Back in January, 2010 Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell discovered a voice mail message on her cell phone from Special Agent Dennis Martel of the U.S. Treasury Department. "We received information that your personal federal tax info may have been compromised and may have been misused by an individual."
O'Donnell suspected this had something to do with an orchestrated hit job pulled on her by local media. A tax lien was mysteriously placed on a property she used to own. Stories were then written that she still owned the property, and was trying to hide the sort of financial problems that Delaware voters really ought to consider. This all happened on the same day she formally announced her campaign. The IRS later mumbled something about the tax lien being a "computer glitch" and withdrew it.
Someone in Delaware state government improperly accessed O'Donnell's tax data during all of this. She complained to Senator Chuck Grassley, who sits on the Judiciary and Finance committees. On Tuesday, the Inspector General for the Treasury Department announced it would renew its investigation, and is looking into at least three other instances where the tax information of a political candidate or donor was improperly accessed. Special Agent Martel conducted a new interview with O'Donnell.
But then Delaware state officials got in touch with Senator Grassley's office and said, hey, you know what? Funny story: all the records of access into O'Donnell's confidential tax data by state officials probably got deleted. They only keep that stuff for 90 days, because why should they bother to keep perpetual records of state officials rooting around in people's private information? It's not as if that sort of thing has ever led to trouble before. Just ask Joe the Plumber.
The story about how and why O'Donnell's information was accessed has changed, too. Officials now claim that "a Delaware state investigator asked for and received permission from his boss on a Saturday to access Ms. O'Donnell???s tax records based on a local newspaper article about a civil lien," according to the Washington Times. This new timeline would conveniently dispel suspicion that state government officials gave O'Donnell's private data to the media, to help construct the hit piece. But it raises the question of how often state officials read a single newspaper article, and then decide to go rooting around in tax data to see what else they can find. Does that ever happen to Democrats, or is this another Very Special Procedure that only applies to Republicans and Tea Party upstarts?
???The state says it looked at Ms. O'Donnell???s federal records because of a newspaper article describing a federal tax lien against her,??? Mr. Grassley said. ???Does the state look at every taxpayer who faces a federal lien or only those who happen to appear in a newspaper article? Is it routine for a state employee to email his boss about looking at a taxpayer???s records on a Saturday, when the article appeared? It???s hard to evaluate what happened in the O???Donnell case without answering these questions, and I???ll continue to work to get more information."
Grassley hopes the IRS kept backup copies of the records Delaware conveniently destroyed. It would be weird if they didn't, right? The IRS is all about demanding huge piles of documentation from citizens. It would be disconcerting (but, at this point, not exactly surprising) to discover they aren't keeping solid records of access to sensitive personal data. There won't be much help from the Obama Justice Department, which has already decided not to prosecute one documented case of inappropriate access to the tax data of a political candidate. Banana republics do not get worked up about such things, when they happen to the "wrong" people.
Incidentally, it was reported yesterday that O'Donnell is thinking about another Senate run, but she says this was "misinformation" that took her out of context. "To be clear, an 2014 Senate run isn't even on my radar," she said via Twitter. Liberal media organizations should submit their under-the-table requests for her confidential tax data now, just in case.