DENVER -- U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has ordered the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to open an investigation into whether Internal Revenue Service officials broke any criminal laws by singling out conservative groups for special scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet is dismissing accusations from conservatives at home that a letter he sent last year urging the IRS to scrutinize political 501(c)4 groups led to the department's change in policy, which actually began in 2010.
"It would take a DeLorean to make some of these conspiracy theories work," Bennet's spokesman, Adam Bozzi, told FOX31 Denver Tuesday.
"But the issue is a serious one and Sen. Bennet believes that targeting any people or organizations based on political ideology is wrong. He’s glad the chairman has called for an investigation in the Finance Committee and looks forward to getting more information through that process."
Like many Democrats, Bennet maintained that the scrutiny of such groups -- as long as it's not applied unfairly to one side -- is warranted in the post-Citizens United world that has obscured the line between political organizations and social welfare organizations, which should be categorized under different sections of the federal tax code.
“It is also important that we don’t lose sight of the of the underlying issue that political organizations do not masquerade as social welfare organizations and take advantage of the tax exempt status that comes with it. The review of those organizations must be conducted without any biased partisanship.”
The conservative website Colorado Peak Politics pointed out that Bennet, in a press release about his 2012 letter, used a conservative fundraiser, Karl Rove, as an example.
"For instance, long-time partisan operative Karl Rove is a senior official behind a 501(c)(4) ‘social welfare’ charity, yet it’s common knowledge that his organization exists to elect and defeat specific political candidates," the letter stated. "Elections operations such as Mr. Rove’s should not be allowed to masquerade as charities to take advantage of their tax exempt status and hide their donors from the public. It’s the IRS’s job to enforce the tax code and make sure that ‘social welfare’ organizations are what they say they are."
Udall: AP probe could have "chilling effect" on Fourth Estate
Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, meanwhile, is focusing on the other scandal surrounding the Obama White House, the Justice Department's seizing of telephone records from reporters and editors at The Associated Press, which apparently came in connection with an investigation of leaks inside the executive branch.
"I am concerned about the Justice Department's action and the chilling effect it could have on our Fourth Estate," Udall said in a statement to reporters Tuesday. "The Justice Department must explain its expansive and sweeping seizure of information and how its actions are consistent with the department's own rules and the U.S. Constitution.
"The Justice Department's criminal investigation pertains to a leak of classified information, an issue I take very seriously as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee," Udall continued. "I understand that the unauthorized disclosure of classified intelligence can risk lives, endanger our national security, and harm the effectiveness of our intelligence efforts. But our country has a centuries-long tradition of a free and independent press — a tradition enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The Justice Department must always keep Americans' First Amendment rights at the forefront as it considers subpoenas of private records, especially those of news organizations."
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Monday maintained that President Obama had no knowledge of the wiretaps.
"The president is a strong defender of the First Amendment," Carney said at his daily briefing. "The president is also "firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered in its ability to conduct investigative reporting and to facilitate a free flow of information."