Just before the start of the Super Bowl, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly conducted a live 10-minute interview with President Obama.
Topics covered included allegations accusing the Internal Revenue Service of targeting and harassing conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status. When pressed on the IRS issue, Obama acknowledged soome “bone-headed decisions,” but dismissed O’Reilly’s question about whether the controversy signaled a broader problem of “corruption” at a powerful government agency.
O'REILLY: You're saying no corruption?
OBAMA: There were some -- there were some bone-headed decisions...
O'REILLY: Bone-headed decisions...
OBAMA: -- out of -- out of a local office...
O'REILLY: But no mass corruption?
OBAMA: Not even mass corruption, not even a smidgeon of corruption, I would say.
The full transcript dealing with the IRS issue is here.
Obama’s denial prompted outrage from the Thomas More Society, a national public interest group that represents six pro-life groups that were allegedly subject to unusually intense scrutiny by the IRS. Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the group issued the following statement this week:
Thomas More Society has defended six pro-life organizations whose First Amendment rights were trampled upon by the IRS because of the groups’ dedication to the sanctity of life.
In May and August of 2013, Thomas More Society produced two memos to the House Committee on Ways and Means, totaling over 500 pages of evidence that the IRS specifically targeted and harassed pro-life and conservative charities, illegally questioning their religious activities and withholding their tax exemptions. Frankly, we are shocked that President Obama would state that there was ‘not even a smidgeon of corruption’ involved in the IRS scandal. The Obama Administration must stop making excuses to cover up the IRS’ illegal activity and instead deal justly with the corruption and scandal that occurred.
On Feb. 5, three GOP lawmakers also published an open letter to the Obama administration asking for an update on the Justice Department’s investigation of the IRS.
The letter posed the following question:
If the IRS investigation is ‘ongoing,’ and there has been no determination as to whether criminal charges will be brought, how does the president know there is no criminality?
Last May, the Treasury Department's Inspector General issued a report that concluded the IRS had used "inappropriate critieria" for scrutinizing the applications of convservative groups, though the report offered no conclusive evidence that political bias was behind the practice..
That same month, amid hearings conducted on the matter by the House Ways and Means Committee, Thomas More Society provided memos detailing the harassment of three different prolife-organizations.
To read the whole memo provided to the House Committee, go here.
In August, Thomas More Society provided a second memo to the House Committee, after other pro-life groups contacted the group about alleged IRS harassment. While the Obama administration had presented high-profile cases in the media as a limited problem originating from one local office, the Society’s lawyers argued otherwise.
Despite claims to the contrary, the IRS continues to target and harass pro-life and conservative charities, illegally questioning their religious activities and withholding their tax exemptions. Read the whole statement here.
On Feb. 5, I spoke with Thomas More Society special counsel Sally Wagenmaker, who questioned whether federal investigators had fully addressed the problems experienced by her clients, and expressed her conern that the federal investigation itself had “stalled.”
Further, as the IRS develops new proposed regulations for limiting the political activities of Section 501(c)(4) organizations, she argued that regulators should avoid constraining speech rights, and pointed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life. In that case, the high court concluded. “Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor.” Any test regarding politically oriented speech thus should “reflect our profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.”
Wagenmaker wants the proposed IRS regulations "revamped" to uphold robust speech rights.