Closing the shades at the IRS

In this May 22, 2013 file photo, Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner listens during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Hillary Clinton’s disclosure that she used her own email system for official and private business while Secretary of State and has wiped clean its server, after delivering print-outs to the State Department that she and her staff selected, is one more reminder that “the most transparent administration” ever still maintains large walls of darkness around sensitive subjects.

The Justice Department recently bolstered that sad truth when it declined to bring charges of contempt of Congress against former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner.

That means Ms. Lerner can’t be compelled to tell Congress and the public about her role and motives while on the public payroll in supervising an IRS witch-hunt of “Tea Party” and other conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status in the 2011-2012 election cycle.

The House of Representatives voted for the contempt charge after Mrs. Lerner took the Fifth Amendment under questioning.

The House contended that she had waived her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in a previous hearing in which she declared her innocence.

We are left to wonder who at the IRS knew about the crackdown on conservative, but not liberal, groups. Were there higher ups who wanted to tilt the political playing field against conservative candidates?

A reported 298 conservative groups were targeted. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott recently ruled, over the objection of the Justice Department, that the Internal Revenue Service must turn over a list of their names to litigants who want to bring a class-action suit against the government for violating their First and Fifth Amendment rights as well as pertinent federal law.

So the public yet should get some additional information on this scandal from an unwilling administration.

Just over six weeks ago the inspector general for the IRS reported that it was looking into criminal activity by the agency in falsely reporting to Congress that it could not recover Ms. Lerner’s emails because of computer failure and the lack of backup tapes. The IG reported that his office found the backup tapes with little trouble.

That report let a bit of light into the dark subject of the politicization of the revenue service, but the relentless back-checking by the IRS and the Justice Department, like the possibly illegal destruction of records by Mrs. Clinton, will make it hard to learn what happened before the next presidential election is over.

As for the president’s promise that his administration would be the most transparent in history, it is well to remember the advice given by Richard Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell on how to evaluate that administration:

“Watch what we do, not what we say.”