It appears that Lois Lerner, the embattled director of the IRS’s Tax-Exempt Division, may have put herself in a bit of a pickle. Despite stating her intention to invoke her Fifth Amendment right in advance of the hearing, Lerner gave an opening statement in which she clearly stated that she had done nothing wrong.
“[M]embers of this committee have accused me of providing false information when I responded to questions about the IRS processing of applications for tax exemption,” Lerner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.”
“And while I would very much like to answer the committee’s questions today, I’ve been advised by my counsel to assert my Constitutional right not to testify or answer questions related to the subject matter of this hearing,” she added. “After very careful consideration, I’ve decided to follow my counsel’s advice, and not testify or answer any of the questions today. Because I’m asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I’ve done something wrong. I have not.”
Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) believes that her opening statement, given before she invoked the Fifth Amendment, was tantamount to her waiving her right:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” — First Amendment
Those words are straightforward. The right to free speech was respected so fervently that the framers of the Constitution saw fit to ensure that it was a constitutionally guaranteed right.
Sadly, that fundamental civil liberty was threatened last week when it was revealed that the Justice Department had subpoenaed phone records of reporters at the Associated Press (AP), an action that the news agency’s president said was “unconstitutional.”
It appears that this scandal is worse than was previously feared. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that James Rosen, Washington correspondent at Fox News, was the target of a Justice Department investigation in 2010.
This is pretty creepy:
When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.
The Department of Justice came under fire this past week for its subpoena of Associated Press phone records without any notice to the news agency or targeted reporters. While Attorney General Eric Holder claims that the action was a response to a national security threat, it was actually part of the Obama Administration’s continuing war on whistleblowers and, as many see it, a shot directly at the free press, which is protected by the First Amendment.
The controversy has brought new attention on the need to protect Americans from this sort of government overreach. on Thursday, Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), and Jared Polis (D-CO) joined together to introduce H.R. 2014, the Telephone Records Protection Act, which would protect all Americans from this sort of government overreach:
A lot of Americans know that the US government is out of control. Anyone who has cared enough to study the US Constitution even a little knows this. Still, very few of these people are taking any significant action, and largely because of one error: They are waiting for “the good guys” to show up and fix things.
Some think that certain groups of politicians will pull it together and fix things, or that one magnificent politician will ride in to fix things. Others think that certain members of the military will step in and slap the politicians back into line. And, I’m sure there are other variations.
There are several problems with this. I’ll start with the small issues:
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has delivered another blow to President Barack Obama, who has had an incredibly rough week due to a series of very serious scandals, by finding a recess appointment to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to be unconstitutional:
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday said an appointment President Barack Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board was invalid, becoming the second circuit to question the validity of the labor board’s decisions.
The 102-page opinion, in a case called National Labor Relations Board v. New Vista, focused on the appointment of Craig Becker, a former board member who was appointed by Obama during a two-week Senate break in March 2010. (Becker stepped down from the board in 2012.) These breaks are often referred to as “intrasession” breaks, as opposed to intersessions, when the Senate is between sessions.
“We hold that the ‘recess of the Senate’ means only intersession breaks, and so we conclude that Member Becker’s appointment was invalid,” Judge Brooks Smith of the 3rd Circuit wrote in a 2-1 decision that Judge Franklin Van Antwerpen joined and Judge Joseph Greenaway dissented from.
There were actually three recess appointments made by President Obama to the NLRB in January 2012, but the appellate court only focused on one. In a decision earlier this year, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals found all three to be unconstitutional.
If you’ve been following the story, you know that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gave extra scrutiny to Tea Party groups, including asking them questions about donors, relationships with candidates and eleced officials, and youth outreach programs.
ABC News notes that American Patriots Against Government Excess, one of the groups singled out by the IRS. was asked for a synopsis of books they read. Instead of sending a synopsis, the group sent a copy of the Constitution:
When Marion Bower decided to start her tea party organization in 2010, she didn’t know that it would take nearly two years for the Internal Revenue Service to approve her request for tax-exempt status.
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.”
She ultimately sent one of the books, “The Five Thousand Year Leap,” promoted frequently by Glenn Beck, to the IRS official handling her tax-exempt request in Cincinnati. She also sent a paperback copy of the Constitution.
“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.”
That is awesome.
While White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was hesistant to admit that the IRS did anything wrong during his daily press briefing on Tuesday, a report issued by the agency’s watchdog confirms that Tea Party groups were singled out for additional scrutiny and that the more needs to be done to reassure an already distrusting public:
Lax oversight at the Internal Revenue Service allowed for the singling out of some conservative groups, resulting in lengthy delays in the processing of their applications for federal tax-exempt status, according to a report by the agency’s inspector general released Tuesday.
The report found that for more than 18 months beginning in early 2010 the IRS developed and followed a faulty policy to determine whether the applicants were engaged in political activities, which would disqualify the groups from receiving tax-exempt status.
“The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention,” according to the report.
The list of words that IRS officials were using to flag groups for extra scrutiny is about as blatant as it can get. Obviously, “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” and “9/12” were among them, but they also flagged groups that wanted to “make America a better place to live” or educate about the Constitution and Bill of Rights — our nation’s founding documents.
Not only is the Obama Administration dealing with the Benghazi and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party groups, they now have another scandal emerging. The Associated Press (AP) reported yesterday that the Justice Department (DOJ) had obtained phone records of journalists who work for the news organization:
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.
In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
The Obama Administration has been trying to crackdown on whistleblowers and leaks to the press, and it appears that this exactly what’s going on here. The DOJ is investigating a leak to the AP that stems from a story dealing with a terrorist plot in Yemen that the new organization ran last May.
With another debt ceiling fight potentially brewing, the House of Representatives passed the Full Faith and Credit Act, sponsored by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), which would require the Treasury Department to prioritize debt service and Social Security payments to keep the United States’ credit rating intact:
The House on Thursday passed legislation that would allow the government to borrow money above the debt ceiling, but only to service U.S. bondholders and make payments related to the Social Security Trust Fund.
The Full Faith and Credit Act, H.R. 807, was passed in a 221-207 vote that saw all but eight Republicans favor the bill, and every Democrat oppose it.
Republicans said the bill creates a necessary option for the government to extend its borrowing ability in the event that it bumps up against the debt ceiling. Republicans and Democrats are expected to begin talks this month on increasing the debt limit.
You can view the roll call vote here.
President Obama, who has pledged a veto should it pass the Senate, Democrats have attacked the measure because it would take one of their favorite talking points off the table. President Obama has frequently claimed during debt ceiling fights that Social Security checks could be held up if the statutory national debt limit is not raised.
With Vice President Joe Biden making plans for another big push for new gun control measures, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is looking to challenge him to a debate on the issue.
During the National Rifle Association’s annual convention is past weekend in Houston, Texas, Cruz, who has been an outspoken advocate of civil liberties and conservative causes, poked some fun at Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and defended the Constitution before challenging Biden to a debate on gun control.
“The senior Senator from California explained to me that she is not a sixth-grader,” Cruz said to a humored crowd. “Well, you know, I’m not a sixth-grader either. And it seems to me that when the Constitution says the “right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” it means that right shall not be infringed.”
Cruz spoke about the disregard that the Left has for various civil liberties. He explained that the “Constitution matters — all of the Constitution.”
“It’s not pick and choose. It’s not take what part you like and get rid of the parts you don’t like. For some reason Obama liberals want to disregard the First Amendment and take away our right to speak and political speech,” said Cruz. “For some reason they want to disregard the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. And, for some reason the Obama liberals want to disregard the Tenth Amendment and implement Obamacare and take away our liberties. Every word of the Constitution matters. It is our fundamental protection of our liberties against the government.”