Exclusive: True the Vote Wins Battle Against IRS as Judge Orders Tax Agency to Pay Legal Fees in Decade-Long Fight

In this May 21, 2013, file photo, tea party activists demonstrate on Fountain Square before marching to the John Weld Peck Federal Building in Cincinnati to protest the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to …
AP Photo/Al Behrman, File
MATTHEW BOYLE
Washington, D.C.

True the Vote, a nonpartisan conservative election integrity group that fought a nearly decade-long battle with the IRS and other federal agencies that unfairly targeted the group, has won a major decision in federal court and shall be awarded maximum attorney fees.

“This is a huge victory for every American who thinks that they can’t go up against the government and get what they deserve,” Catherine Engelbrecht, True the Vote’s founder, told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview ahead of the group’s public announcement of the victory. “This is an opportunity to make very clear that we didn’t back away and, therefore, American citizens didn’t back away—and we won.”

Engelbrecht added in her interview with Breitbart News that she believes this victory for ordinary Americans against an overreaching and unfair federal government should be dedicated to Breitbart News founder Andrew Breitbart, who before he passed away in 2012, when the news was first breaking of these IRS malfeasances against conservatives, called Engelbrecht to express his support for her cause.

“It’s been on my heart. In so many ways, this is really a victory that should be dedicated to Andrew,” Engelbrecht said in a phone interview on Thursday morning. “When this all began, I got a call from Andrew, who knew that I was way out of my wheelhouse of expectation that a government could do what was already happening. Andrew stepped in and ran towards the fire on my behalf. the lessons learned in that, the willingness to just charge in because it was the right thing to do—truth has no agenda, right? He just said, ‘Let me be your rodeo clown. Let me go in front. Let me go in front.’ And in some ways, maybe True the Vote went in front for other organizations and citizens and for others who may be scared to speak out. It was a long battle, but we won.”

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton ruled in favor of True the Vote in the case, and penalized the IRS for forcing the tax agency to pay maximum attorney’s fees due to the IRS’s discrimination against the conservative organization that stemmed from the Lois Lerner scandal during the Barack Obama administration all the way back in 2010. In addition to signing a 2018 consent order that included an IRS admission of wrongdoing, Judge Walton ruled last week that True the Vote was entitled to a “bad faith enhancement” to its requested attorney’s fees. In his opinion, Judge Walton wrote that there is “clear and convincing evidence necessary for a finding of bad faith on the part of” the IRS. As such, while the exact amount is still being worked out, True the Vote has requested the recovery of $1.9 million in attorney’s fees from the decades-long court battle.

“The conduct of the IRS and the government was nothing short of shocking,” Brock Akers of the Akers Firm, one of True the Vote’s attorneys, said in the release. “This ruling ought to reflect a collective sigh of relief from everyone that the judicial system really can be turned to for a just end to this nightmare. Check one in favor of Justice v. Swamp.”

“The D.C. District Court rejected the DOJ’s argument that True the Vote did not win this litigation battle,” added James Bopp Jr. of the Bopp Law Firm, another True the Vote attorney. Bopp also applauded “Judge Walton’s opinion which held not only that the IRS’s actions were not substantially justified, but were also rooted in ‘bad faith.’ The Court’s judgment that True the Vote won this litigation coupled with its opinion that the IRS acted in bad faith should be a warning to bureaucrats that the U.S. Constitution protects everyone, regardless of ideology.”

In her interview, Engelbrecht said the swamp is “still thick and still circling,” though, and that in many ways what she and her organization went through battling these agencies is much the same as what President Donald Trump is facing from the administrative state.

“I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined that when I filed for nonprofit status with True the Vote, it would open up a ten-year-long rabbit hole of all kinds of things that we’ve now seen in the federal government that we couldn’t have possibly imagined were going on,” Engelbrecht told Breitbart News. “Now, we know. In some ways, True the Vote was the canary in the coal mine for what we see every night on the nightly news. The targeting, the collusion, the fact that you cannot trust even some of our country’s most highly regarded organizations because the truth is, no matter who is at the top, the swamp is still thick and still circling.”

Engelbrecht said, too, that through True the Vote’s victory against the IRS, there is now case law established to stop the swamp in Washington from ever being able to commit these injustices again.

“The strongest thing that True the Vote could do was establish case law. So, if God forbid, if it were to happen to anyone else ever again, they could point to True the Vote v. IRS and say, ‘This is unconstitutional,’” Engelbrecht said when asked what needs to happen to reform the agencies that unfairly targeted her and her group.

“And the party at fault would fall under the case law provision that was pushed through us. But that’s a little wonky. What it’s really going to take is transparency and a willingness to clean house, which we’re seeing in this administration. There’s just a lot of rooms in the house—and a lot of them were add-ons by the Obama administration. Those are the ones that are feeling the heat, to get everything and every swipe in that they can. That’s what happened, clearly, in our case, where the administration changed, but the attorneys representing the IRS and the Department of Justice just doubled down. We went through a period of time where they had signed the consent order that the judge put together and then turned right back around and filed a scathing 23-page retort against what they had just signed, using quotes like our case had made ‘no material difference in the real world’ and did everything they could to drag it out for another year-and-a-half. Then that is where we finally are at now, where the judge has finally said, ‘Enough.’ The judge enacted a provision that forces the IRS to pay maximum everything, maximum penalties. We didn’t ask for damages, so this is purely about attorney’s fees. But those attorney’s fees to this organization were significant. We filed a petition for $2 million. That whole thing was so crazy. The IRS just oohed and aahed about their willingness to make right by us, and then, no sooner did we file our closing comment with the petition did they put this report back together that was just like the trash tabloid stuff that you see in the nightly fake news. It was just kind of venom. And you think, is there ever a bottom?”

Engelbrecht added that after everything she has gone through at the hand of an overreaching and intrusive federal government, she feels vindicated.

“I absolutely do,” Engelbrecht said when asked if she feels vindicated. “The first was a victory in part and to see the IRS—the ink wasn’t even dry from their signature on the consent order before they began to break it. To see that happen and to have to watch to find out how it’s going to play…Is this going to stand or is the judge going to step in and do something? The fact that the judge stepped in and did something is affirmation to me that we now have something that can hang these guys out if it ever happened again, God forbid.”

The weight of the federal government coming down on Engelbrecht and True the Vote was so intense and wide-reaching that it was clear the federal government targeted her. According to True the Vote’s press release announcing the victory in the court decision, in 2010, a number of Obama administration agencies, including the IRS, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), began targeting Engelbrecht and True the Vote. The battle lasted years and sought to drown Englebrecht and her organization in government bureaucracy, a “barrage of attacks,” including 23 separate audits, investigations, and inquiries, all in an effort to stop True the Vote from accomplishing its mission.

“At its core, it’s about control through fear,” Engelbrecht said. “They wanted to silence us so they overwhelmed us on all sides. It was a multi-front war we were facing. It was designed to make us go away, to scare us, to break us, to try to turn public opinion against us. The coordination was through all facets. It was just mind-blowing. But ten years later, on the other side of it, the lesson for True the Vote and all citizens is that as citizens, we are called to stand up, and we are called to engage. The lesson, I think, that is so engrained in my mind is: ‘Speak out. We are the government. We are not subjects to whatever it is they want to push down our throats.’ There are things that are constitutional and can be protected. Hopefully, we set a great example for that.”

Engelbrecht said the reason the government targeted her and her group is because a conservative standing up for election integrity is a serious threat to the left’s tactics regarding elections.

“I think they see voters’ rights as something that they held the monopoly on,” Engelbrecht said. “That’s how they rally their base. They try to convince people that they don’t really have their voice through their vote, that they only have a voice if they will give it away to the government, and the government will represent their interests. They use the threadbare cries of voter suppression and voter ID and all of the things that are very common in every industrialized country in the world; they use those things against us to keep us divided. When True the Vote came on the scene and said, ‘Wait a minute. There’s power in citizen engagement. It’s about principle, not party. Let the best man or woman win; just let it be fair,’ I think those kinds of things were such a threat to page one of their playbook—and then, secondly, you get so close to it so you can see like we have there’s some bad actors around the fringes of each election cycle, and they’re going to do their best to control the game in their interests. But there’s also layers upon layers upon layers of fraud that have been baked into the system through legislation, and you have to start peeling back those layers and asking the hard questions and changing the debate. Prior to True the Vote, nobody was doing that. there was no central tip of the spear that came at it from a position of liberty. They needed that to go away—and they tried, and they failed.”

With this win in the bank, according to the group’s release on Thursday, True the Vote is looking ahead to the 2020 election in an effort to help the military community with get-out-the-vote and other election security matters.

“With this decade long battle behind True the Vote, the organization will now turn its effort to the 2020 election cycle, partnering with Our Values, a veterans’ rights organization founded by Benghazi hero Mark ‘Oz’ Geist,” the release says. “The collaboration will focus on active and veteran military voter registration, recruiting and training for volunteer service as poll workers, and other GOTV activities targeted to mobilizing military and veteran families in the 2020 election.”

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