Another week, another stunning IRS revelation.
Judicial Watch released emails last week showing that Holly Paz and Lois Lerner – two of the central figures responsible for the IRS’s systematic targeting of conservative groups – were discussing a “secret research project” apparently using confidential conservative donor information improperly obtained by the IRS.
The context is damaging, indicating that the decision to launch the “secret research project” was either made or approved at the very highest levels of the IRS. [pullquote]
Recall that when the IRS confessed it had wrongly targeted conservative 501(c)(4) applications for additional and intrusive scrutiny, it also confessed that it asked for contributor names and admitted those requests were “not appropriate, not usual.”
What should the IRS have done when it improperly obtained confidential information?
The answer is easy: Return it and destroy any copies.
You do not use that information to conduct a “secret research project.”
The IRS has a lot to answer for. It’s time for its officials to come clean – to tell the whole truth.
But I know I’m wasting my breath. Lois Lerner has already “taken the Fifth,” refusing to testify on the grounds she may incriminate herself. Without an immunity deal, we’re unlikely to hear any further from her.
The IRS’s current commissioner, John Koskinen, has already proven that he’s far more combative than forthcoming, apparently viewing his job as defying Congress and waiting out the scandal rather than helping Americans discover how and why one of its most powerful agencies systematically targeted their fellow citizens merely because of their viewpoint.
No wonder Lois Lerner called Congressional investigations “dangerous.”
The “secret research project” is particularly ominous when we now know that conservative donors have experienced individual targeting from the IRS. In other words, the IRS hasn’t just attacked conservative groups; it’s also singled out individuals for extra scrutiny.
In fact, it’s paid a financial settlement after leaking confidential donor information from one conservative group to friendly liberal media. In fact, there is a “long line” of conservatives who’ve faced unusual attention from the IRS, including Ben Carson, Franklin Graham, and former Delaware GOP candidate Christine O’Donnell.
And that list doesn’t include reports of unusual IRS attention from prominent donors to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
But one didn’t have to be prominent or wealthy to face an IRS audit. It appears that “after groups provided [donor] information to the IRS, nearly one in ten donors were subject to audit.”
One in ten. The normal audit rate is roughly 1 percent.
Because of wholesale redactions to the IRS emails (entire sections are blacked out), it’s difficult to discern exactly what the “secret research project” was. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this “secret research project” seems more than a little inconsistent with the President’s pledge in 2009:
I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness .... Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.
There is nothing “transparent” about the IRS – not now and not then – and the notion that it has the slightest concern for the “rule of law” is by this point a bad joke.
That’s why it’s imperative that the “dangerous” congressional investigations continue.
That’s why it’s imperative that my colleagues and I at the ACLJ press forward with our federal lawsuit, brought on behalf of 41 conservative groups in 22 states.
The IRS focuses on discrimination and secrecy. We’re focusing on truth and accountability. And, yes, eventually the truth of the “secret research project” will be revealed.
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.