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EDITORIAL: Federal judge forcing IRS to come clean on targeting scandal

One of the Obama administration scandals that never generated the attention it deserved was the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of nonprofits for political reasons. Fortunately, a judge is attempting to finally hold the agency accountable.

Back in 2013, IRS officials admitted that they had improperly scrutinized conservative groups seeking nonprofit status. The agency’s chief at the time, Lois Lerner, apologized, claiming that some low-level staffers in Cincinnati failed to exercise good judgment. In fact, The Wall Street Journal noted this week that “congressional investigations have uncovered clear evidence that the targeting was ordered and directed out of Washington.”

Ms. Lerner was eventually allowed to retire with full benefits. She later invoked the Fifth Amendment before Congress — and the stonewalling has continued in the years since. But not anymore.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton gave the agency until mid-October to explain which groups were targeted and why. He also ordered the agency to release the names of the employees involved in the targeting. According to the Washington Times, Judge Walton demanded that the IRS search other agency databases for additional evidence of targeting during the time period in question, and that it come up with a strategy to ensure that it never happens again.

The Times notes that Judge Walton made the decision after telling IRS attorneys last week that it’s time for the agency to “lay it on the line” and “put it out there.” He added, “Why hide the ball? If there’s nothing there, there’s nothing there.”

Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote, one of the organizations that brought suit, told Fox News that her group is “thrilled the judge has taken this step.” She said that, “What happened to me was very personal — my name was thrown around the IRS, and the names of the people involved need to be known. What they did was criminal.”

Chris Farrell, director of investigations at Judicial Watch, which is also involved in a lawsuit, told Fox News that the IRS targeting “was creepy, chilling stuff.” He argues that Judge Walton “has accomplished more with one ruling than all the rest of the federal government — all three branches — over the past six years.”

While the scandal has all but disappeared from the headlines, it remains significant. As the Journal points out, the agency specifically delayed approving “dozens of conservative nonprofit applications — delays that stifled free speech during a midterm and presidential election.” This is unacceptable.

It’s long past time that the IRS be held accountable. Judge Walton should be applauded.

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