Lois Lerner's Political Witch Hunt
If there is any single name that has become synonymous with Barack Obama’s corruption of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), it is Lois Lerner.
Few can forget her stern visage as she took the Fifth Amendment before a House Oversight Committee on May 22 in order to cover up her key role in targeting conservative groups for IRS harassment.
A week earlier, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) had released a report revealing that, under Lerner’s leadership, the IRS Exempt Organizations Division had singled out groups with conservative-sounding terms such as “patriot” and “Tea Party” in their titles.
The TIGTA probe determined that, “Early in Calendar Year 2010, the IRS began using inappropriate criteria to identify organizations applying for tax-exempt status...” The illegal IRS reviews continued for more than 18 months and “delayed processing of targeted groups’ applications” leading up to the 2012 presidential election.
Judicial Watch immediately filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the IRS for records of all communications relating to the review process for organizations seeking 501(c)(4) nonprofit status since January 1, 2010. We followed that with a second request seeking all records of communications by Lois Lerner concerning the controversial review and approval process. Our goal was to answer the increasingly pressing question, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” The IRS, as expected, has stonewalled that FOIA request, which forced us on October 9 to file a FOIA lawsuit against the agency in the District Court for the District of Columbia. We’ll keep you posted on that critical lawsuit.
Long after Lerner’s disastrous congressional testimony, the IRS finally admitted that while Lerner was in charge, its agents had improperly targeted Tea Party groups. Their follow-up was to reward her by putting her on paid leave and allowing her to spend several months relaxing at home. Lerner then retired from the IRS on September 23 with full benefits, even after an internal investigation found she was guilty of “neglect of duties” and was preparing to call for her firing. And that, folks, is how Washington works.
But the story doesn’t end there, because Judicial Watch is now hot on the trail of yet another Lerner-IRS scandal, this one concerning her collusion with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to carry out her vendetta against conservative groups.
Recently, Judicial Watch obtained 176 pages of email exchanges between Lerner and enforcement attorneys at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) indicating that she had provided detailed, confidential information concerning the tax exempt application status and returns of conservative groups to the FEC, in strict violation of federal law.
Those emails came from the FEC in response to an August 9, 2013, FOIA request seeking access to the following for the period beginning January 1, 2009, and leading up to the present:
Any and all records concerning, regarding, or related to the FEC’s coordination with the IRS regarding the political activities of 501(c)(4) non-profit organizations;
Any and all communications between the FEC and the IRS regarding the political activities of non-profit organizations.
The revealing email chain obtained by Judicial Watch begins with a February 3, 2009, email from an FEC attorney asking Lerner if the IRS had issued an exemption letter for the American Future Fund (AFF). The writer of the letter notes, “When we spoke last July, you told us that the American Future Fund had not received an exemption letter from the IRS.” In the same email, the FEC attorney asked Lerner if she could also advise him if the IRS had granted an exemption letter to the American Issues Project (AIP), as well as to the AIP’s predecessor organizations, Citizens for the Republic and Avenger, Inc.
In her response, sent ten minutes later from her irs.gov email address, Lerner indicated that she would require her staff to cooperate fully, saying, “I have sent your email out to some of my staff. Will get back to you as soon as I have heard from them.”
The bulk of the records Judicial Watch obtained consists of extensive materials from the IRS’s files containing detailed, confidential information about the organizations, all sent from Lerner to the FEC. These include annual tax returns (Form 990), request for exempt recognition forms (Form 1024), Articles of Organization and other corporate documents, and legal correspondence between the non-profit organizations and the IRS. Under Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code, it is a felony for an IRS official to disclose either “return information” or “taxpayer return information,” even to another government agency.
Initial news reports, when word of some of these IRS-FEC emails first surfaced in August 2013, raised a variety of legal issues. One was the fact that Lerner was supplying confidential information concerning the tax exempt application status of private organizations. Another was the fact that the inquiries regarding the AFF made by the FEC attorneys in February 2009 occurred before the FEC commissioners had voted on whether to investigate the AFF (the FEC later voted not to do so). This was in violation of federal law. But the most telling issue raised was the clear collusion between government agencies with an apparently anti-conservative bias.
It should be noted that Lois Lerner has a long track record of using her position to go after targets of interest for the left. During the Clinton administration, when she was head of the FEC's enforcement division, she oversaw an onerous investigation of the Christian Coalition, ultimately costing that organization hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in lost work. Though the Coalition was thoroughly exonerated, Lerner's witch hunt had taken its toll.
These new documents show that the suppression of the Tea Party and conservatives wasn't necessarily limited to the IRS. Any criminal and congressional investigations currently underway need to be expanded beyond the IRS to the FEC. I have a feeling that these documents are just the beginning.