On Wednesday Lois Lerner will be recalled to testify before Congress regarding her involvement in the ongoing IRS Tea Party targeting scandal. It’s time for her to answer questions.
It’s past time.
Lerner, the former director of exempt organizations at the IRS, is perhaps the key figure in the IRS scandal. Not only did she hold a crucial position, she was the official picked to apologize to the nation on May 10, 2013, for the IRS’s improper handling of Tea Part tax exemption applications.
Her first time before Congress – just days after her admission and apology - Lois Lerner asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, but not before loudly declaring her innocence – an act that would never be permitted in criminal court, effectively waived her Fifth Amendment rights, and was disrespectful to the American people she wronged.
It’s been 10 months of stonewalling. Lois Lerner has since retired from the IRS with a full taxpayer funded pension.
She owes the American people the truth, and answers to the following questions would be an excellent start:
1. What Did You Know and When Did You Know It?
On October 19, 2010, you told a group of students at Duke Law School – regarding political spending by 501(c)(4) organizations -- that "[E]verybody is screaming at us right now 'Fix it now before the election. Can't you see how much these people are spending?'"
You made this comment following strong public statements against 501(c)(4) spending made by the President of the United States on August 9, September 16, September 22, and October 14, 2010.
- Were you or others at the IRS aware of the president’s statements?
- Did you or others at the IRS take any action in response to these statements?
- At any point did you or anyone else at the IRS communicate with White House officials regarding Tea Party 501(c)(4) applications?
2. Did You Know About the Politically-Driven Call to Investigate Conservatives?
On September 28, 2010, Democratic Senator Max Baucus sent a letter to the IRS demanding that it “survey major 501(c)(4) groups” for “possible violations of the tax laws.” Similarly, on October 11, 2010, Democratic Senator Dick Durban sent a letter to the IRS demanding that it “quickly examine the tax status” of a number of 501(c)(4) groups.
- Were you or others at the IRS aware of these demands?
- Did you or others at the IRS take any action in response to these demands?
- At any point did you or anyone else at the IRS communicate with Democrat Senators or their staffs regarding 501(c)(4) applications?
3. Who Else is Involved?
In your May 10, 2013, apology to the American people, you blamed the Tea Party targeting on “line people in Cincinnati” and described steps that you took to end the misconduct.
Yet Tea Party groups received letters from IRS offices from coast to coast, the IRS chief counsel’s office collaborated in crafting guidelines for Tea Party cases, and you sent letters to targeted Tea Party groups as recently as 2012, including letters containing intrusive and improper questions long after you claimed the improper targeting stopped.
Moreover, it’s now clear that in 2011 you called the “The Tea Party matter” “very dangerous” and in 2012 you wondered whether the FEC (Federal Election Commission) would “save the day.”
- From 2009 to your retirement, who did you work with in the IRS regarding any aspect of Tea Party tax exemption applications?
- What did you mean when you called the “Tea Party matter” “dangerous” and when you asked whether the FEC would “save the day”?
- Do you believe it is the role of the IRS to limit the free speech rights of American citizens as defined by the Supreme Court of the United States?
- In your apology, you indicated that you knew the questions the IRS was asking Tea Party groups were inappropriate. Why did you continue to send letters well after you claim you knew the IRS’s actions were wrong?
4. Why Were Only Conservatives Targeted & Confidential Documents Leaked?
The Tea Party scandal includes far more misconduct than delays in applications and intrusive questions.
The IRS flagged 501(c)(4) groups for surveillance after their applications were granted, of those flagged for surveillance 83% were conservative, and of those audited, 100% were conservative.
Your department of the IRS improperly sent confidential conservative tax documents to a left-leaning media outlet, and you communicated directly with the Federal Election Commission regarding conservative nonprofits.
- Why were only conservative non-profits flagged for audits?
- When did you become aware of the leak of confidential documents to left-leaning media outlets, who leaked the documents, and what – if anything – did you do about it?
- Please describe all of your contacts with any other federal agency regarding any nonprofit organization.
To be clear, these questions are but the tip of the iceberg. After all, Lerner was also involved in crafting the IRS’s proposed unconstitutional regulations of nonprofit speech and has a long history of abusing her public office for partisan purposes.
A true accounting of her actions – and the actions of those she worked with – would require not just one day of testimony but instead weeks of inquiries – inquiries that I intend to make during our ACLJ lawsuit on behalf of 41 targeted groups in 22 states.
That time will come, but for now, it's time to begin the process.
Lois Lerner, come clean. Tell the American people the truth. The whole truth.
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He also serves as a member of President Trump’s legal team. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.