Published May 24, 2013
The IRS official who refused to testify this week -- while claiming she had done nothing wrong -- signed letters to Tea Party groups a year ago that asked them to turn over everything from printouts of their Facebook pages to the credentials of speakers who participated in their events.
A group representing more than a dozen Tea Party groups now suing the IRS released a sample of one of the letters overnight, after the official Lois Lerner was placed on administrative leave. According to one lawmaker, she was only placed on leave after she refused to resign.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice, said the March 2012 letters show a "paper trail" that reveals her "direct involvement in sending intrusive and harassing questionnaires."
"It appears Lerner did nothing to stop the abusive conduct. And our evidence suggests she was actively participating in the improper targeting in March 2012," he said in a statement.
It was no secret that Lerner, as head of the exempt organizations division, was aware of the program that had developed in the Cincinnati office under her watch. A timeline provided in the inspector general's report on the practice showed she was first briefed in June 2011.
But while she apparently raised concerns at that briefing over the criteria used, the ACLJ said the March 2012 letters show she was still involved in carrying out the policy.
At the time, the program itself was in flux. Lerner had earlier ordered the criteria to be changed in June 2011. The criteria was then broadened, but somehow it was changed again in January 2012 "without executive approval," according to the IG report.
After that, the unit in question sent out a new round of letters requesting additional information, while giving groups that had not responded to the prior requests an additional 60 days to comply. These appear to be the letters that, in some cases, Lerner signed.
A letter posted online by the ACLJ was sent March 16 to the Ohio Liberty Council Corp. Signed by Lerner, the letter gave the group 60 days to respond to a prior letter seeking information on the group's social media accounts, sponsored events, communications with lawmakers and other material.
Sekulow said their records show Lerner sent 14 other letters to 14 of his group's clients in March and April of that year. He said it's unclear why her signature is on some letters but not others.
Lerner, meanwhile, has maintained she did nothing wrong. She asserted her innocence in a brief statement at a House committee hearing Wednesday, before claiming her Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions.
"I have not done anything wrong," she said. "I have not broken any laws. I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee."
Committee leaders are trying to recall Lerner, claiming she waived her Fifth Amendment right by delivering an opening statement.
Sekulow said there are many questions she should answer, including why the letters were sent under her name in March 2012.