Earn six-figure money long enough and you’ll probably end up paying the government $1 million over the course of your lifetime. Want to get it back? All you have to do is figure out how to produce the Internal Revenue Service’s infamous missing emails — and hope a stunt piece of legislation from two Texas Republicans magically becomes a law.
Congressmen Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Bill Flores (R-Texas) have come up with a wanted-poster piece of legislation, of sorts, that’s ostensibly aimed at bring Lois Lerner’s missing emails to light — although political gamesmanship probably has something to do with it, too.
The so-called Identify and Recover Sent E-Mails Act simply provides a government-guaranteed monetary award “to any individual who provides information pertaining to the electronic communications sent by Lois Lerner during her employment at the Internal Revenue Service,” pledging that “the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay a cash award of $1,000,000 to such individual or group of individuals.”
If you can come up with evidence that leads to a prosecution for anyone responsible for concealing or destroying those same documents, the reward is $500,000:
Upon receipt of certification from the Attorney General that an individual or group of individuals has provided pertinent information sufficient for prosecution of the individuals involved in illegal activities (if any) with respect to the destruction of the electronic communications sent by Lois Lerner during her employment with the Internal Revenue Service, the Secretary of the Treasury shall pay a cash award of $500,000 to any such individual or group of individuals.
The funds would come from “the unobligated amounts available for fiscal year 2014 in Public Law 113-76 under the heading “Department of the Treasury—Internal Revenue Service—Taxpayer Services.” In other words, there’s more money in the 2014 IRS budget than has been spent, and the reward money will come from the leftovers.
While there’s no doubt House Republicans are right to be relentless in the pursuit of what looks more and more each day like an implausible story (how can we not recover emails that were cc’d to Lerner’s Blackberry?), the bill also underscores the needlessly partisan theater that some GOP leaders have managed to generate over a scandal that, if handled honestly, would likely produce the requisite headline-grabbing drama on its own merits.
It’s perhaps good theater for the House Oversight Committee to continue flogging big names like IRS Commissioner John Koskinen over the missing emails. But a day’s testimony from the appropriate lower-level tech people and their immediate supervisors — people whose names you’ve never heard — might easily resolve the ongoing question of where the emails are or aren’t, how they got that way and whether they can be produced.
But we’re in the pre-election dog days, when every political action, no matter how banal, simple or quick, has added value as a vehicle for less-than subtle messaging. House Republicans have every political incentive to drag these hearings out all summer, beating up on the big names. It helps that the big names probably deserve everything they’re getting, but it doesn’t alter the possibility that there’s a much quicker — if less sexy — way to get to the bottom of the Lerner saga.
On the other hand, if the GOP is this doggedly committed to staging an (admittedly entertaining) floor show, it may be a sign that they’re supremely confident about what the payoff will be.
If that’s the case, expect them to announce they’ve finally found the smoking gun — sometime in the fall.