Report: Emails Show Justice Dept. Involved in IRS Tea Party Probe

Image: Report: Emails Show Justice Dept. Involved in IRS Tea Party Probe

Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 07:01 PM

By Todd Beamon

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Embattled former IRS official Lois Lerner last year discussed working with the Justice Department to prosecute nonprofit organizations that she felt had "lied" about their political activities, according to new documents released on Wednesday by Judicial Watch about the agency's targeting of conservative groups.

The new documents show Lerner's communications with Justice within days of publicly acknowledging that the Internal Revenue Service was singling out tea party, conservative, and religious groups.

They also indicate that the targeting may have reached further into the Obama White House despite Lerner's original assertions that it was all based out of the agency's Cincinnati field office.

In a May 8 email, for instance, Lerner said that she had received a call from Richard Pilger, director of the elections crimes unit at Justice.

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Pilger asked whether the IRS could help the department "piece together false statement cases about applicants who 'lied'" on a particular IRS form, "saying they weren’t planning on doing political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures.

"DOJ is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs," Lerner said in the email.

"I told him that sounded like we might need several folks from IRS…," she said.

Lerner wrote the email to Nikole Flax, who was chief of staff at the time to Steven Miller, who was the acting IRS commissioner.

She responded in an email the next day: "I think we should do it -- also need to include CI [Criminal Investigation Division], which we can help coordinate. Also, we need to reach out to [Federal Election Commission]. Does it make sense to consider including them in this or keep it separate?"

Lerner, who retired last September, oversaw the unit that evaluated applications for tax-exempt status. Miller was fired because of the scandal, and Flax has reportedly been targeted by congressional investigators.

Judicial Watch said on Wednesday that it had obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed last October. The watchdog group has sought documents showing how the IRS had targeted the groups between 2010 and the 2012 presidential election.

Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit after the IRS failed to respond to four FOIA requests dating back to last May.

"These new emails show that the day before she broke the news of the IRS scandal, Lois Lerner was talking to a top Obama Justice Department official about whether the DOJ could prosecute the very same organizations that the IRS had already improperly targeted," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. "The IRS emails show Eric Holder’s Department of Justice is now implicated and conflicted in the IRS scandal."

Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that has been investigating the scandal, said the new emails underscored "the political nature of IRS tea party targeting and the extent to which supposed apolitical officials took direction from elected Democrats.

"These e-mails are part of an overwhelming body of evidence that political pressure from prominent Democrats led to the targeting of Americans for their political beliefs," the California Republican said in a statement.

"Now I see why the IRS is scared to give up the rest of Lois Lerner's emails,” Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan said in a statement.

The documents "further prove the coordination among the IRS, the Federal Election Commission, the Justice Department and committee Democrats to target conservatives," he said.

Jordan added that had the oversight panel not become involved, "Eric Holder’s politicized Justice Department would likely have been leveling trumped-up criminal charges against tea party groups to intimidate them from exercising their Constitutional rights."

President Barack Obama has denied GOP charges that the targeting of the groups was politically motivated or illegal, telling Fox News in February that "not even a smidgen of corruption" was involved in the specialized screening.

In addition, emails Issa's panel released last week showed that staff members of the oversight committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, had shared information with the IRS that effectively led the agency to investigate True the Vote after the group filed its application for tax-exempt status in 2010.

Cummings did not disclose any of those dealings with oversight committee Republicans, Issa charged.

In a March 27 email, Lerner told IRS staffers about an April 9 2013, hearing — and the document also suggests that the other Obama administration departments might have been targeting the conservative groups.

The tax-exempt status the groups were seeking was 501(c)(4), which allows them to keep their donors private.

"There are several groups of folks from the FEC world that are pushing tax fraud prosecution for c4s who report they are not conducting political activity when they are (or these folks think they are)," Lerner wrote in the email.

"One is my ex-boss Larry Noble (former general counsel at the the FEC), who is now president of Americans for Campaign Reform," she added.

"This is their latest push to shut these down.

"One IRS prosecution would make an impact and they wouldn't feel so comfortable doing the stuff," Lerner said. "So, don't be fooled about how this is being articulated — it is ALL about 501(c)(4) orgs and political activity."

Lerner ignited the controversy last May when she disclosed the scandal in response to a question asked at a conference in Chicago.

Her response came just before the Treasury Department's inspector general released a report disclosing the targeting.

President Obama fired Miller — and at least three other IRS workers have been placed on put on administrative leave.

In testimony before the oversight committee, Lerner has twice invoked the Fifth Amendment, though she has denied wrongdoing. The panel voted last week to hold her in contempt for her refusals.

If the full House finds Lerner in contempt, the matter would be referred to federal prosecutors.

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