Well, for one thing, we know that this administration is less than transparent. But investigation and reporting has uncovered some facts, dribbling out over time, that are worth a review.
The event that seems to have kicked off the whole thing was the Citizens United decision, which struck down elements of the campaign finance laws. The decision, while significant, was not earth-shattering.
However, Citizens United did have a large impact on Obama. With most of the Supreme Court Justices in his audience, Obama attacked the Citizens United decision in his State of the Union speech -- prompting a muttered response that got more publicity for its supposed disrespect than for its content.
That, however, was only the beginning.
Obama made his attacks on the Citizen's United decision a regular part of his speeches, and before long was threatening to audit his enemies.
However, we now know that the IRS inspector general was conducting an internal investigation, and the planted question was an attempt to shape media coverage of the problem before the report was released by implying it was a trivial, internal problem already being corrected. This spin could be used to help deflect questions Congress had been asking since 2012 -- questions that IRS officials had apparently answered falsely.
As for the idea that the issue was trivial and had already been resolved? Nothing could be farther from the truth.
IRS targeting was not trivial
In addition to delaying conservative tax-exempt organizations' applications for years while liberal organizations were approved in weeks, the type of information demanded during the application process for Tea Party groups was unusual and intimidating. IRS officials demanded donor lists, contents of prayers, copies of web posts, resumes and information on the political activity of board members. One group was asked to swear, under penalty of perjury, that it would not "pray, picket, or protest" outside of abortion clinics.
Lois Lerner, whose planted question at a press conference broke this story publicly, had a history of politically-motivated harassment at the Federal Election Commission. Including, yes, asking about the contents of prayers. A single investigation included over a hundred document requests, almost two thousand requests for admission, 81 depositions, and over a hundred thousand pages of documents. No wrongdoing was found, but the investigation itself cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Once exposed publicly, the initial cover story was that the targeting operation was the product of work from "rogue agents" in the Cincinnati office. But that explanation quickly fell apart as testimony from the agents being blamed indicated they were waiting on decisions from the IRS Chief Counsel's office, headed by William Wilkins, a political appointee.
The link to the White House
Also in November, William Wilkins, the IRS chief counsel and one of only two Obama appointees in the IRS, testified before a House investigative committee. He did so only after communications were turned over to that committee between his office and Lois Lerner concerning the IRS' political targeting of conservative groups. Despite those documents, more than 80 times he testified that he "did not recall" the matter on which he was being questioned.
Wilkins did recall that he was involved in drafting "guidance" on processing tea party applications. This supposedly urgent guidance to handle a supposedly new problem was being put in place around an IRS rule in place since 1959. The only urgency about this rule was that organizations governed by it were suddenly an effective political force in opposition to Obama.
Facing a storm of criticism by investigators using the visitor logs to infer who was meeting with whom, the White House decided that what we don't know can't hurt them, and took down the visitor logs.
There is another, circumstantial argument for White House involvement deriving from the testimony and experiences of Catherine Engelbrecht:
Engelbrecht was harassed not only by the IRS, but also the FBI, and repeatedly by the ATF and OSHA. She is suing. It is worth noting that her organization, True the Vote, trains Americans to monitor polling places for voter fraud. More importantly, the only entity which could coordinate a campaign of harassment across all those federal agencies is the White House.
Lerner pleads the 5th
Another person closely involved in crafting the new "guidance" was the same Lois Lerner who planted the question at the press conference. She was called to testify before a House investigative committee, and chose to take the 5th Amendment (after an opening statement which arguably cost her the protection she sought).
And on February 13th, 2014, the scandal expanded: not only were new 501c4 groups seeking tax-exempt status given an interrogation and the slow-walk treatment, existing 501c4 organizations were targeted for audits. Dozens of these groups were targeted for audits and website monitoring. 83% percent of the targeted groups were conservative. 100% of the groups actually formally audited were conservative.
64% say IRS is corrupt
A national poll indicated that 64% of American voters think the IRS targeting suggests corruption. Including 51% of Democrats. And Senate Democrats facing a tough re-election battle in 2014 are calling for the IRS to increase, not decrease, the political targeting. I will name names: Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Charles Schumer (D-New York), Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire).
Proposed rules declare open season on the Tea Party