In my opinion, the behavior of the IRS is putrid and indefensible. Why anyone tries, like Steve Rattner and the Editorial Board of the NY Times is inexplicable.
First of all, this was not, as Rattner claims, "low-level staffers." The Cincinnati office is responsible for reviewing applications for exemption status. This is not some rogue, low-level, staffers. This supression of certain political opinion was organized by the office in charge of granting exemptions.
This was not, as Rattner claims, a Keystone-cops comedy of errors. This was an enduring, persistent, organized deliberate attempt to stop certain speech. The office deliberately attempted to prevent certain groups from speaking with a campaign of intimidation, threats, delays and leaks. Donor lists were leaked to the media, including Pro Publica, as part of this campaign.
This campaign is not justified because Rattner and the NY Times does not agree with the Supreme Court's decision on Citizens United. It is the law.