Former IRS official Louis Lerner and her colleagues at the tax agency were under a tremendous amount of pressure from President Obama and other Democrats to scrutinize a Tea Party applicant for public disclosure, despite rules protecting the privacy of unapproved applications, according to a staff report from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
For example, in emails regarding how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision could imperil the Democrats’ majority in the Senate, Lerner wrote that she hoped the Federal Election Commission would “save the day,” apparently by curtailing political speech.
In another email referencing a news article about the businessmen and benefactors Charles and David Koch, Lerner suggested the IRS should begin a “project” to rein in political speech but to craft it in such a way as to avoid the appearance of focusing on political activity.
“We do need a c4 project next year,” Lerner wrote. While she initially said, “my object is not to look for political activity,” later in the exchange she acknowledged that it will examine political activity. “We need to be cautious so it isn’t a per se political project. More a c4 project that will look at levels of lobbying and pol. Activity along with exempt activity.”
Lerner is the only IRS staffer who refused to testify before Congress, so the report relies solely on information garnered from “e-mails, documents, and other testimony about her cracking down on tax exempt organizations that exercise their rights to free political speech,” the Republican staff on the Oversight Committee says.
One e-mail thread turned to the possibility of whether a Tea Party applicant would challenge the IRS ruling in court. Lerner said that Tea Party groups would litigate because they are “itching for a Constitutional challenge.”
The emails show concern from Lerner about the Citizens United case decision hurting Democrats in the upcoming Senate elections. One document shows Lerner saying the Supreme Court gave the issue to the IRS “to fix the problem.”
She said, “The Supreme Court dealt a huge blow, overturning a 100-year old precedent that basically corporations couldn’t give directly to political campaigns. And everyone is up in arms because they don’t like it. The Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it. They want the IRS to fix the problem.”
After a senior advisor emailed her about the political danger Democrats could be placed in, she replied in an e-mail, “Perhaps the FEC will save the day.”
The Oversight Committee points out that Lerner mishandled 6103 taxpayer information by dealing with such data from her personal e-mail account. Lerner, however, told Congress under oath in Novmber of 2013, “I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations.” In a November 2013 letter from Daniel Werfel, Werfel writes, “We do not permit IRS officials to send taxpayer information to their personal email addresses.” Werfel stresses that this is the case even if information is redacted.
Ultimately, the Oversight report says, Lerner personally placed all Tea Party applicants through a “multi-tier review.” An IRS employee testified that Lerner “sent [him an] e-mail saying that when these cases need to go through multi-tier review and they will eventually have to go to [Judy Kindell, Lerner’s senior technical advisor] and the Chief Counsel’s office.” A D.C. IRS employee said this level of scrutiny had no precedent.
The head of the IRS office in Cincinnati disputes Lerner’s claim-and President Obama’s Fox News interview with Bill O’Reilly-that the scrutiny on Tea Party cases was only a local issue, saying, “[Y]es, there were mistakes made by folks in Cincinnati as well [as] D.C. but the D.C. office is the one who delayed the processing of the cases.”