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Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Lerner reliably reckless; Rubio redemptive

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The Right Stuff blog updates throughout the week at TBO.com.

It grows increasingly apparent — almost by the day — why Lois Lerner twice hid behind the Fifth Amendment rather than answer questions from the House Oversight Committee. The woman seems to have been, ceaselessly, up to no good.

To her “absolutely inappropriate” targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, personal tax records sent to the FBI and more than two years of pertinent emails whose obliteration passes no reasonable person’s sniff test add now this latest revelation: An attempted abuse of power represented by her knee-jerk desire to harass a high-ranking Republican (or an unnamed group) with an audit.

It seems Chuck Grassley, the longtime Iowa senator, was invited in December 2012 to speak before some unnamed group; the invitation included an offer to pay for Grassley’s wife to attend. Lerner, also invited to the event, got wind of the arrangement through an apparent envelope-stuffing mix-up. She got Grassley’s and Grassley got hers.

A short email chain ensued, beginning with Lerner’s recommendation to tax law specialist Matthew Giuliano that Grassley (or the group; the messages are unclear) “should [be referred] to Exam” — that is, submitted for an audit — because “they were inappropriately offering to pay for his wife.”

In the face of a flailing ignorance of the tax code Lerner helped oversee, Giuliano patiently replied her suggestion wouldn’t ripen until the Grassleys filed their taxes. Lerner appears to have accepted that explanation, and the episode was buried until it was revealed Wednesday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican.

Democrats and lefty pundits claim this was no more than a bump in the lane in the NBA Finals. No harm, no foul. Even to point it out is ticky-tacky. They insist the real story is Lerner made an honest mistake — the tax code is hard, you know? — and quickly reversed herself when the problems were explained.

Here’s how Salon’s Dave Weigel puts it:

“Let me be clear: I am as much against Lerner’s ‘audit of Chuck Grassley’ as I am Lerner’s decision to set a school bus on fire and cut the brakes, watching it careen off a bridge and into a canyon. As she appears to have done neither of these horrible things, I’d argue that the vanishing of the IRS’s and EPA’s tranches of emails, for reasons that confound techies, are much more scandalous than the hour Lerner apparently spent wondering if she had to refer a senatorial speaking invitation to the exam department.”

Let’s give credit for Weigel being half right, anyway. The creepily convenient deep-sixed emails represent far larger scandals, implying coverups of everything from garden-variety mischief to criminal activity. But his analogy works only if it is also Lerner’s instinct to sabotage Blue Birds.

Clearly, Lerner’s default setting was to move aggressively whenever and wherever possible against obstacles to elected Democrats, to whom she was a faithful contributor, and from whom she earned her livelihood.

Lerner’s spiteful predisposition, plainly exposed — again — by this episode, is the story here. Unequivocally. Her reflex to unleash the scary powers of the IRS on a political rival is part of the larger quilt of recklessness that stymied grass-roots tea party and 9/12 groups in the run-up to the 2012 election, the outcome of which always will bear an asterisk that looks for all the world like Lois Lerner peering down her nose at us unworthy, power-challenged rubes.

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With the exception of his involvement in the Gang of 8 immigration/amnesty fiasco, Marco Rubio’s peculiar political gift is timing. From his arrival in the Legislature just as Tallahassee began cranking out Speaker-designates in their 20s to his exquisite ambush of a then-popular governor in the U.S. Senate GOP primary to his runaway victory in 2010 even as Republicans were looking for solutions to wooing Hispanics in national elections, Rubio has been the right guy at the right time with — this cannot be overstated — an alluring message.

Wednesday, the punctuality muse was at his side again. Even as Americans were coming to grips with a 2.9 percent decline in our first-quarter GDP — more evidence of President Obama’s “wreckovery,” mock quipsters — Rubio was outlining “reform conservatism” economics at Hillsdale College’s Washington, D.C., campus.

Just in time to ponder whether this, too, will be another missed “Recovery Summer,” Rubio’s meaty speech described a path for strengthening the middle class, rewarding initiative and expanding opportunity distinct from the failing paternalism pursued by the president and Capitol Hill Democrats.

As for those who wrote off Rubio for getting a little too close to Chuck Schumer — coming, belatedly, to his senses — those obituaries might yet prove too many, too soon.

tjackson@tampatrib.com

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