Wall Street Journal: Lerner had 'Power to Destroy'

Image: Wall Street Journal: Lerner had 'Power to Destroy'

Thursday, 10 Apr 2014 01:08 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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Former IRS official Lois Lerner’s lack of cooperation with the investigation into the agency's alleged targeting of conservative groups seeking tax exempt status left the House Ways and Means little choice but to ask the Justice Department to look into filing criminal charges for "probable criminal actions," The Wall Street Journal editorialized.

Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp "has only taken this step after Ms. Lerner twice refused to testify before Congress, IRS general counsel William Wilkins claimed 80 times that he couldn't recall events, Justice has leaked to the press that it will charge no one, and House Democrats have become obstructionist," the Journal opined.

Wednesday’s 14-page letter by Camp to Attorney General Eric Holder lays out new evidence suggesting "willful misconduct by an IRS official, and also suggests that she may have violated multiple criminal statutes."

The three purported crimes Camp suggests Lerner committed include:

• Using her position to improperly influence the IRS to deny due process to conservative organizations;

• Impeding official investigations by providing misleading statements to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration;

• Risking having exposed confidential taxpayer information by using her personal email to conduct official business.

"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," according to the Journal.

"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," according to the editorial.

Lerner, according to Ways and Means, "showed extreme bias and prejudice exercising her power and influence over the non-profit sector," directing staff to scrutinize, audit and even deny tax exempt status to "specific right-leaning groups."

In January 2013, Lerner instructed staff to investigate five conservative groups — Americans for Responsible Leadership, Freedom Path, Rightchange.com, America is Not Stupid, and A Better America — characterized by the website ProPublica as "controversial dark money groups." Four of them "ultimately got the IRS deluxe scrutiny treatment and three were audited," the Journal said.

Camp writes that Lerner also provided evasive responses to the Treasury's Inspector General and lied when she said she didn't learn until June 2011 about the use of "tea-party keywords" as cues of which groups to scrutinize, when emails show Lerner was told about the tea party cases just weeks after the extra scrutiny began more than a year earlier.

The Journal editorialized that the public has the right to know all of the information gleaned in the investigation, especially after Holder put an Obama donor in charge of the investigation and the Ways and Means ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, announcing the case "solved" only weeks after the investigation got underway.

"President Obama in February upstaged his own Justice Department by announcing that there was not a 'smidgen' of corruption, even as the investigation supposedly continues," according to the Journal.

"As a senior official in a public agency that wields the power to destroy, [Lerner] had an obligation to explain what happened and why. We'd still like to hear her defense, but when Congress confronts a stonewalling administration it has little choice but to tell the public what it has learned so voters can reach their own conclusions."

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