Ethics Quote of the Day: Ken White at Popehat

File photo of U.S. Director of Exempt Organizations for the IRS Lerner being sworn in to testify before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington

“Pardon me: if you accept the proposition that the government targets organizations for IRS scrutiny because of their political views, and you still say things like ‘why take the Fifth if you have nothing to hide’, then you’re either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack.”

—-Attorney-blogger Ken White, discussing former IRS official Lois Lerner’s refusal to testify in front of Rep. Daryl Issa’s House Government Oversight Committee

Good point.

Elaborating on the point before this statement, Ken points out why this is so:

“You take the Fifth because the government can’t be trusted. You take the Fifth because what the truth is, and what the government thinks the truth is, are two very different things. You take the Fifth because even if you didn’t do anything wrong your statements can be used as building blocks in dishonest, or malicious, or politically motivated prosecutions against you. You take the Fifth because if you answer questions truthfully the government may still decide you are lying and prosecute you for lying.”

Got it. Or, you take the Fifth because you really did engage in illegal activity in a coordinated effort to obstruct legal political action for partisan motives, on orders from someone with close ties to the White House, which still may be the case.

In the same post, Ken explains that Lerner may have waived her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, or may not. If she has, then she is in contempt of Congress. If she hasn’t, she isn’t.

My observations on this slow-motion ethics train wreck:

1. Issa and the Committee panel have an obligation to try to get Lerner’s testimony. She is obviously a key witness, and knows what happened regarding the IRS’s targeting of tea party and other conservative organizations in the run-up to the 2012 election.

2. As long as we are talking about partisan hacks, I give you the Daily Kos. I believe I mentioned that some fanatic Left Wing crazy who goes by the fake name of “Kol Atai,” among others, targeted me after some post that wounded his unshakeable faith in the current administration, and his response was to sign me up to every wack-job online progressive newsletter—-yes, a group called “Closing the No Pay Gap,”  Judith Lichtman, President, still lies to its supporters about the 77 % women supposedly get paid for the same jobs—while flooding the in-boxes of me and my wife with obscene rants, some of which are in Laotian and other exotic languages. This managed to attract some acolyte of the extreme left Daily Kos to my flame, and he sent me an e-mail reprimanding me for calling the Kos “reliably truth-challenged” in another post. So just to make sure that my recollection was correct—the Daily Kos is completely and entirely about furthering the popularity of a Leftist agenda, and objective presentation of facts is not relevant to that mission—I checked the site out for the first time in a few months—I’m getting older, and my stomach isn’t what it used to be. Sure enough, there was a post that presented as settled fact that the IRS scandal was in  a “scandal,” as the Obama administration and the worst of its media toadies fervently want us to believe. It is, in truth, a scandal without scare quotes. The question is how much of one, and who is responsible.

3. The ongoing findings of Issa’s dogged investigation continue to be catalogued here. To paraphrase Ken, anyone who can read this and not conclude that something very wrong occurred that the American people need to not only know about but be assured that those responsible are held accountable and that the IRS will never behave in such a nakedly partisn fashion again is either an idiot or a dishonest partisan hack.

4. The ugly confrontation between Issa and ranking minority committee member Elijah Cummings (D-Md) was the fault of both combatants, Issa for over-reacting and behaving churlishly and disrespectfully, Cummings for, well, behaving as a dishonest partisan hack.

5. I do not understand, and will never understand, why every Congressional investigation from Watergate forward, Senate or House, always is sabotaged by someone playing the Cummings role, who is only interested in deriding the investigation and obstructing its efforts to protect its party’s President. That is not their job, their duty, or their proper role. Cummings should be as outraged as any Republican at the revelations that the IRS set out to stall the operations of non-profit groups based on ideological and political affiliations. Cumming should be as outraged as any Republican at the Administration’s stonewalling, which is what it has been doing, and obviously so. Instead, he erupts in a staged protest about GOP disrespect to government workers as the IRS official who can answer critical questions refuses to cooperate with his committee?

No wonder Issa blew a gasket. I don’t know how Cummings, whom I have met and who has the reputation of being a fair and honorable man, can look at himself in the mirror.

6. The news media’s refusal to cover the substance of the hearings before Issa’s committee and disgraceful capitulation to the President’s dishonest assertions that this was just a matter of a few rogue IRS agents—which has been decisively disproved—is, as I have said before, one of the more egregious smoking guns in the evidence of reporting bias. It’s really perfect, I know: Fox News is indelibly tarred as a an unfair and untrustworthy Obama-hater (John Kerry, the coward, refused to allow Chris Wallace to ask him appropriate tough questions about the crumbling U.S. foreign policy, appearing only on the five “friendly” Sunday news shows), so its reporting is discounted as biased, and the other news media pretends a damning scandal doesn’t exist.

Well, it almost worked for Nixon.


Sources: Popehat, Fox News

Graphic: Raw Story

36 thoughts on “Ethics Quote of the Day: Ken White at Popehat

  1. 4)

    Issa overreacted? Churlish?

    He realized what Cummings was up to and decided not to waste further time by allowing the kind of tactic, one would typically see from a leftist college or high school assembly disruption, to occur in the solemn proceedings of the US Congress.

    Disrespectful? Please… More like stopped disrespectful action in its tracks.

          • I guess even Issa is only human, Jack. Frankly, I don’t know how some of the congressmen who have retained their honor can sit in the same room with some of those political criminals of whom they’re force to acknowledge as “colleagues”, much less endure the transparent verbal machinations of administration hoodlums to whom the very concept of “truth” is contemptible. I wouldn’t have Issa’s job for any salary. I wouldn’t hold it long enough to collect. The first time I had to cope with that sort of thing from the likes of a Lerner or Cummings, there’d be bodies to bury after my gunsmoke had cleared away! A sad ending to my political career, I guess.

            BTW: I hope your own colleague never discovers my website. If he did, he’d probably sign me up to every pro-homo group haunting the internet!

      • Where ‘taking one’s turn to speak’ (in this instance) means claiming to ask a procedural question, then diverting towards a rant.

        Sorry, in deliberative bodies, no one just gets to “take one’s turn to speak”. It is requested of the chairman, granted by the chairman, and subsequently cut off by the chairman if the requestor breaks any rules or outright misrepresented their intentions when they requested time to speak.

  2. I’m quite content with the notion of a citizen retaining the right to refuse to say anything, especially knowing that the law is as convoluted, and lawyers are as tricky as they are. I can only imagine the pressures which mount on a person playing at those higher levels of governance. But my stomach does get kind of queasy about the notion of the government also having a right to remain silent when confronted by the people. That doesn’t sit quite so well with me, particularly when it’s as dishonest and double-dealing a group as this one is.

  3. What sticks in the throat is that it seems as if Lerner is (purporting to use) using the right not incriminate herself, which exists to protect citizens from government persecution, in order to protect herself from the consequences of instigating or participating in government persecution of citizens.

  4. The problem is that Lerner seems to be using or purporting to use one of the key protections of citizens against unjust persecution by the government to escape the consequences of her own instigation of or participation in unjust government persecution of citizens.

    tl:dr version, She is reaping what she has sown. Cry me a river.

  5. What Ken does not understand is that the right to NOT incriminate yourself is a criminal right, and applies to investigations and trials. What the average person who hears someone taking that right thinks about it is up to them. So, yeah, Ken, if you have nothing to hide, why take the fifth?

  6. Or, is Ken saying that she is afraid to testify because the very people who ordered her to do this are going to “get” her if she does? Personally, if I thought that, hell would freeze over before I’d take the fifth.

  7. I read that Lerner attempted to compromise by releasing a statement through her attorney, so as to “test the waters” in terms of incriminating herself, but Issa wouldn’t allow it because he wanted the stagecraft of her pleading the fifth.

    • Sounds right.
      Legal ethics holds that asking questions after a witness has pleaded the 5th is unethical, because it attempts to suggest guilt from the witness asserting a right.

      • Whatever one thinks of the Obama admin, I’ve considered Issa a thug since he first showed up on the radar. I admire a bit of prosecutorial zeal, but he takes it too far.

  8. I don’t think the 5th should apply to congress engaging in oversight of the rest of government. Trying to claim the 5th in response to administrative oversight means you aren’t giving your boss the information he wants, and should be considered grounds for impeachment even if criminal and civil charges aren’t an option.

    Did she have to swear an oath of office? Wiki suggests that most federal employees do. I could see an argument that taking the oath of office precludes the use of the 5th regarding your activities specifically involving the office you are swearing to serve.

    • I see that Ken posted a counterargument to the first suggestion in his comments. I’m really tempted by the idea that an oath of office should preclude the 5th though, with the caveat that I don’t trust the government to use such a doctrine responsibly. Ah, pragmatism. Chief implement for slaughtering untold numbers of theoretically wonderful ideas.

      • I trust the Government. I don’t trust CONGRESS. I have a feeling you agree with me on that distinction. As much as demagogues rail against the bureaucracy, civilization wouldn’t function without civil servants. And considering how thankless a job it is, I have to admire the people who make a career out of it. That might just be my perspective as the son of a military family- after all, soldiers are just civil servants with guns and better-looking suits.

        But thugs like Issa prove why those folks, as well as appointees like Lerner (note the non-inclusion here), need the 5th. Bureaucrats make an easy scapegoat for rabble-rousers.

        • Actually, you would be wrong. I distrust the government as a whole. I may trust specific individuals within it. Groups are capable of acting in ways unsupported by any individual member within it.

          Consider the voting paradox: given 3 voters for 3 candidates (A, B, C) and assuming that individual preferences are transitive. (If A > B and B > C, then A > C), the collective votes may not be transitive. If the ordered voter preferences are (A,B,C), (B,C,A), and (C,A,B) then A > B, B > C, AND C > A by a 2/3 majority in each case. If that simple form of group action isn’t necessarily rational even if every member of the group is rational, why would a much larger and more complicated form of group action do any better?

  9. A few comments:

    1) Issa has a track record, and the way to bet is that he’s lying and chasing a non-issue.
    2) Enough evidence has come out to show that the IRS was legitimately looking at likely partisan organizations fraudulently or ignorantly seeking tax breaks (from both sides of the spectrum).
    3) Issa at one point brought in a whole bunch of witnesses to testify under oath, and then tried to release only a redacted version of their testimony. When you have to edit the evidence, the evidence is not on your side.

    • The way to bet is to look at the evidence. Issa is a zealot no doubt; that doesn’t make the evidence, which is real and convincing—I’ve supplied the link—less persuasive or alarming.

      • I agree. I think that even the fact that the only organization actually denied status was liberal DOESN’T change things. However… I blame the convergence of loopholes that, then and now, put them in that position over the IRS themselves. There’s no way they can win here- if they don’t deny status to overtly political organizations, they’re not doing their job and preventing abuse of the system. If they DO deny status to overtly political organizations, they run the risk of

        A) Employees explicitly discriminating against ideological foes (As was claimed)
        B) Employees unintentionally doing so (As appears to have actually happened)
        or C) Doing nothing wrong but creating an appearance of impropriety that erodes trust and opens the gov’t to costly lawsuits.

        So, the question is whether or not political organizations such as “Super PACs” should have explicit tax-exempt status. While that seems like an unattractive option considering how slimy they are, it’s the only way to entirely sidestep the above problem. However, we won’t have that needed debate so long as the party out of power riles people up against the IRS as an easy bogeyman (because when, in recorded history, has anyone ever liked or stood up for tax collectors?) and the party in power riles people up to reflexively defend their ‘team’.

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