Lerner referred to Justice for possible prosecution in IRS scandal

The House Oversight Committee is scheduled to vote on whether to hold key IRS scandal figure Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress tomorrow, but today the House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to the Justice Department, recommending Attorney General Eric Holder consider criminal charges.

Invoking its authority to protect the integrity of the Internal Revenue Code, “which is undermined when taxpayers and exempt organizations perceive that the administration of the IRC is unfair or, worse, is biased against them,” Ways and Means found Exempt Organizations Division Director Lerner “used her position to improperly influence agency action against only conservative organizations,” “impeded official investigations by providing misleading statements,” and “risked exposing, and may actually have disclosed, confidential taxpayer information.”

The letter, which runs 14 pages in length, lays out a detailed timeline to back up the Committee’s recommendations, spotlighting her focus on one conservative group in particular, Crossroads GPS.  Using a combination of testimony, excerpts from email, and even the date and time of specific meetings, the letter seeks to demonstrate that the IRS used partisan political considerations when selected tax-exempt organizations for enhanced scrutiny, and that the effort was directed from Washington, rather than being the work of renegade low-level employees in remote offices, as agency officials initially claimed.  (Boy, that talking point is deader than hell, isn’t it?  But it was their entire defense when the story first broke.)  A condensed version of the Ways and Means timeline can be found here.

The charge of obstructing Treasury Inspector General investigations stems from a number of “calculated half-truths” Lerner provided in response to questions about when she became aware of politicized targeting.  Her email correspondence “memorialize Lerner’s knowledge that, as early as April 2010, the IRS was targeting applications for tax exemption involving the name ‘Tea Party’ and holding these cases pending review from EO Technical in Washington, D.C.”

As a side note, one of the common Democrat talking points on the IRS scandal is that Tax Exempt Organization officials were using the phrase “Tea Party” as a clumsy generic term for all political groups, Left and Right.  This talking point is absolutely false, as made clear by testimony from IRS officials before the House Oversight Committee.  They knew exactly what they were talking about when they said “Tea Party.”

The charges of disclosing confidential taxpayer information stem from Lerner’s use of personal email for official business.  On at least one documented occasion, a senior IRS technician sent an application for tax exempt status, which consisted almost entirely of legally protected confidential information, to Lerner’s personal email address.  That’s a violation of IRS policy; it becomes a crime, with up to five years of prison time potentially in the mix, if unauthorized persons had access to Lerner’s personal email account and reviewed such confidential data.

As the Ways and Means letter notes, even Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel “conceded that there was evidence that raised questions about wrongdoing at the agency.”  Of course, the vote to refer Lerner to Justice went down along strict party lines: 23 Republicans in favor, 14 Democrats against.  One hopes none of the Republicans in question is holding his or her breath waiting for Attorney General Holder to commence prosecution.

Placing a plump maraschino cherry of suspicion atop this hot fudge sundae of inappropriate conduct, the Ways and Means Committee also notes that Lerner was talking about getting a job with Obama For America… er, excuse me, Organizing for Action… while she was in charge of overseeing these organizations.  Maybe she was just clowning around, but another IRS employee took Lerner’s speculation about working for OFA seriously enough to wonder if she was about to retire from the IRS to pursue a job opportunity with them.

Talking about taking a job with one of the very organizations Lerner oversaw might not be illegal, or even a violation of IRS policy (the Committee letter doesn’t claim it is) but it most certainly would be considered a highly relevant detail, if we were in the midst of a Republican scandal in which liberal groups were harassed – possibly enough to influence the outcome of a presidential election – and the official in charge was chirping about her desire to go work for a Tea Party group, even if she later insisted she was just kidding.

“This investigation has uncovered serious, unprecedented actions taken by Lois Lerner that deprived conservative groups of their rights under the Constitution,” said Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI).  “Almost a year ago we learned that the IRS subjected certain groups to extra scrutiny because of their political beliefs.  At the time, Lois Lerner shamefully attempted to blame the mistreatment on low-level employees in Cincinnati.  The investigation to date has demonstrated that the targeting did not happen until IRS headquarters in D.C. intervened.  Today???s action highlights specific wrongdoing for the Department of Justice to pursue.  DOJ has a responsibility to act, and Lois Lerner must be held accountable.  It is also important that the American people know what really occurred at the IRS, so this powerful agency cannot target American taxpayers ever again.”