REPORT: LOIS LERNER EMAILS SHOW OBAMA’S JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ASSISTED IRS TO TARGET CONSERVATIVE GROUPS

REPORT: LOIS LERNER EMAILS SHOW OBAMA’S JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ASSISTED IRS TO TARGET CONSERVATIVE GROUPS

After a year and a half of investigating, Congress has finally gotten to see a large number of the “missing” emails form IRS administrator Lois Lerner. Some of these emails seem to show that Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) was involved in the IRS targeting of conservative groups, a Forbes report says.

Despite the government’s refusal to release over 800 pages of Lerner communications, some documents that have been released show that she was discussing the targeting of conservative groups with members of the DOJ two years before the IRS even admitted that its actions were improper.

“Ms. Lerner,” Forbes columnist Robert W. Wood wrote, “met with top officials from the DOJ’s Election Crimes Branch in October of 2010. Although Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the DOJ, the DOJ coughed up dirt only on court order. Even then, the DOJ handed over only two pages of heavily redacted emails.”

The documents show that Lerner worked with the DOJ on targeting conservative groups and even show that Lerner sent the DOJ a “1.1 million page database of information from 501(c)(4) tax exempt organizations” that contained confidential tax records.

On November 22 it was announced that some 30,000 IRS emails that had previously been deemed “unrecoverable” had been “found” by the IRS Inspector General. The emails extend from 2009 to 2011, when Lerner headed the IRS’s exempt-organizations division.

While investigators have yet to comb through this mountain of information, other key documents were finally revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by government watchdog group Judicial Watch.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said that the documents show that Obama’s DOJ was “up to its neck in the IRS scandal” and remarked in outrage that the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, which is supposed to be investigating such abuse of authority, is “now implicated in the IRS crimes.”

“It is shameful how Establishment Washington has let slide by Obama’s abuse of the IRS and the Justice Department,” Fitton said. “Only as a result of Judicial Watch’s independent investigations did the American people learn about the IRS-DOJ prosecution discussions of Obama’s political enemies and how the IRS sent, in violation of law, confidential taxpayer information to the FBI and DOJ in 2010. Richard Nixon was impeached for less.”

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com

GOP: Justice Department pushed Lois Lerner to help build criminal case against nonprofits

GOP: Justice Department pushed Lois Lerner to help build criminal case against nonprofits

BY SUSAN FERRECHIO MAY 22, 2014 | 6:10 PM

 

Republicans on a House oversight panel say the Justice Department asked former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in 2010 to help them build criminal cases against nonprofit groups conducting political activity.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and subcommittee chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, have requested an interview with Jack Smith, who heads the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Unit, after a subordinate revealed the department meetings with Lerner in a closed-door interview.

“The Justice Department convened a meeting with former IRS official Lois Lerner in October 2010 to discuss how the IRS could assist in the criminal enforcement of campaign-finance laws against politically active nonprofits,” Jordan and Issa said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. “This meeting was arranged at the direction of Public Integrity Section Chief Jack Smith.”

The GOP-led House recently found Lerner, who headed the IRS Exempt Organizations department, in contempt for refusing to testify before the Oversight panel about her role targeting conservative and Tea Party groupsseeking 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status.

 

In October 2010, Lerner delivered an address at Duke University in which she told the audience, “everyone is screaming at us” to fix campaign finance before the 2012 election.

Issa and Jordan said they believe the Justice Department, “contributed to this pressure” on Lerner and other IRS officials to stop right-leaning organizations from achieving tax-exempt status, following a Supreme Court ruling lifting restrictions on their activity.

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Democrats were particularly angered by the ruling because they believe it created a surge in social welfare groups who were engaged in blatant political activity, many of them conservative.

“By encouraging the IRS to be vigilant in possible campaign-finance crimes by 501(c)(4) groups, the [Justice] Department was certainly among the entities ‘screaming’ at the IRS to do something in the wake of Citizens United before the 2010 election,” Jordan and Issa said to Holder in the Letter.

Issa and Jordan said they learned of the Justice Department’s involvement from Richard Pilger, the Director of the Department of Justice’s Election Crimes Branch. Issa has subpoenaed Pilger because he would not fully answer the questions asked recently in a closed-door meeting with House oversight investigators, although he did answer some questions and provided a lengthy statement.

In the letter to Holder, Issa and Jordan said they learned the Justice Department contacted Lerner again in 2013 after Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., suggested the Justice Department “prosecute nonprofits for false statements made on the groups’ application forms about whether they intended to engage in political speech.”

According to Pilger, the directive came from Smith, but “he was unsure, whether the instruction came from more senior Department leaders.”

The top Oversight panel Democrat said the testimony showed the Department of Justice was simply looking for illegal activity.

“Based on the witnesses and documents before the Committee, the Department of Justice’s request to the IRS was about how to prosecute groups that engaged in criminal activity — not based on their political beliefs,” said panel ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

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The full text of the letter is below:

May 22, 2014

The Honorable Eric H. Holder Jr.

Attorney General

United States Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform continues to examine the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative tax-exempt applicants. On May 6, 2014, the Committee conducted a transcribed interview of Richard Pilger, the Director of the Department of Justice’s Election Crimes Branch. While we knew that the Justice Department engaged with the IRS in May 2013 to consider prosecution of political active nonprofits,[1] we were shocked to learn that this engagement started in October 2010. According to Mr. Pilger, the Justice Department convened a meeting with former IRS official Lois Lerner in October 2010 to discuss how the IRS could assist in the criminal enforcement of campaign-finance laws against politically active nonprofits. This meeting was arranged at the direction of Public Integrity Section Chief Jack Smith. We therefore respectfully request that you make Mr. Smith available for a transcribed interview.

According to Mr. Pilger, Mr. Smith asked him to arrange a meeting in early October 2010 with the IRS about the “evolving legal landscape” of campaign-finance law following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.[2] Mr. Pilger testified that the Department’s agenda for the meeting was to engage with Ms. Lerner and the IRS on being “more vigilant to the opportunities from more crime in the . . . 501(c)(4) area.”[3] Mr. Pilger testified that he was interested in the “practicalities” of criminal enforcement by the IRS, such as whether the IRS could review donor lists of 501(c)(4) organizations for potential violations of campaign-finance law.[4] Mr. Pilger stated that Ms. Lerner, however, expressed skepticism about the practicality of using criminal law to address political speech by 501(c)(4) organizations.[5]

Mr. Pilger’s testimony reveals that the Justice Department contributed to the political pressure on the IRS to “fix the problem” posed by the Citizens United decision. On October 19, 2010 – only days after Ms. Lerner’s meeting with the Public Integrity Section – she spoke at a Duke University event about political speech by nonprofit organizations in wake of Citizens United.[6] Ms. Lerner stated:

What happened last year was the Supreme Court – the law kept getting chipped away, chipped away in the federal election arena. The Supreme Court dealt a huge blow, overturning a 100-year old precedent that basically corporations couldn’t give directly to political campaigns. And everyone is up in arms because they don’t like it. The Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it.

They want the IRS to fix the problem. The IRS laws are not set up to fix the problem: (c)(4)s can do straight political activity. They can go out and pay for an ad that says, “Vote for Joe Blow.” That’s something they can do as long as their primary activity is their (c)(4) activity, which is social welfare.

So everybody is screaming at us right now: ‘Fix it now before the election. Can’t you see how much these people are spending?’ I won’t know until I look at their 990s next year whether they have done more than their primary activity as political or not. So I can’t do anything right now.[7]

We now know from Mr. Pilger that the Justice Department contributed to this pressure. By encouraging the IRS to be vigilant in possible campaign-finance crimes by 501(c)(4) groups, the Department was certainly among the entities “screaming” at the IRS to do something in the wake of Citizens United before the 2010 election.

Mr. Pilger’s testimony further confirmed that the Justice Department reengaged with the IRS in 2013 as a result of pressure from United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.[8] Senator Whitehouse convened a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing in April 2013 to address the IRS’s enforcement of campaign-finance laws, featuring testimony from Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman.[9] According to Mr. Pilger, Senator Whitehouse’s hearing led to the Justice Department reengaging with the IRS on possible criminal enforcement relating to political speech by nonprofits. Mr. Pilger testified that Ms. Lerner even helped the Justice Department and Ms. Raman prepare for Senator Whitehouse’s hearing.[10] Mr. Pilger further testified that following the hearing, he contacted Ms. Lerner to follow up on Senator Whitehouse’s proposal that the Department prosecute nonprofits for false statements made on the groups’ application forms about whether they intended to engage in political speech.[11] Although Mr. Pilger stated that Mr. Smith directed him to contact Ms. Lerner, Mr. Pilger was uncertain whether the instruction came from more senior Department leaders.[12]

The Committee’s transcribed interview of Richard Pilger presents further troubling information about the Department’s contemplated prosecution of nonprofit groups for false statements. It is apparent that the Department’s leadership, including Public Integrity Section Chief Jack Smith, was closely involved in engaging with the IRS in wake of Citizens United and political pressure from prominent Democrats to address perceived problems with the decision. We therefore ask that you make Jack Smith available for a transcribed interview with Committee staff on May 29, 2014. Please have your staff contact the Committee staff as soon as possible, but no later than May 27, 2014, to confirm this interview.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives and may at “any time” investigate “any matter” as set forth in House Rule X. Please contact David Brewer or Tyler Grimm with the Committee staff at 202-225-5074 if you have any questions. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Darrell Issa Jim Jordan

White House, IRS exchanged confidential taxpayer information.

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White House, IRS exchanged confidential taxpayer information.

1:17 PM 10/09/2013

Top Internal Revenue Service Obamacare official Sarah Hall Ingram discussed confidential taxpayer information with senior Obama White House officials, according to 2012 emails obtained by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and provided to The Daily Caller.

Lois Lerner, then head of the IRS Tax Exempt Organizations division, also received an email alongside White House officials that contained confidential information.

Ingram attempted to counsel the White House on a lawsuit from religious organizations opposing Obamacare’s contraception mandate. Email exchanges involving Ingram and White House officials — including White House health policy advisor Ellen Montz and deputy assistant to the president for health policy Jeanne Lambrew — contained confidential taxpayer information, according to Oversight.

The emails provided to Oversight investigators by the IRS had numerous redactions with the signifier “6103.”

Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code forbids a federal employee from “disclos[ing] any return or return information obtained by him in any manner in connection with his service as such an officer or an employee.”

Federal employees who illegally disclose confidential taxpayer information could face five years in prison.

“Thanks, David. Thanks for the information on [6103],” White House official Lambrew wrote to IRS official David Fish in a July 20, 2012 exchange. “I am still hoping to understand whether the 50 percent rule is moot if the organization does not offer goods and services for sale to the general public. Do we assume that organizations like [6103] do offer goods and services for sale?”

Another email from Montz to Ingram and others refers to the “[6103] memo” and the “[6103] letter” while discussing organizations that are not required to file 990′s.

Ingram appeared before Rep. Darrell Issa’s House Oversight Committee Wednesday and claimed she could not recall a document that contained confidential taxpayer information.

“Well one of the areas of interest is there’s a significant redaction that quotes the statute 6103. Do you know who is underneath that blackout?” Issa asked Ingram.

“I don’t recall the document so I can’t help you with what’s underneath that redaction,” Ingram said.

“Her response has not put concerns to rest,” Oversight staffer Frederick Hill said. ”This caught people’s eye.”

Issa has requested unredacted copies of the emails, citing a prohibition from misusing Section 6103 “for the purpose of concealing information from a congressional inquiry.”

Ingram headed the scandal-ridden IRS office responsible for overseeing tax-exempt nonprofit groups before leaving to head the agency’s office in charge of Obamacare implementation.

An IRS voice mail message declined to comment on any media inquiries during the government shutdown, citing law.

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IRS officials were acutely aware that Obama wanted crackdown on tea party groups.

IRS officials thought Obama wanted crackdown on tea party groups, worried about negative press.

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

  • Lois Lerner, head of the Internal Revenue Service unit that decides whether to grant tax-exempt status, was put on administrative leave after she declared her innocence but refused to answer congressional questions about the targeting. (Associated Press)Enlarge PhotoLois Lerner, head of the Internal Revenue Service unit that decides whether … more >

IRS employees were “acutely” aware in 2010 that President Obama wanted to crack down on conservative organizations and were egged into targeting tea party groups by press reports mocking the emerging movement, according to an interim report being circulated Tuesday by House investigators.

The report, by staffers for Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, quoted two Internal Revenue Service officials saying the tea party applications were singled out in the targeting program that has the agency under investigation because “they were likely to attract media attention.”

In the report, the investigators do not find evidence that IRS employees received orders from politicians to target the tea party, and agency officials deny overt bias or political motives.

But the report says the IRS was at least taking cues from political leaders and designed special policies to review tea party applications, including dispatching some of them to Washington to be vetted by headquarters.

“As prominent politicians publicly urged the IRS to take action on tax-exempt groups engaged in legal campaign intervention activities, the IRS treated tea party applications differently,” the staff report concludes. “Applications filed by tea party groups were identified and grouped due to media attention surrounding the existence of the tea party in general.”

That finding contradicts Democrats on Capitol Hill, who argue that some liberal groups also were given special scrutiny, thus showing there was neither a witch hunt for conservatives nor political pressure from the White House.

“The fact is that not a single piece of evidence has been unearthed that suggests there was any political motivation or outside involvement,” Democratic staffers on the House Ways and Means Committee said in a memo Tuesday outlining the state of the investigation. “Republicans, however, believe that if they continue to repeat their baseless accusations of a ‘White House enemies’ list, it will become true.”

For years, Republicans in Congress charged that the IRS was targeting specific groups, but top agency officials denied it.

But four months ago, with an inspector general’s report about to be released, the IRS carefully staged a question at a conference so officials could reveal that they had been treating tea party applications differently.

Several congressional committees have since opened investigations including open hearings, document requests and depositions of agency employees.

The latest oversight report is meant to take stock of where the investigation stands and to lay out what Republicans know and what they suspect. The report says the conclusions are preliminary and that tens of thousands of pages of documents have yet to be examined.

In one of the key findings, investigators said negative press coverage of the tea party was one reason why the IRS gave the groups special scrutiny.

“It was my understanding that the reason they were identified is because they were likely to attract media attention,” Steven Grodnitzky, one of the employees in the exempt organizations division, told investigators.

Another supervisory employee in Washington, Ronald Shoemaker, also said press attention helped shape IRS policies, telling investigators that media attention to those cases “was the basis” for designating them as significant cases requiring special examination.

The Republican oversight report traces the growing pressure on the IRS to act, beginning with Mr. Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in his 2010 State of the Union address to calls from top members of Congress for the IRS to give special scrutiny to tea party applications.

E-mails Suggest Collusion Between FEC, IRS to Target Conservative Groups

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E-mails Suggest Collusion Between FEC, IRS to Target Conservative Groups

Embattled Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner and an attorney in the Federal Election Commission’s general counsel’s office appear to have twice colluded to influence the record before the FEC’s vote in the case of a conservative non-profit organization, according to e-mails unearthed by the House Ways and Means Committee and obtained exclusively by National Review Online. The correspondence suggests the discrimination of conservative groups extended beyond the IRS and into the FEC, where an attorney from the agency’s enforcement division in at least one case sought and received tax information about the status of a conservative group, the American Future Fund, before recommending that the commission prosecute it for violations of campaign-finance law. Lerner, the former head of the IRS’s exempt-organizations division, worked at the FEC from 1986 to 1995, and was known for aggressive investigation of conservative groups during her tenure there, too.

“Several months ago . . . I spoke with you about the American Future Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization that had submitted an exemption application the IRS [sic],” the FEC attorney wrote Lerner in February 2009. The FEC, which polices violations of campaign-finance laws, is not exempted under Rule 6103, which prohibits the IRS from sharing confidential taxpayer information, but the e-mail indicates Lerner provided that information nonetheless: “When we spoke last July, you had told us that the American Future Fund had not received an exemption letter from the IRS,” the FEC attorney wrote.

The timing of the correspondence between Lerner and the FEC suggests the FEC attorney sought information from the IRS in order to influence an upcoming vote by the six FEC commissioners. The FEC received a complaint in March 2008 from the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party alleging that the American Future Fund had violated campaign-finance law by engaging in political advocacy without registering as a political-action committee. The American Future Fund responded to that complaint in June 2008, telling the commission that it had applied for tax exemption in March of that year and was a “501(c)(4) social-welfare organization that was organized to provide Americans with a conservative and free-market viewpoint and mechanism to communicate and advocate on the issues that most interest and concern them.” According to the e-mail correspondence, a month after receiving the American Future Fund’s response, the FEC general counsel’s office — which is prohibited under law from conducting an investigation into an organization before the FEC’s six commissioners have voted to do so — contacted Lerner to investigate the agency’s tax-exempt status.

The FEC general counsel’s office, in its recommendation on the case, apparently didn’t tell the agency’s commissioners about how it had obtained the information about the group’s tax-exempt status. Recommending that the commissioners prosecute the American Future Fund, the general counsel’s office wrote, “According to its response, AFF submitted an application for tax-exempt status to the Internal Revenue Service . . . on March 18, 2008.” The footnote to that sentence reads, “The IRS has not yet issued a determination letter regarding AFF’s application for exempt status. Based on the information from the response and the IRS website, it is likely that the application is still under review.” In fact, an FEC lawyer knew that the organization had yet to obtain tax-exempt status because Lerner provided the confidential information.

The general counsel’s report was issued in September 2008, but it was over five months before the six FEC commissioners voted, in late-February 2009, on whether to prosecute the American Future Fund for violations of campaign-finance laws. (The typical lag time between the submission of a general counsel’s recommendation and a commission vote is about a month, according to a source familiar with the workings of the commission.) As the vote approached, on February 3, 2009, the FEC lawyer went back to Lerner for an update on the status of the American Future Fund’s application. “Could you please tell me whether the IRS has since issued an exemption letter to the American Future Fund? Also if the IRS has granted American Future Fund’s exemption, would it be possible for you to send me the publicly available information and documents related to American Future Fund?”

Despite the recommendations of the general counsel’s office, the six FEC commissioners split on whether to pursue the American Future Fund’s case andvoted six-to-zero to close the case.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp and oversight-subcommittee chairman Charles Boustany are calling on the IRS, in the wake of these revelations, to provide all communications between the agency and the FEC between 2008 and 2012. “The American public is entitled to know whether the IRS is inappropriately sharing their confidential tax information with other agencies,” Camp and Boustany write in a letter they will send to acting IRS administrator Danny Werfel on Wednesday.

The FEC enforcement attorney also inquired about the tax-exempt status of another conservative organization, the American Issues Project. “I was also wondering if you could tell me whether the IRS had issued an exemption letter to a group called the American Issues Project? The group also appears to be the successor of two other organizations, Citizens for the Republic and Avenger, Inc.” Also sought were “any information and documents that would be publicly available in relation to the American Issues Project, Citizens for the Republic, or Avenger, Inc.”

Lerner was placed on paid administrative leave in late May after she revealed the IRS had inappropriately targeted conservative groups. The IRS has yet to respond to requests from lawmakers about her current employment status with the agency.