WSJ | Merely a Tax Misunderstanding

Taxpayers tuning in to Friday’s House Ways and Means hearing on IRS targeting of conservative groups may have expected to hear some hangdog apologies from senior members of the agency. If so, they were disappointed.

Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired by President Obama this week but is sticking around to help with the transition, was almost casual about the pattern of biased enforcement that cost him his job. Earlier this week he blamed the political targeting on “rogue” officials in Cincinnati, but on Friday he said the behavior was “obnoxious” but that he does “not believe that partisanship motivated the people who engaged in the practices described in the inspector general’s report.” He even took issue with the word “targeting.”

Mr. Miller said the whole thing is a misunderstanding based on some “foolish mistakes” made by “people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection.” What really happened at the IRS wasn’t an attempt to silence the Administration’s political enemies during an election season but a simple case of “horrible customer service,” he said.

You almost have to admire his nerve in describing the coercive power of taxation as the equivalent of rude service at a Best BuyBBY +3.86% . But if all of this is such a non-issue, why did it take the department so long to acknowledge its mistakes? The Treasury Inspector General report released this week shows that Mr. Miller knew about the use of conservative keywords in tax-exempt vetting in May 2012, months before the Presidential election. Republicans were asking about it at the time. If it wasn’t a political bombshell, why didn’t he make it public immediately?

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