Judicial Watch released a new batch of IRS emails last week revealing that former IRS official Lois Lerner knew the criteria that her Exempt Organizations Division (EO) used in evaluating tax exempt groups “might raise questions” to those reviewing the agency’s actions. In another email, Lerner told her subordinate to “put together some training points to help them [IRS staffers] understand the potential pitfalls” of revealing too much information to Congress.
Regarding the IRS’ tax exempt review policies, Lerner wrote Troy Paterson, an inspector with Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)–which was investigating the IRS’ conduct–in January 2013:
We understand why the criteria [the IRS used] might raise questions…I am willing to take the blame for not having provided sufficient direction initially, which may have resulted in front line staff doing things that appeared to be politically motivated, but I am not on board that anything that occurred here shows that the IRS was politically motivated in the actions taken.
A few months later, on May 10, 2013, Lerner admitted on a conference call with reporters that her division had wrongfully targeted groups with “tea party” or “patriots” in their names in the run up to the 2012 presidential election. She added that the conduct by IRS “front line” personnel was “absolutely inappropriate” and apologized to those groups affected. (Read a transcript of her remarks to the ABA regarding the targeting of conservative groups here.)
Four days after Lerner’s call with reporters, TIGTA released its audit, which found that “The IRS used inappropriate criteria that identified for review Tea Party and other organizations applying for tax-exempt status based upon their names or policy positions instead of indications of potential political campaign intervention.” The report determined that the wrongful conduct had gone on for 18 months under Lerner’s leadership and resulted in “substantial delays” in processing applications for the targeted groups–and allowed “unnecessary information requests” to be issued to those groups.
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As reported by Western Journalism, Lerner pled the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination twice when called before the House Oversight Committee.
In another email released by Judicial Watch from Feb. 2012, Lerner wanted her employees trained to limit what was put into writing for fear it could be seen by the public or Congress. She wrote her subordinate Holly Paz, the former Director of the Office of Rulings and Agreements, concerning cases that had been reviewed:
We are all a bit concerned about the mention of specific Congress people, practitioners and political parties.Our filed folks are not as sensitive as we are to the fact that anything we write can be public–or at least be seen by Congress. We talked with Nan [Downing – Director of EO Examinations] and she thought it would be great if R & A [Rulings and Agreements] could put together some training points to help them understand the potential pitfalls…
I realize everyone is very busy, but I’d like you and Tom [Miller EO adviser] to get together to work out a reasonable plan for completing the review and reporting back on some of the issues he thinks we’d need to cover. If you need more info, we can talk. Thanks
Like Lerner, the IRS placed Paz on administrative leave shortly after TIGTA released its audit in May 2013. Paz reported directly to Lerner and oversaw the tax law specialists who provided guidance to the agents in Cincinnati reviewing “tea party” and other applicants, as well as the department involved with processing the applications.
She came under scrutiny after revealing she knew the findings of an internal IRS review conducted a year before TIGTA reached the same conclusions, but did not notify Congress. She also insisted on sitting in on nearly all the interviews TIGTA conducted with her subordinates, which then-House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., found completely “astonishing.” “In those, of course, one of the questions the IG had to ask was, ‘Did anyone tell you to do this?’ If that question was asked, their own superior was in the room.”
According to National Review:
Others have either retired or been placed on administrative leave, including [IRS] Washington lawyer Carter Hull, who has been accused of micromanaging the processing of tea-party cases, and who, according to IRS sources, requested his retirement package on March 12; Joseph Grant, the commissioner of the agency’s Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division and Lois Lerner’s boss, who retired on June 3 just days after receiving a promotion; former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who resigned days after news of the scandal broke
Lois Lerner, after being placed on paid administrative leave in May 2013, retired in September of that year.
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One final revelation from the emails is that 11 days before Lerner’s May 14, 2013 admission of targeting conservative groups, Lerner met with top staffers from the Senate’s Government Affairs Committee in response to concerns raised by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., that the IRS was not doing enough to rein in political advocacy groups.