A federal judge has ordered the Internal Revenue Service to release the names of specific employees involved in targeting Tea Party groups, after years of litigation over what conservatives have long called “chilling” behavior by one of the government’s “most feared” agencies.
Judge Reggie B. Walton of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia also said the IRS must provide information about which groups were targeted and why, along with a strategy to make sure such targeting doesn't happen again.
The IRS is involved in multiple lawsuits with conservative groups related to the Tea Party targeting scandal; this particular case involves True the Vote.
“We’re thrilled the judge has taken this step and it feels good to have it recognized that they need to be held to account,” True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht told Fox News on Monday. “What happened to me was very personal—my name was thrown around the IRS, and the names of the people involved need to be known. What they did was criminal.”
The targeting scandal drew much attention in 2013 when the IRS, headed at the time by Lois Lerner, admitted it was applying extra scrutiny to conservative groups applying for nonprofit status.
“That was wrong,” Lerner said at the time in the press. “That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. ... The IRS would like to apologize for that.”
But director of investigations and research at Judicial Watch Chris Farrell, whose organization is also involved in litigation with the IRS on this issue, told Fox News that the IRS owes litigants “real accountability.”
“This was creepy, chilling stuff,” Farrell told Fox News. “Judge Walton has accomplished more with one ruling than all of the rest of the federal government—all three branches—over the last six years.”
Farrell added: “The IRS is one of the most feared government agencies, and they’ve gotten a pass, in part. Walton is looking for real accountability and that’s so important.”
At a hearing last week, Walton told IRS attorneys that it was time to “lay it on the line. Put it out there,” according to The Washington Times.
"We are reviewing the order and will respond accordingly," a Justice Department spokesperson told Fox News Monday. Justice Department attorneys are representing the IRS in the suit.
“We do not comment on pending litigation,” a spokesperson for the IRS told Fox News on Monday.
Engelbrecht told Fox News that “the fight” under the Trump administration has been “every bit as difficult” as it was under the Obama administration.
“They are still entrenched on the idea that the IRS did nothing wrong and all of America now knows that is not the case,” Engelbrecht said. “What we’re fighting for is we want to see a policy that prohibits viewpoint discrimination. Holding the IRS accountable and personalizing it is a great step forward to coax each one out of their den of thieves.”
Engelbrecht added: “We are fighting on behalf of all Americans, because if it could happen to us, it can happen to anyone.”
Walton ordered the IRS to search for further records, according to The Washington Times, in other agency databases for the time period spanning 2009 to March 27, 2015.
“Furthermore, to the extent that the plaintiffs have already received information produced by the government indicating that the plaintiffs were allegedly discriminated against, and that information provides a basis to believe that other such documents exist, the government must search all relevant sources to ensure that all documents responsive to the document request is identified and produced,” the judge wrote in his order.
Walton gave the IRS until Oct. 16 to finish the search.