Last week, it was discovered – not by official investigators, but by outside watchdog group Judicial Watch, which spends its days waterboarding the Most Transparent Administration in History with Freedom of Information Act requests – that IRS scandal kingpin Lois Lerner made inquiries with the Justice Department about the possibility of ginning up criminal investigations against the conservative groups she was targeting. Basically, Lerner wanted to establish that these groups were engaged in the sort of partisan political activity they promised not to pursue in their applications for tax-exempt status, then prosecute them for lying to the IRS.
According to the Washington Examiner, House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa wants a more thorough explanation for at least one of the emails Judicial Watch uncovered:
In the email, Richard Pilger, director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, noted to Lerner, “When you have a moment, will you call me? I’ve been asked to run something by you.”
Pilger doesn’t say who had asked him to contact Lerner but provides some context for the prospective conversation, saying he wanted to know who at the IRS “DOJ folks could talk to” about ways to target 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups that are heavily involved in politics and may be pushing the boundaries of the law with their political activity.
Pilger sent the note two days before Lerner disclosed the targeting of conservative groups and apologized during remarks at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association. The email was part of a trove Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, released last week showing Lerner in contact with DOJ about the potential for prosecuting tax-exempt groups.
Issa argues that the email shows that the DOJ was considering prosecuting these groups for actions that are legal for 501(c)(4) nonprofits under federal tax law – “that is, engaging in political speech.”
Chairman Issa finds the timing of this conversation suspicious – it happened only two days before the infamous conference in which Lerner used a planted question from an operative in the crowd to reveal that the IRS had been improperly targeting certain political groups, an effort to get out in front of the impending report from an internal investigation. Lerner apologized for the mistreatment of these groups at the time; if she was trying to turn the Justice Department loose on them just 48 hours previously, her remorse must have developed awfully quickly.
The Justice Department says they never actually launched any such investigation, but Issa wants documents that would chronicle the discussions that took place, and find out what – and who – prompted DOJ to contact Lerner at the IRS. Unfortunately, since Issa requested these documents from Attorney General Eric “Stonewall” Holder, enlightenment probably isn’t right around the corner.