We all know Michele Bachmann as the Tea Party darling running for the Republican presidential nomination. Before that, Bachmann the Congresswoman became famous for making some of the most truly ignorant statements in modern American politics.

But few people know that before Bachmann became a crazy-eyed, anti-tax standard bearer, Bachmann was a lawyer. A tax lawyer. Working for the IRS. That’s right, as a lawyer Bachmann helped the government collect taxes.

But I wouldn’t call her a hypocrite. It seems she wasn’t all that good at collecting taxes….

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has an excellent look into Bachmann’s legal past:

At the root of Bachmann’s legal career is an even more complex picture — an ambitious young woman steeped in evangelical Christianity, deeply affected by her law school years at Oral Roberts, and fascinated by the intersection of biblical principles and the practice of law.

Bachmann did not respond to interview requests or written questions about her IRS career for this story. But she has repeatedly cast herself as a former tax litigator without mentioning that her job was to represent the IRS against taxpayers.

“I went to work in that system because the first rule of war is ‘Know your enemy,”’ she said last week at a campaign stop in Columbia, S.C.

Bachmann received her J.D. at Oral Roberts University (namely, the O.W. Coburn School of Law). Later she got a tax LLM from William & Mary. The Star-Tribune story has some opinions from former classmates and colleagues:

“I always thought she was a very serious student,” said Dean Burnetti, a personal injury lawyer in Florida who was one of about 70 members of Bachmann’s graduating class in 1986. “She was that type, always on that front row and always attentive.”

But in her signature job in jurisprudence, Bachmann never rose to any prominence and spent little time as a litigator, even though former colleagues describe it as a busy office where young lawyers had every opportunity to jump into the fray and make their mark with influential cases.

Five former IRS co-workers, who spoke on the condition they not be named, recall that Bachmann mostly stuck to lower-rung work — settling taxpayer disputes before trial and handling her share of collection matters, refund cases and advisory work in potential criminal matters.

The co-workers said that, for whatever reason, Bachmann didn’t participate in the most intense work of the office: tangling with corporations and other big taxpayers in precedent-setting disputes tried before a judge in U.S. Tax Court.

One can interpret that information in any number of ways. To me, it sounds like a person who didn’t really believe in the work the office was doing. It sounds like she was a gunner in law school, and it sounds like she had a passion for tax. I don’t buy her as some kind of tax associate double agent doing reconnaissance on the enemy. But it makes sense to me that after some time at the IRS, she decided that she didn’t really buy into what the office was doing.

What’s more troubling to me, as a believer in the separation of church and state, is the way Bachmann may have been indoctrinated in law school:

What’s clear from the record is that Bachmann brought deeply held religious values and legal training from outside the mainstream to her career, values shaped during her unusual law school experience at Oral Roberts.

“It was a real shocker for me to show up and hear people speak in tongues in chapel,” said Burnetti, Bachmann’s classmate. ” It was a very exceptional place to go to school.”

He described a “Pentecostal” campus resplendent with Oral Roberts’ Christ’s Chapel and the 200-foot-tall Prayer Tower. Many faculty members were devout Christians, and certain classes mixed biblical values with legal principles, Burnetti said. Home schooling and the right to life were two of the hottest causes.

I’ll take a tax lawyer who hates taxes any day over a Christian lawyer who hates other people’s right to freely practice their religion or no religion at all.

Michele Bachmann’s low-key IRS role belied ambitions [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]


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