April 10 2014

IRS Targeting Scandal: Lerner Emails Contain More than Smidgens

Charlotte Hays

What happens to a scandal in Washington if the mainstream media resolutely refuses to cover it?

You might not know it if you watched one of the three MSM networks last night, but yesterday featured several explosive, new developments in the saga of the IRS targeting of conservative organizations.

A letter in which the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday made a criminal referral of former IRS official Lois Lerner to the Justice Department contains what appears to be new information that appears fatal to Lerner’s claim that the targeting happened because of overzealous but low-level IRS employees in a regional office.   

Emails indicate that Ms. Lerner did indeed use her position to target conservative organizations and deny them tax exempt status, thus reducing the reach of ideas that dissent from liberal orthodoxy. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal this morning states:

The most troubling new evidence are documents showing that Ms. Lerner actively corresponded with liberal campaign-finance groups Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, which had asked the IRS to investigate if conservative groups including Crossroads GPS were violating their tax-exempt status. After personally meeting with the two liberal outfits, Ms. Lerner contacted the director of the Exempt Organizations Examinations Unit in Dallas to ask why Crossroads had not been audited.

"You should know that we are working on a denial of the application," Ms. Lerner wrote in an email. "Please make sure all moves regarding the org are coordinated up here before we do anything." The Cincinnati agent assigned to the case at the time, Joseph Herr, noted on his timesheet, "[b]ased on conference, begin reviewing case information, tax law and draft/template advocacy denial letter, all to think about how best to compose the denial letter."

Mr. Herr had not made any indications in 2012 of an intent to deny the application, nor was any denial recommendation contained in the November 2011 analysis of the group by Exempt Organizations lawyer Hillary Goehausen. Crossroads GPS, which was cofounded by Journal contributor Karl Rove, says it applied for tax-exempt status in 2010 but still hasn't received formal IRS approval.

Ways and Means also discloses that in January 2013 Ms. Lerner asked her staff to examine five conservative groups that the website ProPublica had called "controversial dark money groups," including Americans for Responsible Leadership, Freedom Path, Rightchange.com, America is Not Stupid, and A Better America. Four of those five groups ultimately got the IRS deluxe scrutiny treatment and three were audited.

You and I might regard these developments as crucial if we are to protect our ability to get ideas in circulation. The mainstream media? Not so interested. Dana Milbank probably spoke for his tribe when he called the unfolding of this information yesterday a “Republican circus.”

Nobody has been more publicly intent on shutting down the congressional investigation into the IRS scandal than Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democrat who is ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and who has repeatedly tangled with Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who is conducting the investigation.

It now appears that there may be a personal reason why Rep. Cummings didn’t want the investigation to continue digging.  Rep. Issa says that emails indicate that Cummings actually precipitated the IRS’ targeting of a Texas group called True the Vote, which supports voter IDs, which Cummings opposes.

I suspect that Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice will be just about as interested in following the trail as the mainstream media. If the Justice Department ignores a criminal referral, the House could arrest Ms. Lerner. Here from the Washington Examiner is how that could work:

Among those tools is the House's “inherent contempt” authority under the Constitution, which was initially exercised in 1795 during the First Congress and on multiple occasions thereafter.

Lerner could be held until January 2015 when a new Congress is seated, which could issue another subpoena and throw her in the clink again if she still balks at testifying.

It is frustrating and alarming when the media and the administration refuse to get to the bottom of the IRS scandal. But I can’t help wondering if the optics of Lois Lerner’s being arrested by the House would be bad. Because the press is biased and that leaves more people uninformed, many Americans don’t even realize that the IRS scandal needs a thorough investigation.

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