There’s an old saying in Washington, that the most damaging scandals are marked by a “drip, drip, drip” of new information, with new revelations emerging week by week until the scandal finally reaches a critical mass.
But with the last two weeks of IRS revelations, culminating in this week’s news that Lois Lerner, the former Director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the IRS, suggested auditing Iowa senator Chuck Grassley, the “drip, drip, drip” has become something more like “flood, flood, flood.”
Let’s place this latest revelation in context.
Senator Grassley had long monitored the IRS Exempt Organizations Division. He was doing what legislators should do, investigating whether the IRS was doing its job:
“This isn't random,” said Dean Zerbe, a tax lawyer who helped Grassley investigate tax-exempt groups and reform the law governing them. “This is going after the senator most active in conducting serious reviews of charitable organizations as well as the IRS work in this area."
Grassley was also one of a dozen senators who sent a letter to the IRS in March 2012 questioning whether Tea Party groups seeking tax-exempt status were being unfairly scrutinized.
In other words, Grassley didn’t view the IRS as his ideological partner, but rather a federal agency that required oversight. This, apparently, made him an enemy of the IRS, one subject to audit at Lois Lerner’s whim.
But Lerner did not have an adversarial relationship with all U.S. Senators. When one of them, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, suggested – without any evidence of wrongdoing – criminal prosecution of conservative nonprofits, she was enthusiastic. Here’s her own email to Nikole Flax, then Chief of Staff to the IRS Commissioner:
I got a call today from Richard Pilger Director Elections Crimes Branch at DOJ. I know him from contacts from my days there. He wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folk s could talk to about [Rhode Island Democrat] Sen. Whitehouse idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement cases about applicants who “lied” on their 1024s –saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures. DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs.
To which Ms. Flax responds, not with horror at the suggestion of initiating criminal investigations in the absence of any evidence, but with enthusiasm and a suggestion of enlisting the Federal Election Commission in the effort:
I think we should do it – also need to include CI, which we can help coordinate. Also, we need to reach out to FEC. Does it make sense to consider including them in this or keep it separate?
So, here’s the pattern: If you hold the IRS accountable – even a sitting U.S. senator will be targeted. If you cooperate in the IRS’s partisan, ideological crusade, then a senator’s illegal idea is enthusiastically adopted at the highest levels of the IRS and – apparently – the Department of Justice.
It’s no wonder that hard drives are “crashing” all over the IRS.
Computer experts are “suspicious” about these convenient crashes, for good reason. The emails produced so far, most of them inexplicably delayed for a year, are damaging enough – and they don’t even include the correspondence with other federal agencies that could show just how far the ideological corruption spread.
And, the American public isn’t buying the IRS excuses that it “lost” two years’ worth of Lerner’s emails – her computer “crashing” just 10 days after Congressional investigators sent a letter asking if the IRS was engaging in targeting conservative groups. A Fox News poll reveals that 76% of voters believe the missing Lerner emails were deliberately destroyed.
Our federal lawsuit against the IRS and key officials (including Lois Lerner), brought on behalf of 41 conservative groups in 22 states, continues, and these latest revelations are further bolstering our key contention: That the IRS engaged in partisan ideological crusade to target Americans simply because of their constitutionally-protected viewpoints.
And it turns out that no one is safe from that crusade, not even one of the nation’s most powerful conservative politicians.
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.