Wednesday night House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) appeared on Sean Hannity’s show to discuss the current state of the investigation into the IRS. During the ten minute segment, Hannity played for Issa the video of Lois Lerner which was brought to light by Breitbart News last week. (Issa’s response begins around 5:00)
Issa is correct when he says that the video seems to show that Lois Lerner believes Citizens United was “wrongly decided.” In fact Lerner’s statement about the Court overturning 100 years of precedent is a paraphrase of President Obama’s criticism of the decision during his 2010 State of the Union address.
Hannity asks Issa on whether the video is evidence that the IRS responded to the pressure they were feeling by stopping up the applications of right-leaning groups. Issa responds, “they certainly reduced the effectiveness of conservative groups by their action.” In other words, we know the outcome what we don’t fully know is the chain of decisions that led to it.
Hannity presses a bit too far when he suggests that the targeting of Tea Party groups began “immediately after” Lerner made these comments. In fact, Lerner’s comments came in October, just weeks before the 2010 election. According to TIGTA’s report the targeting of Tea Party groups began in March, seven months earlier. Of course it’s likely that the pressure Lerner was describing also began months prior to her comments, possibly with the President’s decision to campaign against the Citizens United decision starting in January.
Lerner’s statement is vague enough that it is impossible to establish a firm cause and effect timeline. Nevertheless, her statement does demonstrate that the IRS was under pressure from the FEC and others to do something about the flow of money to 501(c)(4) groups leading up to the 2010 election. This pressure came most directly from the President who expressed concern about this precise flow of money from January through September of 2010. For instance, in August he gave a weekly address in which he said he was trying to prevent the “corporate takeover of our democracy.”
There was no need for President Obama to issue a secret memo to the IRS when he was publicly stating that these groups were a potential calamity for democracy. The question that remains is this: Did someone at the IRS block up conservative 501(c)(4) applications in response to outside political pressure we now know they were feeling? To answer that question, we still need to hear from Lois Lerner.