Our View: A breathtaking lack of oversight

Posted: May 23, 2013

Many readers of this page may remember the classic sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes.” The show, which would likely not be politically correct today, was set in a World War II German POW camp in which Col. Hogan and his fellow prisoners ran clandestine operations under the noses of their captors.

The show featured the bumbling German guard, Sgt. Schultz, who, despite bearing witness to many of the shady shenanigans of Hogan and his ilk, could always be counted on to recite his famous line whenever he saw something that shouldn’t be happening on his watch: “I know nothing.”

That old chestnut certainly came to the forefront in the Obama administration in relation to the three scandals currently enveloping the White House; namely Benghazi, the seizure of phone records from the Associated Press, and the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups.

From day one of each of these scandals, the best response this administration has to offer is to avoid responsibility. With Benghazi, in spite of the tragic death of four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, the first tact was to blame an Internet video for an act of terrorism. As one wag put it, we were to believe a bad gang of irate film critics attacked our consulate. As that claim was quickly debunked, the next step was simply to adopt the posture that no one knows anything and no one was responsible for any of the poor decisions made.

When word came that the Justice Department had targeted the phone records of the Associated Press in a wide grab of information under the claim of national security, Attorney General Eric Holder washed his hands of the issue by declaring he had recused himself from the matter under his direction and thus knew nothing. The White House chimed in with the same theme, even as it was further revealed that the AP was not the only news organization targeted in this manner.

But, on no matter has the “I-know-nothing” response been more used than with the growing IRS scandal. The White House has repeatedly said it was unaware of the conduct of supposed “rogue agents” within in the IRS, a claim now being disputed as new information comes to light about who knew what and when.

Earlier this week on Capitol Hill, the two most recent heads of the IRS continued this charade in front of Congress, drawing sharp rebukes from members of the Senate Finance Committee. And while the White House claims to “know nothing” about this mess, the former leaders of one of the most powerful and feared divisions of the government preferred to testify under the banner of “I don’t know.”

As the AP reported, speaking publicly for the first time, former IRS head Douglas Shulman, who was at the helm of the agency for five years, had this to say: “I agree this is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain. And they didn’t. I don’t know why.”

That remark from a former leader of the IRS will not be very comforting to taxpayers. And, on Wednesday, Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS division that is responsible for the targeting of conservative groups, invoked her Fifth Amendment right in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Clearly, somebody knows something. And many will have a hard time believing that the White House had as little knowledge as it claims of these scandals. Either somebody is not telling the whole truth, or the White House is completely out of touch with the workings of the behemoth government that it wants to grow.

Neither of those scenarios should bring great comfort to the American people.