The House Ways and Means Committee released a letter Wednesday detailing what it believes to be criminal misconduct by Lois Lerner, the former IRS official at the center of the ongoing IRS Tea Party targeting scandal. For those who want to understand how partisan bureaucrats can manipulate a powerful federal agency, the letter is a must-read.
The list of newly-disclosed acts of political bias and manipulation are astounding:
- After meeting with an outside group (Democracy 21) that claimed both conservative and liberal groups were violating IRS rules, Lerner chose to focus like a laser only on the conservative groups, with particular emphasis on one of the largest, Crossroads GPS.
- In fact, her focus on Crossroads GPS included demanding to know why Crossroads had not yet been audited combined with plans to deny Crossroads’ application for tax exempt status.
She showed no such similar interest in liberal groups.
- She showed astounding sensitivity to reporting from ProPublica, a George Soros-funded media nonprofit, at one point forwarding a ProPublica article mentioning conservative groups and demanding a meeting on the status of those groups’ tax exemption applications.
- Lerner attempted to direct the IRS’s independent appeals process by offering a “general tutorial session” on the “law and complexities” of the 501(c)(4) regulations – regulations that had been in place for years and had been applied without incident or significant controversy when approving many of the largest liberal organizations, like the ACLU, the NAACP, and Moveon.org.
- She also misled the Treasury Inspector General when he investigated complaints of IRS targeting, using – without any evidence – the now-familiar talking point that the IRS was responding to an “uptick” in applications that “contained indicators of potentially significant amounts of political campaign intervention.” Yet she had already gone hunting for evidence of this “uptick” – to justify her talking point – and found none. In fact, an IRS official, Nanlee Park flatly told her that “we [the IRS] do not have a reliable method for tracking data by issue such as political activity.”
- She also misled the Treasury Inspector General by saying that she first learned the BOLO (be on the lookout) referenced “tea party” on June 29, 2011. In reality, the record shows that she was focusing on the Tea Party as early as April 28, 2010, with repeated additional references in the months following.
- Mysteriously, she also sent large amounts of confidential taxpayer information from her IRS email account to her personal email account, then back again. This not only violates IRS policy, it raises real questions whether this (nonsecure) private information was shared with anyone else, an act that would violate federal law.
At this point, anyone – including the president of the United States – who claims there’s not a “smidgen” of corruption in the IRS targeting scandal is willfully blind to the facts and the law. The Ways and Means report raises the possibility that Lerner (and perhaps others) violated a number of federal statutes. It’s clear – regardless of criminality -- that they also violated the Constitution.
Now, comes phase two of holding Lerner accountable by Congress. On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee votes on whether to hold Lerner in contempt of Congress.
Lerner has misled the American people and Congress since the very start – when she responded to a planted question about this targeting scheme eleven months ago.
Since then, she has ignored a Congressional subpoena – refused to answer questions on two occasions by pleading the Fifth Amendment. A growing number of legal experts – as do we – believe she waived her constitutional right to remain silent because she invoked it only after she publicly proclaimed her innocence.
Contempt is the appropriate sanction.
Finally, there is an interesting finding in the House Ways and Means letter released on Wednesday.
After seeing a news story about the launch of Organizing For Action (OFA), Lerner emailed an IRS official and said, “Oh—Maybe I can get the DC office job!”
Organizing for Action is a 501(c)(4) and the explicit successor to the Obama presidential campaigns. In fact, its Web address is barackobama.com. Its explicit agenda is advancing the Obama administration’s policy initiatives.
If Lerner did send her application, I would imagine it would shock the executives at OFA.
After all, they’d think, hasn’t she been working for us for years?
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.