigators’ questions, conveniently retire and start taking her pension, out of reach of any internal investigation. In 2015, POLITICO reported that “the Justice Department will not seek criminal contempt charges against IRS official Lois Lerner, the central figure in a scandal over whether the tax agency improperly targeted conservative political groups.” At that time, she and others were still under investigation for targeting those groups. Whatever happened to that?
So, back to 2023 and Jordan’s interview. “[The IRS] got $80 billion for 87,000 more IRS agents in that last big spending bill the Democrats did,” he said. That’s certainly not comforting in light of what they appear to have been doing to an independent journalist daring to report what he finds. But this appropriation will be up for negotiation this fall, Jordan said, when they confront the (sigh) debt ceiling.
Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Adrian Smith of Nebraska wrote an excellent editorial for FOX BUSINESS NEWS about the need to defund this new IRS “army.” This comes after Yellen actually confirmed that 90 percent of the new audits resulting from this huge expansion would fall on small businesses and families earning less than $400,000 a year.
Smith makes the case that they’re not going after “tax cheats and billionaires,” but rather want to “tax, target and surveil Americans’ private finances at every turn.” That’s why the first bill the GOP brought to the floor as the majority was the Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act, which would defund the massive hiring to ensure families and small businesses wouldn’t be targeted, while leaving in place funding for badly needed customer service upgrades and improvements.
Of course, no one on the right should doubt that this “army” would be used to target conservatives as well, just as it was with Lerner giving the directives.
And speaking of weaponizing government, two days before the IRS visited Taibbi’s house, the Federal Trade Commission revealed they’ve opened a sweeping investigation of Twitter as it is run under Musk. Letters from the FTC have made over 350 demands on the company. They even seek internal communications showing the names of all journalists (!) to whom Musk has provided records from the “Twitter Files,” as well as information about what the reporters had requested (!!) As if that’s any of their business. The harassment and invasiveness just never stop.
Musk got the picture, and appropriately used Twitter to call this “a shameful case of weaponization of a government agency for political purposes and suppression of the truth!”
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