Republicans have done an excellent job at exposing the abuses of power within the Obama Administration, most recently with IRS Exempt Organizations Division Director Lois G. Lerner who apparently misused the power of her position to target conservative nonprofit groups, like Crossroads GPS.
Lerner’s partisan activities in a public trust capacity present a teachable moment, demonstrating how government overreach creates more opportunities for abuse on behalf of political and monied interests.
Conservatives were duly outraged since Lerner apparently used her office at the IRS, which should be above partisan influence, to target, and essentially limit the influence of conservative groups to help their favored candidates prevail in upcoming elections.
Where conservatives, Tea Party groups excepted, have fallen short is challenging the same abuses of power when committed by fellow conservatives, reinforcing precedents for this sort of abuse as well-heeled interests jostle for influence with public offices for private gain and political advantage.
The scandal surrounding Lerner, from the initial reporting of the abuses to the Congressional hearings and criminal referral to the Department of Justice, has predictably been laced with partisanship with Democrats proclaiming the scandal as much ado about nothing and Republicans characterizing her actions as criminal.
Within Lerner’s Republican-controlled Congressional hearings, legislators voted along party lines to hold her in contempt of Congress.
Facts and standards, independent of partisan affiliation, should demonstrate that she either acted improperly or she did not. That legislators were unable to view her actions beyond the lens of partisanship reflects the extent of which the nation’s leaders have fallen into the clutches of private interests.
The truth is, Congressional hearings are little more than public spectacles in which the morally outraged leaders who flog witnesses are frequently as politically compromised as their targets. As Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, once said, Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff was convicted first in his “court of public opinion” before he was subjected to a partisan-driven criminal prosecution.
Abramoff, like Lerner, pleaded the fifth after Campbell refused attorney Abbe Lowell’s motion to hold closed hearings so that his client could provide full disclosure of the facts surrounding his lobbying. With Campbell’s denial, Abramoff was forced to assert his right to avoid self-incrimination, lending the impression of his guilt. Lerner has demonstrated the consequences of deviating from this script in an open session in a Committee controlled by leaders hellbent on a conviction.
Within the Indian Affairs Committee hearings, as I fully document in my book, Lynched , witnesses who provided false testimony against Abramoff were advised by Campbell and Sen. John McCain’s fundraisers who were seeking to claim Abramoff’s lucrative portfolio for themselves while Abramoff was placed in the unenviable position of being unable to defend himself.
While Lerner’s partisan activities within a public trust capacity are unacceptable, they are unfortunately all too common on Capitol Hill, revealing the need to reduce the influence of money on political offices and scale back the size of the government, where this mischief transpires.