IRS docs: Lerner wanted to sic the Justice Dept. on conservative groups
Judicial Watch has been chipping away at the IRS stonewall with Freedom of Information Act requests, and just released some new emails that show Tax Exempt Organizations director Lois Lerner was talking to the Justice Department about criminal prosecutions for the groups targeted by her organization. She was also trying to get the Federal Elections Commission – where she used to work, under similar suspicions of politicized abuse of her authority – involved in the witch hunt. Judicial Watch previously discovered that the IRS handed tax returns for conservative groups over to the FEC, an action of both questionable utility and dubious legality.
The new documents released by Judicial Watch include this May 2013 exchange between Lerner and Nikole C. Flax, who was chief of staff to Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller. (Both Lerner and Miller have since retired from the IRS, with Miller’s departure briefly and falsely portrayed as a disciplinary measure, back when President Obama was pretending to be concerned about the abuse of power at Internal Revenue.)
LERNER: I got a call today from Richard Pilger Director Elections Crimes Branch at DOJ … He wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folk s [sic] could talk to about Sen. Whitehouse idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement cases about applicants who “lied” on their 1024s –saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures. DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs. I told him that sounded like we might need several folks from IRS…
FLAX: I think we should do it – also need to include CI [Criminal Investigation Division], which we can help coordinate. Also, we need to reach out to FEC. Does it make sense to consider including them in this or keep it separate?
Lerner referred to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who was pushing for prosecutions of tax-exempt groups found to have misrepresented their political activities. Judicial Watch quotes a March 2013 email from Lerner to IRS staff, describing hearings to be held by Whitehouse in April:
As I mentioned yesterday — there are several groups of folks from the FEC world that are pushing tax fraud prosecution for c4s who report they are not conducting political activity when they are (or these folks think they are). One is my ex-boss Larry Noble (former General Counsel at the FEC), who is now president of Americans for Campaign Reform. This is their latest push to shut these down. One IRS prosecution would make an impact and they wouldn’t feel so comfortable doing the stuff.
So, don’t be fooled about how this is being articulated – it is ALL about 501(c)(4) orgs and political activity.
But then a few minutes later, Lerner sent out a follow-up email in which she said prosecution was “not realistic under current law.” Lerner added, “Everyone is looking for a magic bullet or scapegoat – there isn’t one. The law in this area is just hard.”
Who did she mean by “everyone?” The level of co-ordination between the Democrat Party and the IRS on this crusade against conservative groups grows more clear with each new revelation. They freaked out after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and formulated a strategy to suppress groups opposed to President Obama during the 2012 election. It worked.
But it might have stopped working if they dragged the Justice Department into the picture and gave Tea Party organizations a chance to make their case during high-profile prosecutions, as Lerner seemed to realize. Better to quietly delay the applications for conservative organizations, dragging the process out until the election was safely in the bag, while intimidating the targeted groups and their donors with intrusive demands for information.
As an added bonus, here’s a little something from the latest Judicial Watch release for left-wingers still trying to push the debunked talking point that progressive groups were targeted, too:
May 10, 2013: In an email to an aide responding to a request for information from a Washington Post reporter, Lerner admits that she “can’t confirm that there was anyone on the other side of the political spectrum” who had been targeted by the IRS. She then adds that “The one with the names used were only know [sic] because they have been very loud in the press.”
May 15, 2013: In an email from an aide to Lerner, the aide specifically mentions “Tea Party Organizations, the “Tea Party movement,” and “Tea Party Patriots” as organizations targeted by the IRS.
And there’s a testy email from the manager of the “low-level employees in Cincinnati” that Lerner initially tried to blame for the targeting scandal, pointing out that it’s awfully difficult to maintain office morale when a top official is all over the news, describing your team as a gang of rogue operatives and political partisans who belong on the unemployment lines, if not in jail. The constant description of them as faceless “low-level” cubicle gnomes didn’t exactly come off as inspirational, either.
But that’s what happens when top officials are scrambling to construct a scandal defense, in league with shiftless politicians and corrupt media. Scapegoats are needed. Faceless, voiceless scapegoats work best.
Update: Reactions from House Oversight chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulator Affairs chair Jim Jordan (R-OH):
“The release of new documents underscores the political nature of IRS Tea Party targeting and the extent to which supposed apolitical officials took direction from elected Democrats,” said Chairman Issa. “These e-mails are part of an overwhelming body of evidence that political pressure from prominent Democrats led to the targeting of Americans for their political beliefs.”
“Now I see why the IRS is scared to give up the rest of Lois Lerner’s emails,” said Chairman Jordan. “Not only do these e-mails further prove the coordination among the IRS, the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the Justice Department and committee Democrats to target conservatives, they also show that had our committee not requested the Inspector General’s investigation when we did, Eric Holder’s politicized Justice Department would likely have been leveling trumped up criminal charges against Tea Party groups to intimidate them from exercising their Constitutional rights.”