Bob Sparks: ‘Operative statement’ on IRS scandal about to change

For those of you who, like me, do not know Josh Earnest, send a kind thought his way today and in the coming days. Earnest is the new White House spokesman, taking over for Jay Carney.

Carney got out just in time because the IRS scandal is about to detonate. Expect to hear “operative statement” and “not a smidgeon” of corruption in the same paragraph of future news stories.

Being a spokesperson for a recognizable public figure is one thing, but the President of the United States is another matter. Especially this president.

Were he still alive, former White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler could offer some advice to Earnest. Ziegler was the spokesman for President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate days. That should say it all.

For months, Ziegler and the White House insisted Watergate was nothing more than a “third-rate burglary” (so named by Ziegler). When Nixon announced an internal White House investigation, suspicion of White House involvement rose significantly.

Up to that point, “third-rate burglary” was Ziegler’s “operative statement.” With the revelation of the investigation, Ziegler was forced to confront reality.

“The president refers to the fact that there is new material; therefore, this is the operative statement,” said the besieged Ziegler. “The others are inoperative.”

On Feb. 2, 2014, President Obama sat with Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly for a pre-Super Bowl interview. When the topic turned to the potential targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, O’Reilly asked the president if there was mass corruption within the tax collection agency:

“No. There were some bonehead decisions,” said the president. There was not “a smidgeon of corruption.”

He repeatedly refers to the congressional IRS probe as a waste of time looking into a “phony scandal.”

As of last Friday, Josh Earnest knew he was about to learn how Ziegler felt. The IRS announced Friday that some subpoenaed emails belonging to former IRS senior official Lois Lerner were “lost.”

The IRS said it can’t locate many of Lerner’s emails prior to 2011 because her computer crashed during the summer of that year, according to an Associated Press story.

The IRS was able to track down 24,000 Lerner emails from the 2009 to 2011 because she had copied other IRS employees. The agency said it pieced together the emails from the computers of 82 other IRS employees but untold numbers are gone, the AP reported.

Let’s stop here to make it clear that comparing Watergate to the IRS incident is not the intent. I will not even call it Tax-Gate. They are dissimilar events, but apparently similar tactics are being employed.

We eventually learned, after attempts to cover their tracks, government officials acted illegally in 1972-73. Indications grow stronger that government officials may be hiding different kinds of misbehavior perpetrated between 2009-2011.

Americans need a serious, bipartisan commitment that will lead to the truth so we can then — and only then — move on. House and Senate Democrats would do well to avoid the perception of protecting the IRS.

The president, according to his spokespeople, usually learns of problems in his administration on the evening news. He should immediately turn off the television, call Attorney General Eric Holder and tell him to appoint a special counsel to conduct an independent investigation. It would be a great way to put truth over politics as Republican presidents have demonstrated in the recent past.

President Ronald Reagan and Attorney General Edwin Meese turned over the Iran Contra case to Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh in 1986. President George W. Bush and the Attorney General’s office referred the Valerie Plame leak case over to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in 2003.

Both Obama and Holder would be accurately perceived as showing leadership and a commitment to the truth. A special counsel will likely have better success than Congress at finding the missing emails.

Any thought of using the IRS as a weapon against opponents must be proven or disproven. It is just as wrong to target Tea Party Patriots as it would be to go after the liberal group People For the American Way.

No spin or “operative statements” can replace the truth. Anyone taking part in such an abuse of power must be identified and punished. Whether this is really an honest mistake or a cover-up, we must learn the facts.

In the meantime, Josh Earnest is in his second week as press secretary. He would be well-served to be working on a new operative statement.

“Not a smidgeon of corruption,” is just as inoperative as “third-rate burglary” was 40 years ago. Let’s get to the bottom of it.

Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is a former political consultant who previously served as spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Attorney General. He was a senior adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before entering politics, he spent nearly two decades in professional baseball administration. He can be reached at [email protected] and Twitter @BobSparksFL.


  • Michael

    June 17, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    What a partisan diatribe. There has not and I expect there will not be a scintilla of evidence tieing the White House to this not a scandal
    I bet Mr sparks sees nothing amiss in the conduct of Speaker Weatherford and Senate President Gaetz in the Florida Redistricting. Or finds noting wrong in Governor Scotts having lost his homework several times as well as former Lt. Governor Carroll. Plus Mr. Sparks likely had no comments at all re the several times in the Bush ’43 reign of error that e mails that were germaine to Congressional information requests somehow dissappeared.

    • Bob Sparks

      June 18, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Thanks for the feedback, Michael. Partisan? This piece says the missing emails should be investigated by a special counsel. Nixon was a Republican. Republicans Reagan and Bush 43 appointed counsels to investigate the conduct of THEIR administration. Obama and Holder should do the same. If you believe there is not a “scintilla” of evidence, you have nothing to fear. It’s the only chance for a non-partisan investigation.

      The redistricting case is in a court of law. Judge Lewis’s opinion is the only one that matters. The loss of Gov. Scott’s transition emails was indeed a significant concern. He ordered an investigation by FDLE, who reports to the Cabinet. Floridians are free to accept or reject the findings. Former Lt. Gov. Carroll apparently will have a lot more to say in her book. Let’s wait until she says it. Bush 43 clearly had missing emails, especially on the firing of 8 U.S. Attorneys. I’m writing about siccing the IRS on political opponents, which, if proven, is a crime. HUGE difference. Bob Sparks

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