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Issa Issues an Update on the IRS Investigation

The Majority Staff for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has produced a memo which gives an update on its investigation into the IRS treatment of Tea Party groups. It concludes that media attention generated by President Obama and the Democratic Party led the IRS to treat Tea Party applications for 501(c)(4) status differently than other groups.

One of the key points of the 19-page memo is that a public campaign organized by the White House led the IRS to scrutinize Tea Party groups: 

In 2010, the Obama administration and its allies orchestrated a sustained public relations campaign seeking to delegitimize the lawful political activity of conservative tax-exempt organizations and to suppress these group's rights to assemble and speak. The impetus was a Supreme Court opinion, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, handed down on January 21, 2010. In the wake of the Court's decision, senior Administration officials criticized the influence of so-called "corporate" money in the political process. 

What follows is roughly four pages of statements by various administrations officials led by the President himself. Several of these, including Obama's State of the Union speech and his weekly address were previously highlighted by Breitbart News.

As the memo points out "These calls to arms did not fall on deaf ears at the IRS." The memo then highlights the video of Lois Lerner first published at Breitbart last month, transcribing the entire thing as evidence that the IRS was keenly aware of the political pressure around them (footnote 33 cites this story). As the memo puts it, Lerner was "echoing President Obama's public statements." Issa's staff offers other examples of pressure placed on the IRS, including a memo from Dick Durbin which was distributed by IRS official Joseph Urban.

But it appears that the initial reason the IRS took a special interest in the Tea Party was because of the media. This was already suggested in the audit by TIGTA. Indeed, the IRS prepared a sensitive case report on Tea Party applications which mentioned the Washington Post by name. The Acting Manager of EO Technical, Steven Grodnitzky, was interviewed by Committee staff and indicated that it was the media attention to Tea Party groups which caused them to be treated differently.

Of course the media coverage was the result of a political campaign coming from the White House and the President. But so long as the IRS interest was prompted by "coverage" and not by the White House directly, they can claim it was apolitical, i.e. we targeted a group the media targeted. The implication is that they would have targeted any group receiving similar coverage, though of course that can't be proven.

Issa's memo notes some evidence that individuals involved in the processing of Tea Party applications had their own political opinions. For instance, in a 2011 email Holly Paz wrote "Lois would like to discuss our planned approach for dealing with these cases. We suspect we will have to approve the majority of the c4 applications." Her phrase "we will have to" does not sound like the perspective of a neutral arbiter, it sounds like someone playing goalie with applications they don't want to see approved.

The memo also cites an undated IRS training example which seems to show political bias. It begins "During a Presidential election campaign, the Republican incumbent, President Billy Bob, is campaigning against Democratic challenger Nancy Nice." It turns out that "the war goes on" under President Billy Bob and an outside group supporting Nancy Nice wants people to "vote for a change to improve our nation!" Again, this does not sound like neutral language.

The memo concludes that the IRS has only provided about 10 percent of what the Committee has requested, meaning there are thousands of pages of documents yet to be examined. If I were on the Committee I would look for any memos about possible plans by the IRS or FEC to re-litigate the issue. Lois Lerner's recently revealed emails suggested the Tea Party cases could be a "vehicle to go to court." She may not have been the only person thinking along those lines.


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